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Wheelies Explained
How'd They Do That?

By Dan Jackson
Photography: Joe Appel

The wheelie--the granddaddy of all street freestyle stunts--can be both the simplest and the most complex trick in a professional stunt rider's routine. While a standard sit-down wheelie is almost elementary in execution, the more incredible variations--skyscraping High Chairs, 12s, creeping No-Handers--leave us mortals tugging our chins and wondering, "How'd they do that?"

Never ones to tug (chin) in vain, Super Streetbike asked Team XMX ( ringleader "Crazy Dan" Jackson to give us a peek behind the curtain and expose the mechanics of his gravity-defying wheel stands. An accomplished freestyle motocrosser and street freestyle prodigy (his 2002 CBR954RR was his first-ever streetbike), Crazy Dan is just the man for this job. The 25-year-old Jackson came out of nowhere (Kansas City, if you're looking for it on a map) to finish third in the '02 XSBA Street Freestyle Championship, and at press time was leading the '03 series. In addition, Jackson has posted wins at numerous non-XSBA-sanctioned stunt competitions, and also recently launched his own stunting school (, see page 16 for more details), further cementing his credentials. Read on as Jackson, in his own words, lays bare the secrets of mono-wheel mayhem.

Basic Sit-Down
"Sit-downs are the easiest wheelies to do, but the hardest to explain. There are so many different ways to wheelie a sportbike, and some methods work better than others depending on the rider and machine. I'll explain what I do--but keep in mind, other riders might be lifting it up differently.

"There are two kinds of wheelies: power wheelies and clutched wheelies. A power wheelie uses the bike's motor to get the front wheel up. You get the revs up near the bike's torque peak and goose the throttle to snap the front end up. On a 1000cc bike this is easy--just snap the throttle at around 6000 rpm and it wheelies. A smaller bike such as a 600 needs a little help. On these, I'll roll the rpm up higher, then chop the gas and snap it on again. Chopping the throttle will cause the front end to dive for an instant, and the rebounding of the fork will help the front end come up when you snap the throttle back on. On a 600, you almost have to open the throttle all the way to the stop to get the front end up under power. A literbike takes much less throttle--snap my CBR954RR to the stop and you'll be on your ass instantly. That's why I don't like power wheelies--you're dealing with a lot of power, and the possibility of looping the bike is greater.

"I prefer clutched wheelies; the front comes up quicker and you're lower in the rev range when you bring the front end up, so you're not going as fast and you've got more time to find the balance point before you hit the rev limiter. For a clutched wheelie, I'll pull the clutch in, just enough to cause the rpm to rise up to the torque peak, and then let it out quickly. I'm pulling the clutch in just slightly, just into the friction zone. The revs rise for a split second, and then I drop the clutch--don't ease it out--and back off the throttle incrementally as the front end comes up. The higher the front wheel goes the less throttle is needed to keep it up. Backing off keeps the bike from going over.

"Either way, on power or with the clutch, I keep my arms stiff, squeeze the tank with my legs and always cover the rear brake. If things get ugly, you just tap the rear brake and both wheels are back on the ground. If you're looking straight ahead, when you can't see over the bike you know you're getting close to the balance point."

"Same as a sit-down, you can do this one either on power or on the clutch. I'll also bounce the bike a bit to help it up. Bouncing down on the handlebars preloads the front suspension. The energy of the fork releasing, combined with the throttle input, pops the wheel up. I'll stand up first, then lean forward and bounce it by pushing down on my arms, causing the fork to compress. When the fork comes back up I'm on the gas (not as much as a sit down--standups take less power to lift up!) and pulling on the handlebars to bring the bike up.

"As the front wheel comes up, I'll drop my butt back a little bit to help it along. I bend my knees when I'm pulling the bike up, and once it gets up to about 10 o'clock I'll straighten my legs and lean back. With a standup you can hold the throttle in one spot and use your body language to control the wheelie.

"Because body language makes it so easy to balance a standup, it's easy to ride one through the gears. To shift during a wheelie, I'll blip the throttle just a touch right before the shift. When you fan the clutch to shift, it kills power to the wheelie, and if you don't blip the throttle a touch this can cause you to drop the front wheel. So I'll blip it, causing the front wheel to float a bit higher for a split second, then shift as quickly as possible. Preloading the shifter and just nudging the clutch lever will help you shift faster. I generally shift as early as possible. If you shift when you're hard on the gas or your revs are up, you're more likely to miss the shift. The sooner you shift, the less likely you are to miss the gear. But not too soon, so you don't bog the revs! Incidentally, these shifting rules are the same for a sit-down wheelie."

Can Can
"To do a Can Can, I start just like I would [with] a regular standup wheelie, and as soon as I get the wheelie to where I'm comfortable, I take my right leg off and stick it between the tank and my left leg. You have to be careful getting your foot through there. There's not much room between your leg and the tank, so you have to know where you're going without looking and get it through there quickly.

"During a Can Can most of your body weight is to the left side of the bike, so you need to counterweight yourself by rocking your shoulders over to the right side of the bike. It's all about keeping your balance centered. Whenever I'm moving around, I make sure to do it slowly, so I can feel which way it's going to go. Moving around really fast will cause the bike to get out of control.

"If I ever do get out of control, or to where I feel like I'm making a mistake, I just let off the gas or tap the rear brake and put the front down--it doesn't really matter where I'm standing on the bike, once both wheels are on the ground I'm safe."

High Chair
"For this one I start by sitting on the gas tank with both legs out to the side. The easiest and safest way is to kick out one leg at a time; that way you still have at least one hand on the bars. But with cruise control you can do both legs at once, which looks better in competition.

"Starting out with High Chairs, it's a good thing to dig your ankles to grip onto the headlight so you don't go flying off the back. Denting in the tank here really helps too because it gives you a flat surface to sit on. I always clutch any tank wheelies up. High Chairs (or anything where you are sitting on the tank) take more throttle because you have more weight over the front of the bike. But because your weight is so far forward, and because you're using more throttle, you have to watch and be smooth on the clutch so you don't get wheelspin. Leaning back helps, too, and so does blipping the gas to bounce the bike a little bit.

"[For] my High Chairs, I don't even touch my feet to the fairing at all; I just try to stick my legs up in the air as high as I can, and all that touches is my ass on the tank."

"Frog wheelies are a lot like High Chairs--I get up on the tank first, then clutch it up. Just like the High Chair, you have to be smooth pulling it up because you've still got all your weight over the front. Plus, you don't really have anything to hold onto, so when you drop the clutch your body weight wants to go backward. That's going to make you wanna hold onto the bars even more tightly, which can cause you to twist the throttle more than you should. So to avoid unwanted throttle inputs, you have to grip tighter with your left arm than your right.

"The hardest part with a Frog wheelie is putting it down. When you set the wheel down it throws all your weight forward, and when you're standing up on the tank and just holding on to the handlebars, there's not much to keep you from just flipping over the front. Not for amateurs, this trick."

"For a Standup No-Hander, you're standing with your foot on the 12 bar and you've got your idle turned up, so you're basically using your foot to balance the bike and riding the wheelie with no hands, controlling the height of the front tire with your body and also with the rear brake.

"Sit-down No-Handers are a bit harder because you don't have the leverage of your foot out on the bar to balance the bike. Again, I'm doing this with the idle turned up. I get the bike up to about 11 o'clock, then let go of the bars and just lean back and control the front tire height with a combination of body lean and rear brake. To keep myself on the bike, I'll squeeze the tank with my knees and sit back against the passenger seat. If I work my body position just right, I don't even have to use the rear brake."

12 O'Clock
"A 12 O'clock is all about brake control. You bring it up in first gear, and you have to get on the gas really hard to get the wheel up as high as you can, and then use your rear brake to stop the bike at 12 o'clock. Once you get it up, instead of using the throttle to control the height of [the] front wheel, you're actually using the rear brake. You're on the gas more than normal, and using the brake to keep from going over.

"Twelves require a lot of body language, using your shoulders to rock the bike from side to side to keep it from tipping over sideways. I use my knees and legs like outr****** to balance the bike, and mostly hold myself on with my arms.

"On the scrape, a lot of people think you just fall back and ride the bar, but the bike still wants to sway from side to side. If you want to 'park' a 12 O'clock, you use the rear brake to slow down--but not too much. If you use too much, it's just going to cause the bike to fall down."

"Circles and other slow wheelies are the hardest to learn. I'm still learning Circles, in fact. These are all about trusting your tires and getting into a groove. Once you get into a groove, it's all brake and throttle control.

"There are three different ways to do Circles. Some guys ride on the regular pegs; some with the left foot on the left passenger peg; or some with the left foot on the 12 bar. I use the second method, with my left foot on the passenger peg. I haven't done too much with my foot on the bar, but I think there is an advantage because you've got more leverage on the back of the bike. You can use your body weight more to control the height of the tire.

"To initiate a Circle I clutch it up with my feet already in position, bringing it up like a 12 O'clock, using the rear brake. For Circles (and No-Handers, too) I'll turn the idle up to 3500 rpm, so I don't really have to worry about the gas. But with the idle up that high, and your bike so high, if you don't use the rear brake you'll loop out.

"Once you get the bike up there, you initiate the turn by bending the inside knee and shifting body weight into the wheelie. You want to keep looking into the wheelie because you go where you look. You keep it going by blipping the throttle and tapping the brake. The gas makes it run wide and the brake tightens the Circle up--the same concepts as with cornering on a roadracing track."
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