Wheelies and manuals: Finding the balance

Hi Lee,

First, I’d like to thank you for writing the book MMBS, learned a looot of tips and techniques and as a result, have made my riding faster, smoother and more enjoyable (even my friend, who was a national team member for downhill, was impressed. I told him I learned how to pump from your book). When does the 2nd edition come out? 🙂

I just have this small question about finding the balance point, do you have any tips on how to find the balance point? I’m trying to learn to manual/wheelie so I am practicing how to loft my front wheel by pushing down on the fork and then pulling up and back. My bike I think is not the best bike to practise this on as its a big squishy FR bike with 8″ of travel in the rear (body english is absorbed by the suspension). Do I need to get a DJ bike (with a short chainstay) so that I can learn faster?

Thank you very much in advance!


Niño Roldan

Ps. Perhaps you can visit the Philippines soon and conduct your clinic here? I’ll definitely sign up 🙂 Your friend BL #55 has been here twice I think and has competed in the Terry Larazabal Festival.

Hey Niño,

The second edition of MMBS should be out in 2010. I turned in the manuscript (90,000 words!), and it’s somewhere in the publisher’s machinery. Next will be edits, then lots of photos and drawings.

OK, wheelie and manual balance:

This is perfect form. Look. Learn.

Assuming you’re getting into your wheelies and manuals correctly — remember, it is NOT about pulling up; it’s about shifting your weight back (check out the silhouette of Jon Watt) — finding that balance point is a matter of practice. Some thoughts:

– Yes, this will be easier to learn on a DJ hardtail. You absolutely MUST buy yourself a Specialized P.bike — and tell ’em I sent ya! Fox fork, Hayes brakes, Sun wheels, WTB saddle … 🙂

– It’s easier to find balance in a sitting/pedaling wheelie than in a standing/coasting manual. That’s because in a wheelie you can control your attitude with pedal power. Start with the wheelie.

– Use your rear brake to stop yourself from falling back. Most riders tend to stab the brake too hard and drop their front wheel violently. To improve your brake control, pre-squeeze the lever until you almost reach the contact point. This makes it much easier to apply just a little brake.

– Most of us have a natural aversion to falling on our butts (or heads). We get super tense, and we subconsciously prevent ourselves from reaching the balance point. The best way to overcome that is to loop out on purpose. Do 10 manuals or wheelies in a row with the specific goal of going back too far and stepping off the back of the bike. It will feel freaky at first, but the stress will gradually subside. Once you relax, then you can work on your balance. (Thanks to pro downhiller Steve Wentz for that tip.)

– Once you reach a real manual, it’s all in the hips. Shift them back and forth to maintain that perfect balance. Curtis Keene is doing that in the book.

– I’m sorry to admit this, but there appears to me a manual/wheelie gene. Some riders have it; some don’t. I don’t. You might never manual across town, but you can learn to manual well enough to rip trails, pump tracks or anything you want.

I’d love to visit, but I’ll be busy at home for a while — the babies are coming in a few months!

— Lee

Know more. Have more fun!

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5 replies
  1. Brian says:

    A friend of mine put her bike in a trainer and put a bunch of cushions behind her and practiced pulling up and leaning back to find the balance position. After purposely looping it she was able to find the balance point and is on her way to doing manuals.

  2. Keoni says:

    Don’t forget what Lee said- it’s NOT about pulling up-it’s about shifting your weight back. I practiced this by standing next to the bike and thrusting the bars forward, straightening my arms. Do it with enough force to lift the front wheel. After doing that about 20 times get on your bike and combine the motion with preloading the front wheel and you will be on your way to looping out.

  3. Alex says:

    I’ve been struggling with manuals for about 2 years with little success and big frustration, so I’m pretty sure I don’t have the manual gene. I had my first breakthrough after reading this article.

    The way I did it: Take Steve Wentz’s advice. Start out with looping WAY out, losing your balance off the back as fast as possible. then, gradually tone it down and loop out slower and slower, until you find the back end of your balance point. Congratulations! You just snuck in the back door to manual land.

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