Dirt Bike Riding Tips: Wheelies

Most riders want to learn how to wheelie a dirt bike in order to impress their friends, but learning how to wheelie a dirt bike is an important part of becoming a better rider by teaching throttle, clutch, and brake control, as well as improving body position and balance. It's not something a beginning rider thinks to focus on in the early stages, but you're going to be doing quite a few unintentional wheelies when you start riding so it's not a bad idea to familiarize yourself with the proper steps right from the start. The subconscious mind works in strange ways.

Wheelies - the basics:

There's almost a mystique surrounding how to wheelie a dirt bike, but in reality you're still using the same basic riding skills of throttle, clutch, brake, and body position that you use in your everyday riding. The difference is the manipulation of those controls, as well as mastering the natural fear of falling. When riding a dirt bike out on the trails, the throttle and clutch are applied in a more linear fashion which propels the bike forward relatively smoothly. With wheelies you're manipulating and condensing the same controls to create a kind of mini-explosion that makes the dirt bike leap up ferociously instead of going forward smoothly; and your mind already knows that the ferocious leap can leave you and your bike in a crumpled heap.

Wheelies - the mental part:

You'll need to sit at the rear of the seat (with some bikes you're almost on the rear fender), so it feels very unnatural the first couple of times you get the front end off the ground and it's normal to be a little scared, especially if you're a bit older and really can't afford to get hurt. Start slow and small, meaning first gear and little bunny hops. Check the terrain ahead of time to make sure you have enough room to practice so you don't crash into trees or land on rocks. Watch out for short, broken tree branches that can stab you in vulnerable places such as your neck and eyes. The image below shows the rider sitting only a few inches away from the fender.

dirt bike wheelie

Once you've successfully done a few bunny hops and your mind has reluctantly agreed that popping wheelies might be okay, try increasing the throttle and using second gear. Focus more on the controls in the beginning - not how far the front end comes off the ground. Competition is good, but don't let your friends goad you into doing something you don't feel comfortable with.

Bikes for wheelies:

While any bike can be wheelied, the casual play bikes like the TTR 230 or the CRF 250F require more effort to get the front end off the ground than a performance trail bike such as the KTM XC-250 or lightweight motocross bike would need. As with all aspects of riding a dirt bike, being able to touch the ground makes learning a lot easier, and that applies to learning how to wheelie. If you have access to a smaller bike like a KX100 or KLX140, use those bikes for practicing, then apply the process to the bigger bike. You can practice the motions on a bicycle if need be. Even the inimitable Travis Pastrana used small bikes to practice his insane Nitro Circus tricks.

How to wheelie a dirt bike:

If you've ever watched a motocross race, visualize the starting gate. The riders are lined up, have their clutches pulled in enough to remove power from the rear wheel, but out enough to engage the clutch quickly (aka in the 'friction zone'). They're applying throttle at a steady rev, and when the gate drops they shift into gear, release the clutch, and gun the throttle. That's what you're aiming for. So . . .

  • Start off in first gear (you can always try 2nd gear later)
  • Apply enough steady throttle to get up to about 15-20 mph
  • Pull in the clutch about a third to halfway - (you'll feel the bike start to slow down)
  • Try to weight the front end if possible, then give the bike an abrupt shot of throttle while simultaneously letting out the clutch quickly, pulling hard on the bars, and shifting your weight from the front to the rear of the bike
  • At that speed you won't get the front end off the ground very far, but tapping the rear brake will bring the front end back down if it does, so get in the habit of covering the rear brake because when you start practicing in a higher gear with more speed, the front end up will come up much higher, much faster

All this happens in one smooth motion, not one step at a time, and each bike is set up differently so you may need to pull in the clutch a bit further to find your bike's friction zone or give it more throttle. As mentioned earlier - concentrate on the controls, not getting the front end up. Don't forget to cover the rear brake in case the bike feels like it's going to loop out (flip over).

Everything sounds easy in print, but learning how to wheelie a dirt bike isn't all that simple so don't get frustrated. Wheelies are all about timing and practice. Take your time and you'll figure it out without wrecking your bike or your body.

How To Wheelie a Dirt Bike

How To Wheelie a Dirt Bike in 3 Easy Steps