Play

Wanted to get some bike time in for skills maintenance, but didn’t actually want to go for a ride, so I headed for the local school to… play.

Did more than my usual wheelie practice. Yes, I worked on wheelies, but I also spent some time practicing dismounts off the back, as well as wheelie-ing up and down curbs.

Related to riding up curbs, but not wheelies, once well over a decade ago, I was told that mountain bikes with front suspension were the bomb, because you could roll up curbs and the suspension would handle everything. A few years prior to that, on my fully rigid commuter “mountain” bike, I had attempted to hop up a curb at full speed, mistimed it, and ended up in a bush. I’d also never tried to do this before, and for some reason decided as I approached the curb that this was a good idea. But I suppose that’s not surprising given my track record. Anyway…

In addition to wheelie-ing up curbs, I decided to try simply riding up a curb and relying on my suspension plus keeping my weight not on top of my handlebars. And whaddaya know, the bike rolls right up. It’s easier if you give the pedals a punch to unweight the front, but not necessary.

Not that this is going to be a new thing for me. I quite like all the skills I’ve learned to get me over things without relying on wheel size and suspension. But it was nice to finally prove to myself that rolling into a curb wasn’t going to instantly throw me over the bars, provided I had my weight back.

Related to riding down curbs, and specifically wheelies, dropping off a curb in a wheelie is hooliganey fun.

Related to wheelies, but not curbs, I managed to draw a couple “whoa”s from small children on bikes. I’m pretty sure it’s not because my wheelies have gotten super awesome (though they did feel decent-for-me today), but I’ll count that as a win. Two wins!

Related to curbs, but not wheelies, I practiced riding skinnies by rolling on top of curbs for long stretches.

Related to neither curbs nor wheelies, I also practiced riding down stairs really slowly, so I could work on balance and technique instead of relying on momentum.

You know what we need around here? A bike park.

Wheeliebones

Because I can’t yet wheelie like a pro, and because I’m a big believer in learning from as many people as possible, I stumbled* across this video the other day and watched the whole thing.**

It was interesting to hear the tutorial’s suggestion of using my sit bones to balance left and right. I’ve had a lot of trouble with my left right balance using my knees and arms, so I made a note of this. In bold. Then underlined it.

I noticed as I watched this video that the rider/coach/host doesn’t use his arms much to pop into a wheelie. I’ve noticed this in other wheelie videos as well, and yesterday I finally decided to try it. And whaddaya know, I don’t need to pull with my arms. I can pop the front wheel up just fine with a weight shift and pedal stroke.

It’s not clear to me whether that’s because I’m more comfortable with the technique now, or because my legs are stronger. I’ve been spending my time doing squats and deadlifts instead of riding, and I noticed during my pre-wheelie ride that I could power up hills in a higher gear, but tired more quickly.

I also tried to play around with sit bone steering, but I think I need to practice more than once every month and a half to productively play with steering.

Anyway, I’m still here, randomly working on this wheelie thing, making tiny bits of progress as I go.

* Not exactly “stumbled.” More like “targeted by YouTube because it knows everything about me.”

** Twelve minutes of video is an eon with my attention span.

30×29.2 Enduro

I’ve been wondering how my wheelies would fare on the Enduro, which is taller, longer, heavier, and squishier than the Mojo. A couple post-ride parking lot attempts two weeks ago were semi-successful, so today I devoted an entire session to it.

There is definitely more bike to lift. After a few attempts, I started to get the hang of it.

I can get between 4 and 6 pedal strokes on the Enduro. It is more strenuous to wheelie this bike than the Mojo.

Nonetheless, it is wheelieable! Screen capture evidence:

I wore my glasses today in a nod to Morgan Hurd. What’s better than a girl riding a wheelie? A nerdy girl riding a wheelie.

I look so serious. But check it out, I’m looking ahead, not down. Woot!

30×29.2 Shoulder Blades

My last wheelie practice was in early July. In late July, I attended a mountain bike wedding, where I was chatting with someone about coaching and picked up a second hand tip to “squeeze your shoulder blades together.” I can’t remember what the context was, but I did commit it to memory for wheelie practice.

Earlier this week, I stumbled across Skills with Phil’s latest wheelie update. Interestingly, he talked about dropping his seat a bit and using a slightly higher gear. It’s the opposite of what Ryan teaches in the 30 Day Wheelie Challenge course, but I’m a big believer in learning and trying out different tips from different people*, so I threw that in the mix too.

Interestingly, I look better now than I did when I was practicing every day. Maybe because I’ve been working on it in my head? I know that sounds silly, but mentally fine tuning skills as a background process really works.

Also, squeezing my shoulder blades together? It really works too!

No more super janky rounded back. Yay.

* Asking I-don’t-know-how-many people how to shoot over the course of a decade is how I finally learned how to shoot in hockey. If you ever ask me how to do something, I’ll do my best to teach you, and then I’ll tell you to ask five other people.

30×29.2 No Pulling

Wheelie practiced for the first time in a month. It was really windy out there, but at least it wasn’t cold.

I visualized wheelie masters on YouTube as I started my session. They all looked so carefree, with their straight backs and all. When I think about my form, that is the biggest visual difference between me and those who possess the Gift of Wheelie. (Yes, I’m earning my “gift”, but it’s fun to say.)

And so, my mantra for today’s wheelie practice: No pulling. No pushing away, either. No anything with my arms except straight relaxed balance.

I didn’t take any video, but in my mind, this meant less upper body movement on initiation. I learned to trust that I could get enough power in my initial pedal stroke to bring the front wheel up, given a small weight shift. Just like on YouTube.

It turns out I can get plenty of power into that first pedal stroke. There were definitely more float point moments than in a usual session.

Speaking of which, I should probably devote some time to dismounting off the back, so I don’t feel the need to brake out of float.

Noted.

30×29.2 Blister

Did a wheelies-only practice at the school today. It wasn’t frustrating but I was less carefree about things. Feeling like I’m making some progress, though. Still chasing, but definitely chasing less.

I’ve discovered the cul de sac I live on is the perfect pitch for practice. I don’t want to practice there all the time, though. The neighbors might think I’m obsessive or something.

I practiced until I got a blister on my hand. Not obsessive at all, nope.

My GoPro screengrabs all look exactly like the one from a couple weeks ago, except today I stuck out my tongue for fun.

30×29.2 Day Whatever

I rode sporadically as last winter approached, not at all when it started raining, and have gotten out just a handful of times since the trails started drying out.

On every ride, I mess around with wheelies on the fireroad climb back home.

Today, I did a shorter than usual ride so I could practice more wheelies at the end. I even brought my GoPro to document a bit.

When I last practiced wheelies in earnest, I was getting frustrated. Side balance was hard, I couldn’t get my front wheel up high enough, and all my tension showed in the form of shoulders up by my ears. (Okay, slight exaggeration.)

That frustration has dissipated with time. I have no expectations when I practice now because I haven’t done it in so long. So what if I can’t get 10 pedal strokes in? I don’t expect to.

I was a lot more relaxed today as I practiced. I started at a lower speed and focused on getting the bike up with a pedal stroke instead of a handlebar pull. I played around with side balance. I use my knees a lot more now, and it doesn’t bother me that it still doesn’t seem to make a lick of difference. I’m less afraid of getting my weight back too much. I trust my dismount instincts more. My shoulders aren’t all scrunched, and my back is less rounded.

I dialed my practice back to more basic lessons. Four solid pedal strokes, I told myself. I can hit four pedal strokes pretty consistently, and it didn’t bother me when I didn’t.

Perhaps the time off was good for me to get into a more zen state of mind. I think that’s a good thing. The wheelie feels like a zen activity to me.

GoPro screengrab or it didn’t happen!

30×29 Day ???

I have not made an update about wheelies in over a month. That’s because I have not had a dedicated wheelie day in over a month. I have excuses upon excuses as to why. They were wearing me out and making me suck at hockey. My body needed a break. I traveled to Boston and couldn’t practice. My local windy microclimate is teh sux for practice. It’s the coldest summer in San Francisco in a long time. I fell out of the habit of practicing.

I actually fell out of the habit of doing anything active for about a month. That’s not an excuse, that’s just fact. And that’s okay, because nothing in life over time is constant.

I’m getting back into the habit of being active again. I realized when I thought about practicing wheelies that I missed riding my bike. So I’ve been riding my bike. On trails, not in school playgrounds. And it’s been fun.

I practice wheelies a bit on these rides when I find myself on gentle fire roads or quiet streets. I’m about where I was when I left off in late July. I chase my wheel, don’t feel comfortable in the float zone, and have terrible side balance. But it’s interesting and fun and it feels more right than spending an hour in a parking lot.

So I’m gonna go with this for a while. It means no video because I’m practicing wheelies as I go from point A to point B, and first person wheelies don’t look like much. At least they don’t from my helmet. Maybe I’ll try mounting my GoPro to the handlebars.

Speaking of my GoPro, I got a new Session, mounted it to my helmet, and in my first minute of shooting, smashed it into a tree.

It’s so light I totally forgot it was there. GoPro win!

30×29 Day 16.3

More gentle hill practice today. I had high hopes that I’d be able to build upon yesterday’s practice, but today I had zero side balance because I don’t know why. I was somewhat frustrated by it, but not really, because by now I know that not all practices go super well, and I probably learned something today even though I don’t know it yet.

I wondered if pulling on the handlebars too much was causing me to lose side balance, so I worked a lot on getting a good arm and pedal push for the initial pop. I am actually able to pop high enough to loop with a single pedal stroke when I get it right. So there’s that.

I felt the bike bob forward and back quite a few times. One interpretation of that is float zone control. Another is leg strength imbalance. RIGHT LEG, left leg, RIGHT LEG, left leg, RIGHT LEG…

30×29 Day 16.2

My hockey imposed several day wheelie break turned into a ridiculously tiring hockey tournament weekend followed by me realizing I’d gone over a month with only one rest day followed by a week of mostly nothing except a bit of hockey followed by a weekend with friends I don’t get to see a lot followed by squats because I’ve been neglecting weight training for wheelies followed by a rest day because my legs were really sore. That brings us to today.

On the Day 16 comment thread of the course, I asked Ryan a bunch of questions and linked him to this video. He noticed I was still chasing my front wheel and suggested more float zone practice with an uphill slope, and separately with rear brake modulation.

I found a couple slopes at the elementary school near my house to practice this evening. It didn’t take me nearly as long as I thought it would to get comfortable practicing again. The last time I did the uphill practice was on Day 6, when I was still mostly on grass. It was tiring and frustrating.

Now, with a couple more weeks of practice, smooth pavement, and more speed, I had a much easier time. I continue to wheelie in the 6-8 pedal stroke range, but the slope slows me down enough that I can actually play with pedaling harder to bring the front wheel up, or even pausing and then pedaling again when I feel I’m too far back. That last bit is actually the lesson for Day 17, but randomly doing it is different from practicing it on purpose, so I’ll stay on Day 16.x until I’ve practiced uphill and brake modulation some more.

I reminded myself to push away, relax my shoulders, and keep my speed up to keep from falling sideways.

This video ain’t so great; I actually loosened up and wheelied better afterward, but you can get a feel for how the slope slows things down and actually buys me time to change my lean from right to left in the second clip.

Here’s a win: I realized as I wrote this post that I didn’t have to think even once about timing the initial arm and pedal pushes relative to each other. That feels almost automatic now.