“When we first started riding, we thought
that a wheelie was just a wheelie, and a trick was just a
trick. Then as we progressed we learned that a wheelie was
more than just a wheelie, and a trick was more than just a
trick. Upon mastering the sport, we now know that a wheelie
is just a wheelie, and a trick is just a trick.” –
K.Woods & M.Gorka
While I won’t be talking about very many different
tricks in this little write-up, we will be talking extensively
about wheelies. We will be going over almost every aspect,
from the General setup of your quad, to the techniques used
to help you go for miles on two wheels. I have read various
“How to pull wheelies” articles and I hope that
this one is much more in-depth, realistic, and helpful for
Before we get underway, I’d just like to start off
by reminding you that wheelies can be dangerous, and should
only be attempted by those who are extremely comfortable on
an ATV. Please also remember to wear the proper safety gear
every time you get on your Quad, regardless of the type of
riding you will be doing.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get started.
Setup: For the most part, wheelies can be learned and performed
on a completely stock Quad (depending on the model). This
article will focus more towards your Average sport quad (I.E.
400ex, Z400, etc…). However, there are some small tips
that can make wheelies easier and safer. I will go over a
few general areas of the quad setup, and let you know what
I have found through my experience doing wheelies.
Tire Pressure – If you
talk to anyone into “Stunting” or Wheelies,
they will tell you that a lower tire pressure is helpful
in most cases. It actually is very true, and helps in a
couple of different areas; Turning and Balance. When using
a lower tire pressure it allows your tires to “squish”
more when your weight is placed over them. That means when
you lean over the left or right hand side of the quad, the
rear tire on the side you are leaning towards compresses
some, making the diameter smaller, which causes the quad
to turn in that direction. Don’t forget that the pressure
in each tire needs to be adjusted so that the quad tracks
in a straight line on a flat surface. It doesn’t necessarily
mean that you have to have them equal; there can be a lot
of factors that cause it to pull to one side or the other,
so adjust accordingly.
As I mentioned, another benefit to lowering your tire pressure
is increased balance. Your tires are round right? Of course
they are. When you are up in a wheelie your tires compress
slightly, causing a small “flat spot” where
they come in contact with the ground. The more air pressure
in your tires, the smaller that flat spot is. Ask yourself;
Is it easier to stand something up with a rounded bottom,
or with a flat bottom? The answer obviously is something
with a flat bottom. Running your air pressure softer than
stock will cause the “flat spot” on the ground
to be larger, making it easier to keep the front end balanced
in the air.
There really is no “ideal” pressure. It not
only depends on the rider and the quad, but it also depends
on the tires used. The higher ply tires are more rigid than
the lower ply, and require more air to be taken out of them
to get this affect. It is best to experiment and decide
what works best for you. I typically run about 2-3psi in
my rear tires, sometimes less.
Sprockets – In my honest
opinion, if you are running an average sport quad, there
is no need to mess around with the changing of sprockets.
Most stock 400cc quads are capable of being pulled up in
5th gear. Quads like the Honda & Yamaha 450’s
seem to have a fairly tall 1st gear, but for standard wheelies
they are perfectly fine. I’m sure even the slower,
and more advanced tricks are fine on them with a little
Chain Adjustment – Nothing
major here, just check your chain for slack and adjust to
factory specifications. If your chain is loose, you may
have to make throttle changes in your wheelie to compensate
for the “slop” in your drivetrain.
Throttle – Much like that
Chain, just double check your throttle to ensure that it
works smoothly and does not stick. Also check for “free-play”
and adjust as needed.
Clutch – Everyone is different,
so adjust your clutch so that you are comfortable using
it. I like a clutch that grabs and releases nice and close
to the handlebars, where others like a clutch that barely
needs to be pulled in to grab. It is personal preference.
Also, despite what you may have heard, wheelies will not
kill your clutch (at least if done properly). I have been
riding wheelies on my quad for almost 5 years, and my stock
clutch has never been touched.
Grab Bar / Wheelie Bar –
Call it what you want, but I’m talking about the bar
on the back of your quad that you probably use mostly for
lifting up the back tires, or moving the quad back or forth.
This bar is important when doing wheelies because it can
save your “you know what” if you do happen to
screw up. Nothing really needs to be done with it, but look
it over for cracks or weak points that could cause it to
snap or bend when hit. If you have previously bent the bar,
it may be a good idea to just replace it, as everyone knows
that it will bend even easier the 2nd time. Some people
choose to run aftermarket, or home fabricated bars that
are stronger or last longer when scraped on the ground.
I do not use those types of bars for more advanced wheelies,
and I surely do not think they are needed for learning standard
wheelies. If anything, you can have someone put a bead of
weld along the back of your bar which will make it take
longer to wear through. Keep in mind though, the idea is
not to have to use it, as it does not always save you from
a crash, and in some cases can even cause one.
Other than the few “Do it yourself” mods or adjustments
that I listed above, you really do not need any. Anything
you can think of us purely optional. Whether its different
handlebars to give you a better feel, Nerf bars for added
security, or a custom titanium scrap bar so you can cause
4th of July-like fireworks, it’s all up to you. One
mod that I have seen that is helpful on a variety of quads
is an aftermarket pipe. The more low-end torque you have to
lift the wheels quickly, the better off you are. It is not
needed on the higher powered quads, but it can really make
a difference on the lower HP machines.
Posture: There are a few different body positions for doing
standard wheelies. I will do my best to point out the ups
and downs for the ones that I can think of.
Sitdown – Your average,
run of the mill wheelie. The rider is sitting on the seat,
with their hands on the controls, and feet on the pegs.
This is a good position to be in because everything (The
throttle, clutch, brake, and gear shift) is easily accessible.
Also, the stress on your arms and legs is minimal, so you
can ride like this for a long distance without getting tired.
The downside is that for beginners, the front end of the
quad can feel higher than it actually is which causes them
to let off the throttle before the balance point is reached.
This is also not an ideal position for beginners to be in
if they do happen to go back too far on the wheelie, as
the quad can tip all of the way backwards under some circumstances
if the rear brake is not applied. In that case it is not
easy to step off in this position.
Standup – Exactly how
it sounds. Hands on the controls, and feet on the pegs,
with the rider in the standing position. This position is
nice because you get a clear view of what is ahead of you,
and the front end of the ATV does not seem as high as it
does in the sitdown position. In the result of an error
that causes the quad to fall back on the grab-bar, you can
often easily step off. Unfortunately, the brake and gear
shift can sometimes be a little bit harder to reach, and
there is a lot more stress on your arms and legs which can
affect long distance wheelies for some.
Split – There are a lot
of names for this method, but here we are talking about
your hands on the controls, your right foot on the right
foot peg, and your left foot in the grab-bar. This position
is similar to the Standup, as you can see clearly in front
of you, but in this case you have more support from your
left leg, and the brake is easily used with your right foot.
This position really helps you judge the height of the quad,
and can be really nice when practicing slow wheelies, as
you can just step off if you go back too far. You can also
adjust your weight back and fourth easier in this position.
One downfall to this position is the fact that the gear
shift is not accessible, but that normally is not a problem.
However a more serious issue can be the fact that your left
foot can sometimes hit the ground if you hit the bar, which
can cause you to be pulled off of the quad and possibly
injured. I have no had this happen to me, but I have heard
and seen cases where this has happened.
Seat Stander Standing with both
feet on the seat (or grab-bar), with hands on the controls.
The advantages to this position are the fact that more weight
is towards the rear of the quad, causing the balance point
to be lower. Much like the Standup, and Split, you have
an unobstructed view of what is in front of the quad. Turning
and control is good in this position because you can throw
your weight around a lot easier (side to side, front to
back). However your gearshift and brake are out of reach
in this position. Luckily it is easy to bail in the chance
that something goes wrong.
Basics of Throttle Control & Balance Point: Before going any further, I would like to talk a
little about throttle control and the balance point because
these are the most important factors when you are in your
Smoothness is the key here. Throw away any advice that anyone
has given you regarding “blipping” or “chopping”
the throttle, as that is nothing but bad news. The basic idea
behind throttle control is to use a lot to get the quad from
the ground to the balance point, but then smoothly adjust
it to a point where you can almost hold it steady.
The Balance point is the angle where the quad requires no
more acceleration to keep the front end in the air. Knowing
this point is one of the keys to doing wheelies. While I can’t
really describe in words where this point is, you will feel
it when you get there. It varies depending on speed and seating
position, as well as if you are on a flat surface, or an incline.
It is higher the slower you are going, and lower the faster
you are going.
Though Throttle Control and the Balance point may be the
most important factors in a wheelie, you will soon learn that
the Rear brake is your best friend.
Lifting the front tires: There are a couple of ways to get the front end of
the quad off the ground. Believe me when I say that it is
very important to get the tires off of the ground quickly
and smoothly. How easy it comes up varies a lot depending
on the quad you are riding, but here I will assume you are
riding an average, manual clutch sport quad.
Power method – This method
uses the quads engine power, along with your pulling power
to lift the tires off the ground. This way is pretty simple,
but you do need to be familiar as to where your quads power
band is, and it does take a bit of timing.
Basically, the idea is to be at the base of the power band,
just before it really starts to kick in, let off the throttle
slightly, and then crack it open while tugging on the handlebars.
The tug of the bars should occur at the same time the power
is coming on. Keep in mind that the front will come up slower
or quicker depending on the gear you are in. It’s
obviously best to be careful and experiment a little before
you actually grab a handful of throttle and throw all your
weight back. We will talk a little more about gear selection
Clutching Method – Similar
technique as the Power method, except you are using the
clutch to help make the lift more smooth and consistent.
A slip of the clutch can also assist in getting the front
end of lower powered quads up in higher gears. This is normally
geared more for the advanced riders.
I personally only use this method when I’m going to
wheelie from a dead-stop. It allows me to pull the front end
up much quicker, which makes my wheelie speed slower.
Setting it back down: Returning the front tires back to the ground is typically
much easier than lifting them up, but there are still a few
things to know.
It’s ideal to set the front end down with the wheels
straight, and your body in a secure position. It also helps
to accelerate as the front tires come in contact with the
ground to really help smoothen the landing. In some cases
this is hard to do because you could have the RPM’s
tapped out. When that occurs simply pull in the clutch and
hold on. It will be a lot more gentle than the front end slamming
the ground under engine braking. If anything though, make
sure that the wheels are straight and you are holding on.
Shifting: A common question I see is “How do I shift
in a wheelie?”. The answer is; Pretty much like you
shift with all four tires on the ground. That means using
the clutch and a smooth transition from one gear to the other.
Keep in mind; you should not Have To shift. Once you find
the balance point, and develop good throttle control, you
can virtually stay in a gear and wheelie forever without acceleration.
For those of you who are ready to shift because you want
to, not because you have to, here is how you do it. Power
up the wheelie like normal. Keep the front end near the lower
end of the balance point, and slowly accelerate. Once you
are almost to the point where you need to shift (I’m
not talking about bouncing off the rev-limiter either), bring
the quad up higher so you are slightly passed the balance
point. Once there, you should be able to pull the clutch in,
and shift to the next gear. Smoothly release the clutch while
providing a little bit of throttle, as you normally would
when shifting gears on the ground. The key here (as with most
aspects of the wheelie), is to be smooth, and not try to rush
things. Feel what the quad is doing, and compensate as needed
after you have completed the shift.
Please use the clutch, for your sake, and for your quads
sake. There is really no reason to do otherwise. If you cannot
shift in a wheelie while using the clutch, you really need
to practice more.
Steering the Wheelie: If you listened to what I said in the beginning regarding
your tire setup, this will be a breeze.
While in a wheelie, simply lean to the side where you want
the quad to go. You will feel the quad start to pull in that
direction. This typically does not happen instantaneously,
so lean a little bit before you actually want the quad to
turn. When you want to stop turning, simply lean a little
in the opposite direction to get the quad to track straight
again. It also helps to keep the quad as high in the balance
point as possible, which causes more weight to be put on the
Despite what you may have heard, turning the bars while in
the air does not help at all in my opinion. Some say that
they act like a rudder and cause the quad to turn. If this
is the case, it is very minimal. The only advantage to turning
the handlebars is to help you lean off to the side more.
The Rear Brake: Besides good throttle control, and a good feel for
the balance point, this is probably the next most important
factor in a wheelie. Although theoretically you do not ever
need to touch the rear brake to keep a wheelie going, it will
come in handy at some point.
Everyone makes mistakes. That is a fact, and that is why
it is important to know how to use your brake in a wheelie.
I know what you are saying; “How is it any different
than using my brake normally?”. The answer is, that
it is not any different than you would normally use it, however
hitting your rear brake is typically not your first reaction
when you overcook a wheelie.
Usually what happens when beginners go passed the balance
point, is they go into panic mode because they are nervous,
and totally forget about everything else and simply just want
to bail or hold on and ride the wheelie out. Well, neither
one of those are the right solution to your problem. The proper
way to correct a wheelie gone bad is to apply the rear brake
(preferably before you hit the grab bar). Unfortunately, most
people cannot make this their first reaction without it happening
to them a few times.
A technique I used to learn the rear brake was to keep popping
the quad up in 1st gear, and intentionally go passed the balance
point and force myself to hit the back brake to bring the
quad back down. At first your main goal is to just get the
front end back on the ground, but eventually after you practice
your technique, you will be able to apply clutch and throttle,
to keep the front end up in the air. This is also the first
step to learning slow, walking-speed wheelies.
Putting Everything Together:
Now that you know most of the steps, and how they work, we
can put them together and go through a wheelie Start to Finish.
The thing to keep in mind is that nobody is the same, and
you have to experiment a little bit to see what works best
for you. Gear selection, body position, and etc., are all
optional. Maybe you want to go slow in the split position,
or maybe you want to do a fast standup. If you are worried
about hurting yourself or your quad, it is best to start out
in a lower gear, or if you are a little more fearless, maybe
a higher gear works best for you. I personally learned to
do wheelies in 3rd gear. The reason why 1st gear can be tricky
to learn in, is because the slower you are going, the higher
the balance point is. You also have less gear to work with,
meaning it’s easier to run out of RPM’s if you
have to make a lot of throttle adjustments. 5th or 6th gear
(depending on how many your quad has) is theoretically the
easiest gear to wheelie in because the balance point is lower,
and you can make several major throttle adjustments and still
not tach the engine out. Obviously the downside is that if
you were to fall, or hit something, you’d probably be
in a serious world of hurt.
Now that you know what gear you want to start in, it’s
time to get the front end up off the ground. Since I typically
use the “Power Method” to wheelie at speed, that
is what I will use to explain it here.
Get the quad rolling low in the RPM range just below the
power band (approx ¼ Throttle typically). Let off the
throttle, and immediately open it back up and pull back on
the handlebars. The front end will then lift.
Once the front tires are airborne, you will then have to
make your initial throttle adjustments. This where wheelies
are won or lost for the beginner. The idea is to get the front
end up to balance point as quickly as possible, so stay in
the throttle. As you approach the balance point, you can ease
up on the gas, and once you are in the balance point you should
be able to stay between ½ - ¼ throttle, making
minor adjustments here and there. You do not want the front
end dropping below the balance point, otherwise you have to
apply more throttle to get it back up, and you may have to
set the wheelie down if you run out of RPM’s, so conserve
them as best you can. Also, always remember to keep that rear
If you find that your engine speed is very high, you can
slowly go back to the high end of the balance point, which
will actually allow you to slow down a little bit.
Once you are ready to set the front end back down after a
few miles or so, simply ensure that your bars are straight,
slowly let off the throttle until the front wheels are only
a foot or two off the ground, and then accelerate slightly
for a smooth landing.
That’s pretty much all there is too it.
I don’t expect you to be able to read through
this, and instantly be able to go out and ride wheelies for
days. This is something that takes time and practice. Some
learn faster than others, but practice always makes perfect.
Wheelies can be very tricky and elusive for some people at
first. Just because your next door neighbor says wheelies
are easy, doesn’t mean you should feel bad for not being
able to do them yet. Once you learn them, you will think that
they are easy too. Just be patient, take things one step at
a time, and you will continue to progress each day that you
Another thing that is never fun to talk about is the danger
aspect. In general, Quads are dangerous machines and need
to be respected 100% of the time. This becomes even more important
when you are pulling of maneuvers that they were not specifically
designed for. I have seen a lot of people get hurt doing wheelies,
and I have taken quite a few spills myself. You have to accept
the fact that there is a chance of seriously hurting yourself,
or your quad every time you get on it. Regardless of the type
of riding you choose to do.
Please be safe, and always ride within your limits. Remember
that there will always be a chance for another wheelie. If
things get sketchy, just set her down and try again when the
situation allows. There is no reason to risk hurting yourself,
or anyone around you by trying to go an extra few feet on