Monday, April 1, 2013

Stupid Human Tricks: My First (And Last) Wheelie

I never learned to pop a wheelie on my bike as a kid. I could lift the front wheel off the ground for a second, but it would immediately drop back down with a resounding thud. (To this day, that description matches my pathetic bunny-hopping skills too.)

However, one of the guys who worked at the first bike shop where I turned a wrench had grown up as an avid BMX freestyler. Even as an over-the-hill late teen, Ryan had skills that would leave your jaw on your top tube. If I put the tailgate down on my old pickup truck, he'd ride up alongside it on his MTB, come to a dead stop, and bunnyhop into the bed in one elegant ker-thump. To this earthbound klutz, it was (and still is) astounding.

So one day, we're circling a trailhead parking lot, waiting for another rider to show up, and Ryan's riding around on just his back wheel with all the ease most people show while riding on both wheels.

I couldn't resist. "How do you DO that, man?"

"Low gear, lift the front, pedal like crazy to get under it, and then just keep pedaling."

That sounded easy enough, so I gave it a shot. It took a few tries, but pretty soon I could hold a wheelie for a couple pedal strokes. Nothing like Ryan's one-wheeled ballet, but a far cry from the no-air-time thud of my youth.

And then, the stars aligned. I got that wheel up, pedaled like a maniac, and I... WAS... DOING... IT! Halfway across the lot... three quarters of the way across the lot... OH, CRAP, I'M RUNNING OUT OF LOT! WHAT DO I DO NOW?

Normal cycling instinct (misguided though it may have been in this case) said to turn the bars, so I turned them. Obviously, nothing happened -- though I must have looked totally radical with the front wheel up in the air and turned 90 degrees. If my brain hadn't been in full-on survival mode, I might have pulled a one-hander for the cameras.

Finally, sense kicked in, and I realized that if I just stopped pedaling, the front wheel would drop and I could ride it out with some style and dignity. Except, of course, the bars were still turned 90 degrees to the left. That front wheel hit pavement perpendicular to my (rather impressive) momentum, stopped that momentum dead, and added one more BMX trick to my repetoire as I did a spectacular Superman over the bars.

Injury to insult? I'd forgotten my gloves that day. Try going back to work as a bike mechanic after you've landed an endo on pavement bare-handed. Every time a wrench pressed into my hamburger-palms for the next month, I was reminded that while I may be many things, "radical and extreme" are not among them.


Anonymous said...

aw, man, I love stupid human tricks! A buddy taught me to pick stuff up off the road while riding a road bike. It's not particularly hard, but does take a bit of coordination. It's weird enough that it does get some attention.

As far as wheelies go, I grew up in the era of the Schwinn stingray, so it was a fairly common skill. To do it well, though, was pretty special.

Steve in Peoria,
where I've learned to ride my 'bent w/o hands (but not while pedaling)

Joe said...

Great story, and well told. Also reminds me I still can't wheelie or trackstand. Never advanced past riding no hands. Someday.