As a crash investigator I see quite a few accidents that have been caused by wheelies. The problem is even if people do lots of practice, it’s usually in areas that are quiet and controlled. But when they try to show off, it’s often not in similar circumstances and it only takes something to go slightly a miss for it to end in tears.
The second problem is a wheelie will never ever go down well with the magistrate’s bench. It doesn’t matter how technically brilliant it was, you will always be seen as a lunatic. A well-timed, well-executed wheelie brings a smile to my face, but legally there’s no hope.
Practicing wheelies will improve your control, balance and feel for the bike to a certain extent, but the third problem is the basic skills you need – dropping the clutch suddenly at the right revs, overcoming your instinct to shut the throttle when the front comes up – don’t transfer directly to normal riding. If you learn to wheelie, then practice, all you do is get better at doing wheelies.
Stoppies on the other hand are harder to argue against. Not only do I rarely see crashes caused by them, there is also a direct benefit to normal riding. Most of us are poor at braking – I see many, many crashes caused because the rider hasn’t braked properly – so the more we exercise our ability to wang the front brake on successfully, the better. A stoppie is harder to criticise than a wheelie because you are actually stopping the bike, albeit in a flamboyant way. Stoppies are still showing off, but they will do more for your riding than hoiking a monster.
A gentler form of showing off is being able to ride very confidently at low speed. Like stoppies, this has a real benefit to everyday riding because lots of riders drop their bikes during low speed manoeuvres – and you’re usually doing this in places where people can see so it’s embarrassing. In some respects going slowly is harder than going quickly because tiny errors become very obvious very quickly
Practicing in the corner of a supermarket car park on a Sunday morning, seeing how slowly you can go and riding figure of eights, might seem a lot sillier than wheelies to many, but your riding will benefit no end.
Getting silly with electronics is potentially beneficial too. In the wet there is an advantage to be gained by triggering the traction control to see how much grip there is – the percentage drop in grip is usually far less than people imagine. Riders often ask where the limit is, but until traction control the only way to find out was by going past it and banking the experience (which can be quite painful and expensive). Playing with the traction control is a safer way of assessing grip. Similarly, trying to trigger the ABS on a deserted road can help demonstrate how hard you can brake in the wet and dry.
3 Tips to being Silly
Don’t bother with wheelies. At the right time and place they’re hilarious but are also dangerous, don’t improve your riding and are a red rag to the police and magistrates. Stoppies have more value because they’ll teach you to brake more effectively. Either go on a course or build up slowly on a quiet road.
Look silly in a supermarket car park. Practicing low riding is likely to boost your confidence more than any number of half-arsed wheelie attempts.