For the record, you don’t need a full-face helmet and body armour.
Mastering the wheelie is about finding the balance between tipping forward and back. The biggest obstacle is overcoming the instinct to keep both wheels on the ground, says Lee McCormack, a skills instructor in the US. When most of us approach the point at which it feels like we’re about to topple backward, McCormack says, there’s a stress response and we back off. He recommends practicing the following techniques in sneakers on a mountain bike with flat pedals:
1) To create enough pedalling torque to raise the front wheel, shift into a gear that gives you a roughly 1:1 ratio (equal chainring and cog size).
2) Soft pedal a few strokes on flat terrain, then do a sharp, quick power stroke as you also lift upward on the handlebar and lean backward.
3) Keep pedalling, and the front will lift while the back wheel feels as if it is surging forward under you.
Scary? Sure. That’s where the platform pedals come in. When you fear you’re going to be flung backward, “just step off the back,” says McCormack. Then try again, and again, until that panic reflex goes away. Experiment with torque and balance until you hit the sweet spot where the front of the bike floats in a sustainable position. To end a wheelie, simply tap the rear brake to bring the front wheel back down. Pretty soon you’ll be nailing Danny MacAskill impressions.