Sunday, November 14, 2010

1000 Wheelies Project: The Intro

I’ve heard that if you want to do something well, do it a thousand times and you’ll be better at it. That’s what I’m doing. I’m learning to wheelie a motorcycle well.

Over the past five years, wheelies have become a focus area for me. I woke-up one day and had a vision — a glimpse, if you will — of life-purpose. Wheelies excite people. So I decided to wheelie well. I got a big tricycle and a couple of trasher bicycles and spent a little time each day learning to balance on the rear wheels. It worked. Now I’m a wheelie master. In fact, I’m one final examination away from earning my Master’s in Wheelies from the University of Greenlake - but that’s another story.

The thing is, what I really want to learn is how to wheelie a motorcycle well, not just a bicycle. The bicycle angle was always a bit of a cheap cross-training exercise. I actually have difficulty believing I’ve gotten as good at it as I have. Uphill, downhill, slanted uneven ground, over bumps, around corners, crosswinds, doing coasters over the balance point... all are no problem... on a bicycle. Now my mission is to translate what I know without thinking into hot moto mono action.

Three times a week I take my Kawasaki KLR 650 to a parking lot for practice. I call this practice a Moto Mono Wheelie Session, or MMWS for short. The goal with each session is simple: get some wheelie time.

In the last month, I’ve done 11 sessions. My theory is to do about ten wheelies a day, sleep on it, and then do some more. That’s how progress is made. And it’s working.

The first 60 wheelies were horrible... absolutely just chasing the balance point. The KLR weighs roughly 20 times as much as my bicycle. That translates to slow-reacting heavy-handed inputs to correct left-right balance (steering) and a sense that I, of course, could easily be crushed upon loop-out. Fortunately, the KLR’s big single cylinder engine has lots of engine braking and a decent rear brake, so looping-out will only occur if, knock on wood, I’m really not paying attention.

Another big difference while wheel-up on the behemoth is that the rear brake is activated with the right foot instead of the right index finger. That means brain rewiring. What was second nature now requires a bit of thought. And instead of reacting (without thought) to unexpected conditions, now a thoughtful response is required just to get the brake dragging. Fortunately, I find learning fun and have not had any close calls with true danger.

By wheelie number 80, I figured out how to get the KLR up to the balance point. It seems way up there. I figured it’d take about 450 wheelies to get to that point in the learning curve. I have a feeling that learning curves are not always linear though. We’ll see where I am by the time I actually have done 450 moto wheelies.

Around wheelie number 110, I started to get more comfortable, a bit more bicycle-like. I just pop-up the front end as close to balance as I dare, at this stage in the game with a big heavy bike, and ride... standing tall high above the parking lot. That’s where I’m at. The next MMWS will be the wheelies numbered in the 120s on my 1000 Wheelies Project counter.

With the first 10% of this project under my pyramid-studded leather belt, I’ve learned a few key points on how I wheelie a motorcycle. In addition to trusting the rear brake, being smooth, and being comfortable (possible subjects to be discussed elsewhere), I offer the main key learning I got out of my first hundred wheelies. Keep in mind that I share this only for your reading pleasure. So, don’t go out an maim yourself with your motorbike after reading about “how MotoBum does it.”

KEY POINT: Do not dump the clutch. It took me a few sessions to realize that the rear tire has an easier time staying hooked-up and that the front wheel gets higher off the ground by not just revving the engine and dropping the clutch. The pros will tell you that is uncontrollable. It’s true. Instead, a more gentle approach is necessary. I just slip the clutch and give the bike a good hard launch. That’s it. (Note: a KLR is a long, heavy, underpowered motorcycle. Bringing up the front on the power alone does not bring the machine up anywhere near the balance point.) Just as on a bicycle, a good wheelie pop will bring the front end high enough to be just under, at, or just over the balance point.

Will I be able to wheelie a motorcycle well after 1000 wheelies? Maybe. Will I be better at it? Definitely. Some people say you can learn to do extraordinary things in a day. Others say it takes years. Who to believe? It depends. But one thing is for sure - if you’re not better at something after doing it 1000 times, do it another 1000 times and then see where you’re at.

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