I did a basic wheelie school a few years ago and have had great fun pulling lots of wheelies since then. However, I’ve only been pulling first gear power wheelies as that’s what I learned so I’ve been wanting to take it to the next level for a while. I know there’s nothing stopping me learning by myself, but I learn best with someone instructing me and giving me feedback, so I find dedicated schools like this really beneficial.
When I went to Stunt Asylum in 2015 to learn to stoppie, I pulled a few wheelies while there and the instructors, stunters Nick Straughan and Adam8, said that, if I wanted to learn stand-ups, I’d be able to combine learning the clutch-up method and stand-ups on the same day. So, with that in mind, I booked a day at Stunt Asylum in August 2016 (actually, I asked for it for my birthday so someone else booked it for me).
Arrival and sign-on
Stunt Asylum is located at Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey, where the Top Gear test track is. And no, you don’t get to whazz it round the track to time yourself against the Stig, unfortunately, but you do get to pull wheelies with a jumbo jet in the background. My ride there takes me down the A281 which is a cracking little road to warm up for the fun to come.
Upon arrival, I was invited to make myself a cup of coffee in the Stunt Asylum truck and sign in. There were 8 other people on the course with me so we were split into 3 groups of 3, which is the maximum number of people allowed on the runway at any one time for insurance purposes. Each group would go out for 15 minutes at a time with each person getting at least 20 runs per session, so there is plenty of practice time available.
The skill levels across the groups were varied – most of the people had never wheelied before and three of us had. The other two who could wheelie had been to Stunt Asylum before so were familiar with the clutch-up method.
First of all, we all gathered round for a briefing where Nick went through the technique we would be putting into practice throughout the day. The idea is to accelerate smoothly and, with two fingers, ping the clutch in and out, moving the lever the smallest amount possible to get the front off the ground. Ideally, our first few attempts shouldn’t even alter the engine noise as we’d be moving the lever too little to make a difference and then we’d build up progressively as we got used to the action.
We all started off on the quads after a demonstration from Nick and the first few runs were spent getting used to the motions – accelerate, tiny amount of clutch, release – and then gradually applying more clutch until the front was up. It’s really easy to wheelie the quads – you can get them moving at a really slow speed, ping the clutch, and they’ll come straight up due to the power delivery at low revs and the really short wheelbase. They all have anti-flip bars welded to the back of them so you can’t come off the back if you whang it up too enthusiastically. These are at an angle which makes it just about possible to wheelie the whole way down the runway but this takes a level of throttle control I wasn’t able to achieve in the first session, although I was going a good 30m or so.
Stepping up to the bikes
I didn’t want to do a second session on the quads as I wanted to progress to the bikes and then to standing up as soon as possible, so I explained this to Nick and he got a bike ready for me. The bikes (Fazer 600s) have more sophisticated anti-flip devices on them – whereas the quads have a piece of metal framework, the bikes have a switch sticking out of the rear which momentarily cuts the power to the engine when it touches the ground. They’re adjustable too, so as you improve throughout the day, they can be moved to allow higher and higher wheelies.
I did two sessions on the bikes practicing the clutch method. The bikes don’t come up as easily as the quads – you need to be going a little faster and the clutch movement is a little more than on the quads. Once I was confidently pulling smooth wheelies and was happy with the actions, I said to Nick I was ready to stand.
At the start of my next session, Nick talked me through the position I’d be in and twisted the clutch lever round the bar a little to make them more in line with the position my hands would be in while standing. Then I got on the bike and, oh my god… the stand-up position (right foot on peg covering brake pedal, left foot on pillion peg) felt completely alien. It’s such a different position to ride a bike in and, before I tried any wheelies, I spent about 5 minutes riding around like that to get used to it. It was completely unlike any position I’d ever been in before on a bike. It obviously makes a lot more sense and is way more comfortable when you’re pulling a wheelie as you’re then standing almost vertically but initially, it was really weird.
My first few goes were really tentative while I got used to the stand-up position. In fact, I think the whole of my first session was pretty lame, with only a few half-arsed wheelies. After my first session, we stopped for a lunch break (no lunch onsite so bring some sandwiches!) during which the instructors treated us to a stunt display to show us what we could achieve with just, ooo, 15 years of practice. One of the other guys who had been to Stunt Asylum before decided that stand-ups looked pretty fun, so he asked to upgrade too.
My second session was a lot better as I was starting to feel a bit more comfortable standing up and I started to actually pull some half decent wheelies. Because your weight is a lot higher and more forward than usual when standing, the clutch motion needs to be more pronounced to pull a decent wheelie so it took a little while to get used to adjusting the technique slightly, pulling the clutch in slightly further and letting the revs build for a fraction of a second longer before releasing it. During this session, Nick had me practicing deliberating dropping the front with the rear brake to get used to using this for when (not if!) I pulled one too high or fast and needed to save it.
Onto my own bike
It was then time to get onto my own bike for the last couple of sessions of the day and transfer the skills I’d learned on the quads and the Fazer. This is usually the point at which the instructor has a go on your bike and lets you know whether you need to adjust your style to suit it. I’d allowed this when I did stoppie school the year before, reasoning that the switch from a someone else’s unflippable stoppie bike to my own, completely flippable pride and joy was a bit of a leap so it made a lot of sense for them to try it out first. However, I’m really precious when it comes to my bike and I felt a little like I’d cheated on it by letting someone else ride it – no-one else has ridden it in the 8 years I’ve owned it! So this time I said I would just get on with it myself as I’d rather no-one else rode it (no offence, guys – it’s my weirdness, not your riding!).
This is where it got really interesting as the stand-up position on my Blade is so much more extreme than it was on the Fazer. My bike has Gilles rearsets which are set to a track-oriented position so they’re much higher than the Fazer’s. Being a sportsbike, the pillion pegs are also way higher so the standing position meant I was canted really far forward with all my weight on my hands while I was just riding around.
As when I’d made the switch before, the first couple of runs were really tentative as I became accustomed to the position on my bike and the differences in clutch sensitivity and power delivery. The first session on my own bike was pretty lame but then my last wheelie of the session was actually half decent and I was running out of revs when the front came down.
Starting to come together
My next session was a lot better and I started running out of revs (and runway) on some of my runs. Nick stopped me to offer some feedback – I was bending my arms too much as the bike came up, pulling it towards my upper body rather than keeping them a little straighter and letting the bike push me into a more vertical position. I was vaguely aware I was doing this at the time (as you can see in some of the pictures) and found it quite difficult to break but with some conscious effort, I was getting better by the end of the day.
I also got a sneaky extra session in as one of the other people on the course was getting really sore arms so offered me her space in the final session. She was going to sit it out because she had a long ride home to Bristol afterwards and didn’t want to make it any more painful. I was just starting to get comfortable at the end of the previous session so really appreciated one more run.
It was an absolutely brilliant day and I, along with everyone else there, had a whole load of fun. As I was already comfortable on the rear wheel, I was luckily able to combine learning the new technique with stand-ups on the same day. It was quite a lot to learn and get used to in the 6 hours I was there, although this was probably mostly down to getting used to the extreme stand-up position on a sportsbike.
I surprised myself with the level of restraint I showed in not trying any stand-ups on the ride home, but am now faced with the same dilemma as when I came off stoppie school… finding somewhere to practice!
I can’t recommend a day at Stunt Asylum enough – the guys are brilliant and the instruction is top-class, with them taking you through every stage really clearly before going on to the next. It’s amazing how quickly and confidently they can help you learn a whole new skill in just a few hours so if you want to learn how to pull smooth, controlled wheelies, this is definitely the place to go!
To book a day at Stunt Asylum, visit http://www.stuntasylum.com