Ask Uncle Dave – The Wheelie Gene

Words Dave Tolnai
Date Apr 27, 2015

Dear Uncle Dave,

As someone holding advanced degrees in Psychology, I know well enough that the nature (born with it) vs. nurture (learnt it) debate isn’t so much a debate as a way to focus energy on the shit we can change vs. the shit we can’t. I’ve mountain biked since I was young but am by no means a natural athlete. I’ve worked hard for any meager gains in two-wheeled prowess I’ve scarcely compiled over the years and am comfortable categorizing myself as happy mule amongst thoroughbreds in the world of bikes. I love bikes and live in a place where I get to ride them on good trails and a lot. Every damn Wednesday though, sometimes late Tuesday, Wyn Masters shows up on my social media feed reminding me of the balance and skill some riders have as he manuals and wheelies everything from entire pump tracks, to highways, to downhill tracks and sometimes while holding a beer in one hand and wearing flip flops (Jandals). I don’t ask for much out of my skill but I would love to be able to wheelie and have watched the instructional videos, practice frequently…and I think I’m getting better… but I haven’t found comfort in a balance point yet. I’ve heard from some that you are either born with it, or you are not…and I could be assumed to fall in to the not category. What is your take? Should I give up hope and focus on things I am good at (generally things that require no innate physical gifts… like beard growing or checkers) or continue to place physical and emotional energy into my quest to feel more comfortable on one wheel?
Wheelie Curious

Dear WC:

I’ve often wondered what the British Mountain Biking Scene is like. Lots of drinking, I suspect? A disturbing lack of punctuation, maybe?

Anyhow, you’ve just asked the Pope for sex advice. I really have no idea if you can or cannot learn to wheelie. I’m assuming you can’t and you should probably give up and sell your bikes.

Lucky for you though, we know a man that might be able to shed some light on this subject and not half-ass a terrible answer. He’s the hardest working man in mountain biking… One of the top five wheeliers in the entire world… More earnest and kind than that kid from high school that everybody borrowed money from and never paid back… He’s Ryan Leech and he’s here to answer your question (and provide this week’s prize that will help you learn how to wheelie).

Uncle Dave
PS – This guest answering is amazing. I hardly have to do anything.
PPS – It’s kind of funny to have somebody “guest answer” in writing. I mean, we could have just found any “Ryan Leech” and claimed he’s the world famous trials/mountain bike rider. It might not even really be him?
PPPS – Or we could have just made the whole thing up, really. But we didn’t. It’s really him.
PPPPS – To paraphrase – “get off your ass and practice”.

Hey Wheelie Curious,
GREAT question!

Okay, so you’re better at riding your mountain bike now than when you first started. Go back even further to when you first learned how to ride two wheels, likely as a kid, was that nature or nurture? My guess is also that the average non riding person would watch you rip down a fun trail and think you’re an incredible rider… so yes, focus on what you’re good ;-)…and expand your learned range of ability to one wheel!

We all have experiences in life that gradually and slowly build up our belief about whether we have a ‘wheelie gene’ or not. Personally, I didn’t think I’d ever learn how to wheelie, it was so, so frustrating. It was the first real trick I learned, and all I remember is having a strong desire to learn it, and an above average work ethic to get it. Those two ingredients are key:

True desire.
Real Practice.

Spend some time considering these two ingredients. Are you prepared to be frustrated, and are you willing to work through numerous urges to give up? Are you prepared to practice daily, even when you feel like you’re regressing? If not, and you do spend ’some’ time practicing, then you will certainly bolster your belief in not having the wheelie gene. There is nothing magical about the wheelie (even though it feels that way once you do learn it) it is just a matter of small gradual breakthroughs over time.

Ryan Leech

Wheelie Curious, you are in luck. Uncle Dave delivers! You win Ryan Leech’s 30 day Wheelie Course! You will learn to wheelie or get your money back. Because you didn’t pay. But if anyone can teach you to be a back wheel baller it’s Ryan. He’s on the road right now so it may take a day or two to arrange this but we’ll get ‘er done. Here’s a tease for you.

Have a question for Uncle Dave? Wheel it over here…

Usually the people who believe in the wheelie gene haven’t learned to wheelie yet. Do you have it?

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7 years, 7 months ago

Haha, love the photoshopped picture of me/you Uncle Dave, and thanks for passing along the question, so glad to get 'Wheelie Curious' into the course!


7 years, 7 months ago

Go to a grass field. Now pull up on the bars as you give a couple of hard pedal strokes, then step off your bike (or fall on your ass) as it loops out from under you. If you can't get your bike to loop out either your seat is too low, or you're a wuss. You'll never learn to wheelie if you are worried about falling off the back of your bike. Repeat over and over, but now try feathering the back brake just as your bike is about to loop out. Congratulations! You've now found the balance point. Proceed to wheelie everywhere.


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