Condensed Answer: Dirt jumpers do not have a geometry that facilitates the performance of a wheelie even though it’s possible to do the trick. It’s easier to perform a wheelie on a regular hardtail MTB or a wheelie bike.
If wheelies are the main goal, dirt jumpers are not optimal for that task.
Dirt Jumper Geometry and Wheelies
First, it’s necessary to define what’s a wheelie because beginners may confuse it with a manual.
A wheelie is a trick during which the rider lifts the front wheel and continues pedaling forward while being seated the whole time. A manual is the same except that the rider isn’t seated and doesn’t pedal.
Dirt jumpers are designed for tricks done out of the saddle. This function of dirt jumpers is achieved via the following geometrical specifications:
- Small Frames
The vast majority of dirt jump models come in one size. This is fine in most cases because dirt jumpers are designed for tricks rather than long-distance pedaling. Thus, the size of the bike is limited to facilitate that function.
Since a wheelie requires the rider to pedal, some people will find the bike too small for that task even with the seat pulled all the way up.
Wheelies can still be done, but the movement is just more difficult and can be very frustrating if you’re just starting out
- Excessively Short chainstays
Dirt jumpers have purposefully shortened chainstays to make it easier to lift the front wheel.
On the surface, this may seem beneficial for wheelies, but it actually makes the move a bit more difficult for beginners because the front wheel will often pop suddenly and scare the rider.
The main purpose of shorter chainstays is to make manuals and bunny hops easier, not wheelies.
It’s more difficult to lift the front wheel for a manual than it is for a wheelie because you can’t use the cranks to help you. Thus, the shorter chainstays are beneficial. But when it comes to wheelies they could make the lifting of the front wheel too sudden.
Lack of Gears
Most dirt jumpers are single-speed bikes for the following reasons:
- Simplicity (there’s nothing simpler than a single gear)
- Rigidity (derailleurs and hangers are easy to bend or damage when doing tricks)
- Lightweight (single-speed drivetrains do not need a rear derailleur and operate with one cog and a single chainring).
The lack of gears could make it a bit more difficult to learn how to wheelie. In general, it’s a lot easier to lift the front wheel when the gear is low. Thus, on a bike with lots of gears, one can easily find a chainring + rear cog combo that makes the learning process easier. On a single-speed bike, you’re stuck with one option.
A Short Seat Post
Dirt jumpers are designed to be ridden with the seat post slammed all the way down. You can, of course, elevate it, but if you’re tall, the new position may still be insufficient for normal pedaling.
One of the solutions is to buy an extra-long seat post. However, if the frame is small or the seat tube is curved, you won’t be able to fully slam the seat post later when you want to use the dirt jumper for actual dirt jumping.
Learning How To Do Wheelies On a Dirt Jump Bike
As already explained, dirt jumpers may not be optimal for wheelies, but the trick is still possible.
The common way of doing it is as follows:
- Make sure that you have a working rear brake. The rear brake is used to bring the front wheel down and to balance. For example, if the rider goes beyond the balance point, pressing the rear brake firmly will immediately bring the front wheel to the ground.
2. Lift the seat higher than normal.
3. Lean forward and compress the front suspension. This is known as “pre-load” and is meant to create momentum for the balance shift that’s about to happen.
4. Lean back while forcefully turning the cranks.
5. Remain on the saddle and keep pedaling. If the front wheel wants to drop, shift your bodyweight backward ever so slightly and power the cranks. If the front wheel wants to get too high, lightly press the rear brake and/or lean forward a bit.
This stage takes weeks and sometimes even months of practice.
Don’t Confuse Cat Walking with Wheelies
Cat walking is a trick that looks quite similar to a wheelie, but has one fundamental difference – the rider isn’t seated. Thus, cat walking is a mix between a manual and a wheelie.
Cat walking can be done on both BMX bikes and dirt jumpers. However, cat walking doesn’t provide the same control as a wheelie and can’t be done for the same distances.
What Are The Optimal Wheelie Bikes
Wheelie bikes represent a mix between an oversized BMX bike and a cruiser. Some models even have 29″ wheels for extra speed, comfort and roll-over ability. They’re also relatively comfortable to pedal when you lift the seat up.
The downside of wheelie bikes is that they don’t excel at many things besides cruising and wheelies. The geometry isn’t as aggressive as what’s we seen on a dirt jumper. Also, some wheelie bikes have weak frames and forks that can’t sustain street riding.
Hardtails are a very good choice for wheelie training as they allow comfortable pedaling and come in multiple sizes.
The reason to choose hardtails over full-suspension MTBs is that the rigid frame gives better feedback and makes it simpler and easier to balance the bike.
Another benefit of hardtail bikes is that they are very versatile and can also be used for commuting, jumping and all sorts of MTB disciplines.
Summary: What You Need to Know
- A dirt jumper will allow you to do wheelies, but it’s not the most comfortable bike for that task due to the small frame, excessively short chainstays, and the low seat. Truth be told, dirt jumpers excel at manuals rather than wheelies. This is a good thing because manuals are a more useful and versatile street trick than the wheelie.
- To make a dirt jumper more comfortable for wheelies, lift the saddle all the way up. You can also get a longer seat post.
- If you want a neighborhood bike that’s good at wheelies and cruising around, get a wheelie bike.
- If you want a more versatile bike that’s also decent for wheelies, look into hardtail MTBs.