How Do I Get Better at Popping a Wheelie?

Jun 02, 2021

Anonymous asks, quote:

I’m still pretty new to a wheelchair and not that strong. How do I lift the front wheels of my chair up while moving to be able to get up curbs and stuff without stopping? I’ve tried to figure it out but I’m really struggling.

end quote.

I talk a little bit about how to more easily lift the front of your chair in my Cripple Survival Skills: Pop a Wheelie and How to use a Wheelchair guides. However, I want to directly address the issues you’re having with lifting the front of the chair. Depending on the size of your chair and how much it weighs, it can be difficult to lift the front, regardless of your upper body strength. You’re not going to be able to lift the front of a 75 pound hospital chair, for example. If your chair is sized correctly and made of modern, lightweight materials, you should have no issue adjusting the center of gravity on your chair to make the front easier to lift.

By default, most wheelchairs have their center of gravity set at 0°. This keeps the chair fairly stable, even when the user is leaning backwards. However, it also makes the chair slower and harder to maneuver. In your case, the low center of gravity on your chair is preventing you from easily lifting the front wheels. How you go about adjusting the center of gravity on your chair depends on your make/model (read your owner’s manual), but the process is pretty much the same on most chairs.

To adjust the center of gravity on your chair, take a look at how your wheels attach to the frame. Odds are there’s some kind of adjustable clamp or rod attaching the wheel to the frame. Make a note of the current position of the wheels on the frame. Then, loosen that clamp and slide the wheels of your chair forward an inch or two and tighten the clamp. Then, get back in your chair and see how it feels. Do not attempt to lift the front of the chair. Instead make sure the chair operates smoothly and normally and that you feel secure while moving in the chair. When you’re comfortable with the adjustments, from a stationary position, slowly lift the front of your chair. It should rise easily and in a controlled fashion. If it rises too quickly, adjust the center of gravity back towards its original position. If it’s still too hard, move it farther forward.

Now that you’ve got the hang of lifting the front of your chair, the next step is to practice balancing the chair with your front wheels off the ground. Basically, you’re trying to do a super long (stationary) wheelie. When you’re able to easily and confidently sustain a wheelie while stationary, practice holding your chair’s front wheels off the ground while moving. Don’t get too ambitious: start with slowly moving the chair forward a couple of feet with the wheels in the air. Then, move on to faster speeds and longer distances.

Once you’ve got the hang of this skill, you’re ready to start jumping curbs. The key to jumping a curb (or any raised surface) is speed. You need to be moving fast enough that you’re momentum carries you over the curb when your back wheels touch it. I highly recommend having a spotter or even wearing a bicycle helmet here. Falls while curb jumping can be particularly painful. To start, practice approaching the curb at at slow speed and timing your wheelie so that the front of your chair clears the curb and your back wheels just touch it. You don’t need to worry about being able to get up the curb just yet. It’s more important to get the timing right first. After you’ve got a feel for the timing, it’s time to practice jumping the curb. The most important thing to remember about curb jumping is that, as soon as your front wheels are in the air, you have to commit. Any hesitancy on your part could lead to your chair getting stalled on the curb and getting stuck or tipping over. Go in confident or not at all.

If you’ve done it right, when you’re back wheels touch the curb, the back of your chair should start to lift off the ground and level out with the sidewalk. Once that happens, shift your hands forward on your tires, drop the front of your chair and push hard to give your tires in enough grip to keep you on the sidewalk.