Whether you’re a newcomer to riding bikes, or you’ve been riding tricks up and down the block at seven years old—you’ve probably heard of a wheelie bike. What are wheelie bikes? What’s so special about them?
There are a lot of questions you may have about these, but we’ve got you covered. From design to the most popular names they got (more on that later) to the various pros and cons and how the term has evolved. This article covers it all.
Towards the end of this article, you should have all the information you’d need to get yourself a wheelie bike (or not).
Defining Wheelie Bikes
Alright, let’s get things straight. A wheelie is a popular BMX bike trick, you already knew that. If you’re old enough, you may remember wheelie bikes being a certain type of children’s bike. Nowadays, the term has evolved to mean any bike you can ride without all the technical fuss. It’s purely for fun.
There are design aspects that define what you’d expect in “traditional” wheelie bikes. Namely, the banana seat, the long U-shaped handlebars, and the small backrest you don’t find in most bikes these days…we could go on.
But, as mentioned above—that’s not what a wheelie bike looks like now.
Nowadays, it just means a BMX bike that is best for someone who wants to do very basic fun tricks with no intention of getting professionally good at it. No, it doesn’t mean freestyle BMX bikes—because God knows even “Freestyle” competition is so high that the culture is basically a professional sport by now.
History We Found Interesting
The first wheelie bike (Sting-Ray by Schwinn) was actually created by Al Fritz after he found out about biking culture in California. Apparently, they were beefing up their bikes so they’d look (and ride) more like motorcycles of the time.
Sooner than you’d think—kids realized how many tricks they could achieve using their oddly shaped bikes. In particular, they found it much easier to do a wheelie. In case you don’t already know, a wheelie is the very basic of all bike tricks where you lift the front end of the bike in the air.
Yes, the banana seat and backrest make that much easier.
Not only was the bike so popular for the tricks, but it also inspired wheelie culture as a whole.
Old School Wheelies: Popular Names
The older wheelie models that were popularized during the 60s were a lot of fun to ride around the block. Kids would ride them around the street, showing off their amateur tricks. Even more fun—more than a few of the old school wheelie bikes had catchy names that helped boost popularity.
The names were usually on the bike somewhere, proudly on display. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Schwinn Sting-Ray: A classic, “the bike every kid wanted”
- Huffy Thunder Road: It had a fender that moved like a real motocross!
- Raleigh Chopper: Bestseller across the pond.
Wheelie Bikes We Recommend
If this all sounds good enough and you’re not ready to commit more of your time to the details involved in selecting and purchasing an awesome bike, we understand. That’s why we’ve got a list of a few of the best wheelie bikes on the market:
The mechanical disc brakes and sturdy aluminum frame on this Schwinn remind us of the original Sting-Ray. After all, the company is responsible for starting this whole ordeal.
You won’t be disappointed in trying to maneuver this bike around your favorite ride spot, to do wheelies, bunny hops, or even the Irish Goodbye.
Mongoose Legion Freestyle BMX Bike
A visit to a BMX park in this smooth ride will help you realize the importance of a lightweight frame when you’re performing tricks. We think this bike is the perfect choice for anyone who wants to maneuver their bike—beginner or pro.
Mongoose was a company that started with BMX on their minds. So, you can expect a lot from their bikes; this one included. Durable, sturdy, there is no cap on the potential tricks you could do with this one right here.
Schwinn Sting Pro and Predator Team BMX Bike
This is another Schwinn that’s iconic in its own right. We think it’s reminiscent of the original wheelie, even if it doesn’t exactly look like it. The bike is a sort of cross between cruisers and pro-BMX bikes, so it’s a great all-rounder.
The brakes and tires on this ride are the perfect combo for wheelies and other popular BMX tricks, and the riding is comfortable enough for long rides to and from the BMX park.
Huffy Ignyte 20”
This bike is made by another veteran in the wheelie business—and it’s a great choice for kids or beginners. The brakes are designed with kids in mind, so they can slowly learn to maneuver the bike before they can master any tricks.
It’s a durable option that we think makes for the perfect first kid’s bike to help them get into BMX.
What’s So Special About Wheelie Bikes
So we’ve gone over the history and we’ve given you the customary recommendation or two. But, what are the advantages you get from wheelie bikes?
To begin, they’re the most comfortable bikes you could ride. Ever. They put the fun back into riding. Remember that these aren’t utilitarian, serious bikes made with a commuter’s perspective in mind. Nor are they bikes with super-specific features for the more serious BMX rider.
A wheelie is purely for good ol’ fashioned fun. Oh, and did we mention the aesthetic? The nostalgic look that even newer BMX models have is great for any age or demographic. Really, they are even great for women.
Why You Might Not Want To Buy Them
Even though we’ve been singing songs of praise for the wheelie, we do realize that this isn’t the choice for everyone. For some, there are better options out there.
If you’re more serious about learning bike tricks, or you want to get into the more professional BMX scene, then this isn’t the match for you. The same goes if you’re buying the bike for your daily commute, to ride on mountains, or for long-distance competitive biking.
Another thing that may be a damper on your fun is that you’ll probably need to assemble the bike yourself. This isn’t usually a problem for professional riders, but we’re sure you want to skip to the fun part and start hitting your tires to the pavement as soon as possible!
Features To Look For When Buying A Wheelie Bike
If you’re still interested in buying yourself a wheelie bike, then there are a few things you need to consider. Don’t worry, we won’t get too technical in this section. Here are a few features you might want to look out for when buying wheelie bikes:
- Braking Power: Those brakes at the back of your bike play an important role when it comes to doing those fun tricks—wheelies and beyond. You’ll need to stop suddenly for a lot of the standard bike tricks. So, make sure that you get the best rear brakes you can find when you’re shopping.
- Gear Specifications: Your bike gears will help you do a wheelie much easier, especially if they run on the lighter side. You’ll want to look for great gear specifications, but nothing too technical.
- Sturdy Frame: Even though you aren’t riding to and from work on this bike, wheelie bikes need to withstand a lot of roughing up. Think of how many times you’ll fail before you get a trick down to a tee—and then how often you’ll want to do the trick until you move on.
- Lightweight: A heavy bike is ultimately going to hold you down, which isn’t what you want when you’re bunny hopping around the block. Explore different frames to find the most lightweight option for you.
- Tires: You really should go for mountain bike tires, because they’ll last you much longer. Because as you get your swerve on, a lot of pressure goes on those tires. Also, make sure the tread pattern is optimal for all-weather/terrain.
- Price: Now obviously, you get what you pay for. Wheelie bikes nowadays can be just as expensive as some more professional options. We know the struggle. Try shopping around until you find something within your budget.
Optional (but useful features) to look for in your first wheelie bike:
- Quick Release Clamps on the seat help you adjust the seat for tricks and readjust it for rides to and from your favorite spot.
- A support bar in the rear of the frame helps you stand more comfortably on the frame from some of the coolest tricks.
Final Thoughts On Wheelie Bikes
With all that’s said and done, shopping for wheelie bikes doesn’t need to be stressful. Have fun with it, and you’re probably going to get something more than your average BMX bike. If you can try it out, even better.
Don’t stress it, because wheelie culture is all about having fun.