I Learned to Pop a Wheelie, and I Don’t Even Ride Motorcycles

I’ve never been into motorcycles. Several members of my extended family have been pretty seriously injured on bikes in years past, and on a personal level, they haven’t “done it” for me like cars do. But, when the opportunity arose to attend the media day for the Progressive International Motorcycle Show here in Washington, D.C., I figured it would be a great opportunity to learn about the current state of motorcycles in America. I ended up getting more than I bargained for.

We were taken around the show and spoke to various manufacturers about all of their new-for-2019 motorcycles. Much like the automotive industry, rider-facing technology is one way to set a make or model apart from the others. Honda’s Goldwing now offers a heated seat, heated backrest, and Apple CarPlay… on a motorcycle! Suzuki offers several models with smartphone connectivity, and electronically-adjustable shocks to help tune your ride for weather and road conditions.

Retro styling was also popular at the show, with popular design elements from the 1970s and 1980s reflected on brand-new bikes. For those in a higher tax bracket than yours truly, Confederate showed off some truly wild works of art masquerading as low-volume motorcycles.

The tours wrapped up with a stop at Discover The Ride, a part of the show aimed at attracting new riders while removing some of the intimidation that can come with learning to ride elsewhere. Interestingly, everything we rode was electric, starting with some laps on a Yamaha E-Bike before moving on to full-sized electric sport bikes built by Zero Motorcycles.

The electric bicycles were a riot – basically, far nicer versions of the Lime Bikes that can be rented around the city. But, the Zero sport bikes stole the show. We were told that the throttle response had been dulled for ease of learning, and the bikes were limited to just 11 mph. After throwing on some basic rental gear – jacket, helmet, gloves – we set off taking some controlled laps.

I’ve had friends teach me the basics of motorcycle riding before, using a Honda Grom and a Yamaha… something or other. But, this was my third or fourth time, ever, on a motorcycle. Even though the appeal isn’t quite there in DC traffic, it was fun to motor around the course inside the convention center.

Once we wrapped up with our “touring laps,” if you will, I was invited over to the Stunt Show booth and asked if I’d like to learn to do some wheelies in a safer environment than “blasting down I-95 in traffic.” Alright, let’s do it.

I first got on a Zero motorcycle that was on a hydraulic arm. The aim was to practice holding myself in the same position, even as the bike stood itself up to a pretty high angle. That wasn’t so bad.

Then, I got onto another Zero that had been secured with the rear wheel on a pivoting arm, spinning a dyno wheel. The front wheel of the motorcycle was strapped to the dyno, so it couldn’t go very far. Assured there was no way to flip this contraption over, we set off.

The instructor had me hold the throttle at 5 mph, then counted down. “3, 2, 1… *shove*” and the front wheel was in the air as I cranked the bike open to full throttle. Once it reclined back, I was coached on maintaining throttle and a dab of rear brake to keep the bike balanced straight up. It was fun, and mildly terrifying.


After three rounds of standing the bike up, I was no better at it than when I had started. But, it certainly got the adrenaline pumping.

With that, our time at the show was over. It certainly had something for every level of rider, which was great given the statistics we heard regarding new riders, younger riders, and an increasing number of women starting to ride. For those interested in the show, it runs through tomorrow evening at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, heading to Chicago after that.

And no, Mom and Dad, I’m not buying a motorcycle now… even after all the excitement, I think I’ll stick to four wheels and a rollcage.

1 thought on “I Learned to Pop a Wheelie, and I Don’t Even Ride Motorcycles”

  1. Haha, wheelie coaching. I’ve seen it all! Yeah, I also have family members who ride. Dad’s Gold Wing motorcycle had more tech than most of my cars do – ABS, airbag, navi, you name it. It’s amazing how well motorcycles have kept up with cars in terms of connectivity and safety. This looked like a fun event!


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