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How worried should you be if you hook up a wheelie in front of cops?

I have switched from riding sports bikes to riding a Supermoto and I have not got quite used to its handling. I was pulling away from some lights, and I gave the throttle what I thought was a modest amount of twist when the front wheel lifted.

It was not a huge wheelie by any description. I suppose if I am being honest I would call it a first gear minger. I was therefore a bit concerned to see an unmarked police four-wheel drive flash up blue lights under its radiator grill and pull me over. I explained to the police officer that I had a very heavy lock and chain on the seat, and I had only ridden the bike for about 120 miles, and I genuinely had not meant to wheelie and the police officer accepted that the front wheel had momentarily lifted and that I had put the front wheel down back under control after a short distance, perhaps 8-10ft. This was not a big hoist.

As it happens, the police officer took a relaxed view, told me that I might want to take it easy, asked me to produce my documents at the station and that was the end of it. However, if he had decided to nick me, would I be facing any charges?

Name withheld

Strangely enough, you are not the first person who has had this problem, particularly when coming off technologically advanced multi-cylinder sports bikes onto either tuned Enduros or Supermoto bikes. The power delivery is very different, and the riding position is such that with higher handlebars, particularly if your weight is shifted backwards then the front wheel can come up inadvertently. If you have been used to giving electronically controlled bikes a big handful off the lights then Supermotos which do not have all that electrickery can behave, well, like Supermotos. I have to make the admission that I have done the self-same thing on my Huskie 701, and I really cannot afford to be caught popping wheelies on the highway. The Law Society take an extremely dim view of this.

In answer to your question whether or not you could have been nicked I suspect you could have been, and there will be three charges I would think that a police officer could lay against you. If he was being really ambitious he could say “dangerous driving” but for a very short wheelie which was brought back under control I think this prosecution would fail. A 20 metre wheelie, with the front wheel pointing at the sky is certainly going to be dangerous driving. A short wheelie perhaps at 30 degrees, with a front wheel shortly thereafter touching the ground without causing any problem probably would not be dangerous driving, but it could be.

The next option that the police officer has to nick you would be driving without due care and attention and I think in that regard you would almost certainly be convicted. It was a momentary lapse of riding skill on your part, when you were caught out by a machine with unusual handling characteristics, and probably a big lock directly over the rear wheel made a bike which is prone to monowheel misbehaviour even more prone to hoisting up its front wheel. As you say, you learnt your lesson and when you pull away you are going to have your groin pressed into the petrol tank, which is perhaps slightly more information than I needed.

The third, and I think the most likely charge, if the police officer had decided not to give you a few friendly words of warning would have been riding otherwise than in control, and I think on that one you would almost certainly have gone down.

So in brief, a short accidental wheelie is an offence, but it is of a different scale to a deliberate and elongated wheelie. I think you are lucky to have got a real road traffic officer, and you clearly passed the attitude test and gave a reasonable and rational explanation as to why your front wheel was up. Luckily the police officer understood it, and no harm was done, apart from you having the mild irritation of producing your documents at the police station. I think the police officer had decided to eat away some of your time, because all of the information that you are producing by your documentation is information which he would have simply by plugging your registration number and name into the police national computer, which would have brought up your driving licence and insurance details. I think your punishment, which seemed proportionate, is you turning up at the police station with all of your documents and some friendly words of advice.

Andrew Dalton

Fast Bikes July 2017

Andrew Dalton is a highly experienced trial lawyer who delights in taking on difficult and demanding motorcycle cases. He has a tough and relentless litigation style and is utterly focussed on getting the best possible outcomes for his clients.

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