There is no offence as such of ‘pulling a wheelie’ but it encompasses all the elements of dangerous driving while being a deliberate act which hugely reduces your control, braking and forward vision. Well, a decent wheelie does.

12 month mandatory ban

So, if you are written up for a proper wheelie expect an outraged police class 1 motorcyclist to be explaining to a bench of sour-faced magistrates how you have deliberately compromised your braking, steering and vision to show off. Not good.

The harsh reality of all this is a 12 month mandatory ban, a hefty fine and compulsory extended retests for all classes of licence after your ban. Worse still, if you hurt someone in the process of your wheelie jail is a realistic outcome.

But as with all aspects of English law there are levels to be considered. For example if you ride a bike without traction/wheelie control it is possible to inadvertently raise the front wheel, I know, I have done it. This, if it happens within police officer range, is not the same as a long, high and deliberate wheelie: I speak to road traffic police frequently and the mood music I get from roads policing is a front wheel skimming up off the ground and brought back down without fuss would probably result in ‘words of advice’, so long as the rider passed the attitude test of accepting it was not brilliant riding.

so if you have a bike prone to lifting its front wheel it is a good idea to be alert

One copper I spoke to said he would regard it as no worse than a car driver spinning up his wheels but I think a police officer would be justified in writing a rider up for careless driving – which is much lower down the seriousness scale than dangerous. If your licence is clean-ish and you haven’t been to a driver re-education camp, a day at a lecture would be a realistic outcome. Yet, you would still run the risk of prosecution for dangerous driving, so if you have a bike prone to lifting its front wheel it is a good idea to be alert: my Husky 701 Enduro took a bit of getting used to, especially if it had weight on the back. If I then, absent-mindedly, gave it the beans the front wheel would certainly go very light. But a proper wheelie would be a very deliberate act.

I have had a few cases (and these were many years ago as I don’t do criminal defence work and have not set foot in a criminal court for about 15 years) where a ‘dangerous’ was reduced to a ‘careless’ or the prosecution accepted careless where there was a rational explanation for a short and controlled wheelie. The key test is ‘was there a momentary lapse of concentration’ for careless driving or ‘was there a deliberate course of driving’ which makes out dangerous driving.

Pumping throttle

So, the front wheel skimming because you’ve got it a bit wrong and you sort yourself out is likely to be a careless if you can’t talk your way out of it. Hoisting your front wheel up to 11 o’clock for 80 metres while pumping the throttle can’t be anything but deliberate and therfore dangerous.

Andrew Dalton

Bike Magazine January 2023