Inspiration

Women Who Wheelie: A Q&A with Heather Downing

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Few things in this world make me more excited than badass babes doing badass stuff. We’ll be featuring a lot of badass babes on this blog, I promise. First out is one of my current Instagram crushes, Heather Downing. Heather is a 24-year-old stay-at-home mother of two from Hemet, CA, who is popping wheelies on her 700-pound Dyna like it’s no big deal. I’ve been following her progress on Instagram, where she is quickly becoming an inspiration to many. The crazy thing? She just started doing wheelies a little over a month ago, basically straight outta giving birth. B-A-D-A-S-S.

Heather was kind enough to answer some questions about the technical and mental aspects of doing wheelies, what she’s learned so far, and what her goals are. She also has some solid advice for other ladies who crave more vertical riding in their lives.

What kind of bike do you have? Any mods to it you want to mention?

I have a 2015 Harley-Davidson Street Bob. As far as the engine and transmission goes, there are no modifications – I even have the stock belt. I do however have many bolt-on modifications. I run a Bassani Road Rage III which is a fantastic 2-into-1 pipe and aftermarket stage 1 air filter. For bars i have 9″ Forbidden Motorcycles pullback risers with Moose moto bars. I put on a Saddlemen Step Up seat. I also alternate between the Memphis Shades Gauntlet fairing (for wheelies) and their new Road Warrior fairing (for any big rides and trips). I run Shinko 777 front and rear, which is a very sticky tire. For protection for my motorcycle I have front Bung King crash bars and their rear shock sliders. Lastly, I have 13.5″ Hagon shocks.

How long have you been doing wheelies, and how did you get into it?

Believe it or not, I have just started doing wheelies. As of last week, it’s been about a month of learning consecutively. I got into wheelies because my husband, Duane Downing, was starting to really progress in doing wheelies. He has been doing wheelies for over a year now, and I was always watching while taking videos for him. One day I mentioned to him that I really wanted to try. Now, I was pregnant at the time so I had to wait a while.

Have you been doing wheelies on any lighter bikes previously, or did you go straight to the Dyna?

I actually have no background in wheelies. I have ridden my whole life out in Glamis, but have never tried doing wheelies on any of my bikes. I was never really interested until Harley Wheelies came into my life. I had only done a few tandem wheelies with my husband on his bike. I considered buying a second bike, an older Sportster, to try wheelies on first since they are lighter, but I’ve had my Dyna for two years and I’m very comfortable and familiar with it. I figured, why not just go for it?

What has the learning curve been like, and where do you go to practice?

Good question. My learning curve is probably not what most expect. Since I was pregnant when I decided I really wanted to try wheelies, I couldn’t just hop on my bike and give it a go. It turned out to be a very good thing, because as my husband was trying to get better, we would talk over what he was doing wrong and what needed to change. Things such as him needing to throw his weight back into the seat to pop the bike up quicker so he can get his RPMs lower to wheelie longer. Or when he was trying to scrape full length fender for the first time, he needed to get over the mental block of dropping the bike back further. I was filming almost every time, so I would often tell him, “You need to do this or you need to do that.”

I also watched hundreds of videos from big name guys with my husband, to watch their form on actually popping the bike up or learn their little tricks for certain things. Duane would often get advice from some of these guys, such as to throw your weight into the seat, and I would absorb all this information as well. So by the time I was finally able to hop onto the bike and see if I could actually wheelie the thing, I had taken and watched countless videos. It’s just like studying for a test of any kind, you read and study before you actually try.

“It’s just like studying for a test of any kind, you read and study before you actually try.”

Once I finally threw my leg over the bike and tried, I knew all the basics. But, like every person and every bike, things work a little different for each individual, and things I couldn’t study came into light. For instance, I needed to get my RPMs up high while I had the clutch pulled in, and getting a feel for things like hand placement and foot placement to make sure you’re covering the brake. Things that you just need to learn once you’re on the bike. I still have things I’m fine tuning to fit me as a rider, that doesn’t necessarily work for my husband.

As far as spots go, they are always changing. Sometimes the spots will get shut down by the police if someone calls and complains. The best places are clean, empty roads that have no normal traffic. So often we go to industrial warehouse areas. Police officers usually will leave you alone if you’re staying of their busy public roads.

Have you had any accidents or other setbacks while learning to wheelie, or has it been pretty smooth sailing? What are some challenges you’ve faced?

I have yet to experience a crash myself, but I know my time is coming. It’s all part of the game. I have watched my husband and a couple of friends crash a few times now. There has been times I have landed with the front wheel slightly turned, which is scary, so I try not to repeat that. My current challenge is staying on the throttle once I get to the balance point. The balance point is when the front wheel gets high enough for the bike to feel weightless, so you feel like you’re going to loop it and fall to your back. I am now to the point where I can get there and recognize that I am not going to fall back, but my body’s reaction is to just let off the throttle. I need to get over that hurdle and let my mind take over rather than letting my body react.

You don’t see a lot of women doing Dyna wheelies. Why do you think that is?

No, there are not many who attempt to wheelie a Dyna. The one woman I have seen successfully wheelie a Dyna is Drea. She has a background of wheeling her sport bike and her Sportster. The Dyna she did a wheelie on had chain drive and a hand brake, so she did it while standing on a step plate on the rear fender. She is an inspiration of mine. Smash Stunts and Christina Lee Billings also do wheelies on Harleys, they are Sportsters but I’m definitely not knocking down their skills. They are amazing. I don’t think girls really wheelie Dynas because they are just heavier and larger all around. I mean, it’s only becoming more common now to see women riding a Dyna, period. When I first got my Dyna in 2015, it wasn’t often I saw another woman riding a Dyna around. I already have a couple other women telling me they want to learn how to wheelie their Dyna, so I hope to see more attempting it soon.

You just had a baby not too long ago. Have there been any challenges with getting back on the bike after going through a pregnancy and giving birth?

Yes, I brought my second baby into this world. His name is Kaden and he was born on August 21. I also have a 4-year-old girl named Bellemy. I was actually a bad mom and rode well over half of my pregnancy. [Editor’s note: This doesn’t make you a bad mom!] Don’t worry, I was extra cautious. No, I wouldn’t say I’ve had any challenges hopping back on the bike. The only thing is that wherever I go, the baby goes, since I have the only means to feed him. So if I ride, my husband follows in the truck. What a good guy he is. But that’s why wheelie spots work very well for me and why I was adamant on learning them. I have the itch to constantly ride, but I can’t just go up the local mountain road every weekend like I would like to. This way we bring both the kids and make it more of a family day, and my husband and I can still both ride. We often do what we call “wheelie Sundays” or “church,” where we have a good sized group of people just go out to the spot and hang out, often bringing their kids too. We make it more about a family event and hanging out with friends rather than just doing wheelies. Not everyone rides, but the whole family enjoys going. My friends will even hold and keep an eye on the kids if both Duane and I are out there. And that’s the best part about all this, the people you are with and making time to always get together.

What are your goals with doing wheelies? Are you looking to get into stunting, or are you doing it just for fun?

If you’re not doing it for the fun of it, then why do it at all? Anything else that comes with being known for doing wheelies is just a perk. Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t have goals. I would like to better myself and hold the wheelie for as long as I want, and to some day scrape fender to do a true twelve o’clock wheelie, where the bike is completely vertical. I also wouldn’t mind being in some sort of advertisement for some of the company products I run, or make it into a music video or some sort of production some day. But I need to be worthy enough for those. I also really enjoy helping people learn too. But for the core of it, it’s just for fun. And to wheelie next to my husband down a road because that’s just totally badass.

What kind of reactions have you been getting from people who find out you’re doing wheelies?

I have got a lot of support. A lot of people knew I was talking about doing wheelies, but they weren’t too sure if I was really committed or just wanted to get the front wheel up for a photo and that’s it. But in the past weeks of me actually trying, I’ve been told by some really good guys who do some of the best wheelies that I’m impressing them, and that’s really uplifting. I’ve been told by a lot of girls that I give them inspiration to start trying, and some dudes too. I’ve even had a couple of guys come to me and ask how the hell I do it. Which is pretty cool, to be in a male dominated sport but have people from both sides looking up to you. I even had this one guy on Instagram show his daughter, and she was totally amazed. Those are the best parts. And of course, I have my husband believing in me or else I wouldn’t be able to do any of it.

Lastly, what is your advice to other women who want to learn how to wheelie, especially on a big bike?

As far as advice goes, I would say: Don’t be afraid to ask anybody how they do it or for tips. Don’t be afraid to go out there and look like a fool. Just like anything you do, you need to stay committed. Really study and watch how someone does a wheelie and fine tune for you. If you find you’re getting frustrated, then just stop. Most importantly, HAVE FUN.

Sanna likes motorcycles, kittens, and punk rock. When she's not at her day job as the managing editor of Roadtrippers, she's probably riding twisties in the mountains or camping in the desert with her moto squad. She has a 2015 Dyna and a Shovelhead chopper, but she secretly dreams of owning a 70s muscle car.

2 Comments

  1. That’s my baby girl! Makes me proud and not gonna lie , a little nervous.
    But this momma’s been encouraging her to ride in the dunes since she was a baby. And now she lets me cruise her Harley around anytime I want .
    Love you Heather

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