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Can doing a wheelie break your motorcycle's drive shaft?


Shaft-driven motorcycles usually require less maintenance, but they're not immune to ill-advised stunts and maneuvers.
Shaft-driven motorcycles usually require less maintenance, but they're not immune to ill-advised stunts and maneuvers.
Christoph Rosenberger/Getty Images

Before we get into wheelies, it's important to understand what makes a shaft-driven motorcycle different from other motorcycles. There are three main types of motorcycle drivetrains — chain, belt and shaft — with shafts being the least common. All drivetrains do the same basic job, delivering power to the wheels. Chains (and belts) resemble the chains on bicycles, looping from the gears to the rear wheel. A shaft drive transfers power through a rotating shaft.

To pop a wheelie, the rider makes the rear wheel accelerate faster than it can push the rest of the bike, lifting the front wheel off the ground. There are a few different ways to do it (basically, different combinations of shifting and applying throttle to regulate fuel) and as soon as the wheel lifts, the rider has to be ready to maintain steady throttle and shift his or her body weight to maintain balance.

Wheelies require a considerable amount of power, and, by their nature, shaft-driven motorcycles are less powerful than their belt- or chain-equipped counterparts: They transfer power less efficiently, meaning less power gets to the rear wheel. Experts say it's possible to lift the front wheel on less powerful bikes, but it's a lot more challenging, especially for beginners.

Even if a shaft-driven bike is powerful enough to get that front-wheel lift, it's not necessarily a good idea to keep doing it. Performing wheelies on a shaft-driven motorcycle probably won't damage the bike the first time, but it probably will damage it eventually. Shaft-driven motorcycles usually require less maintenance, but they're not immune to ill-advised stunts and maneuvers. And when a motorcycle's drive shaft sustains damage, it's a lot more expensive to fix than replacing a belt or a chain.

Wheelies are risky enough already, because they can cause damage and personal injury when the driver loses his or her balance or control of the bike. But a wheelie on a shaft-driven motorcycle can cause problems even if the driver fails to get the wheel off the ground — by putting the vehicle under too much stress.

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