Photo courtesy George McCall
For the past four years, George McCall has been poppin’ and sustainin’ wheelies to raise funds for and awareness about childhood cancer. He got in touch with us last month, asking after the Monkey Light Pro to advertise his cause as he wheelies 108 laps (27 miles!) at this year’s Relay For Life in Augusta, Georgia on May 18. We got to talking, and learned about his mission, Wheelies 2FightCancer. Wheelies2FightCancer has raised upwards of $15,000 for the American Cancer Society, and is hoping to bring in $5,400 more this year.
We were impressed by George’s uncommon wheelie prowess and inspired by his fundraising efforts, and wanted to know more. We asked and George answered.
How’d you get so good at doing wheelies?
As best as I can remember (and document), I began riding bicycle wheelies in the spring of 1976; about the time I turned 12 years old. Similar to a cell phone today, back then (especially as a boy) you had to have a bike in order to interact with your friends. We were on our bikes all the time. Of course we always raced each other, and tried to out jump each other, and being able to ride a long wheelie was just another way to enhance your status among your friends.
Riding a wheelie is a great feeling. It’s the best and longest lasting natural high I’ve ever experienced. And the wonderful thing about natural highs is that you never develop a tolerance to them. So, I’ve done a lot of wheelies over the past 42 years, and I guess I couldn’t help getting a little better in the process.
What are some wheelie tips you can offer to aspiring wheelie-ers?
Somewhat surprisingly, it’s not so much about having great balance. It’s about applying just the right amount of power to the pedals. You need to be riding on a smooth surface with at least a small incline. Once you lift the front wheel into the correct position, you maintain that position not by moving your body but by pedaling harder to slightly raise the front wheel and pedaling “less hard” to slightly lower it. This adjustment process is constantly going on. Once you understand this, it just takes a lot of practice to make it work.
Would you call wheelies a trick, or an art form?
My wife is an artist, and she has helped me to better appreciate art. On my website, I describe my wheelies as “serendipitous, temporary public art” because they give people something unusual, interesting, and enjoyable to see. Isn’t this what art is supposed to do?
Can you describe what impact you feel this art has on those who experience it?
I believe I have what is a universally objective (as opposed to personally subjective) definition of what “good’ art is: “Good” art inspires others to want to become artists themselves! My hope is that when people see what I do, and learn why I do it, it will inspire them to express themselves in some constructive way as well. I get the impression I am doing this at least to some small degree because of the comments and shout-outs I receive from a wide variety of people from children to adults.
What inspired you to start Wheelies2FightCancer?
A dear family friend, between the ages of my two boys, battled cancer from age 11 until he died at age 17. I began doing the American Cancer Society Relay for Life with his family during those years. I wanted to do something a little more exciting than walking, however, so one year, I did laps on Poweriser “running stilts”, the next year I did laps on a unicycle, and then in 2013, I started doing laps on the rear wheel of my bike. Wheelies2FightCancer formally came into being in 2015.
How do you get the word out about this work and raise funds?
Mostly by word of mouth, some mailings, a website, and Facebook posts. My overarching marketing strategy is this: I want people to say, “That gray haired old guy is going to do more than 26 miles worth of wheelies to raise money to fight cancer?!? Sure, put me down for $X!”
Do you have any people you work with, or is it a solo mission?
It’s pretty much a one-man operation, but anytime I ask for help, my wife, family, friends, the local bike shops, the American Cancer Society, etc. are more than willing to do what they can.
What impact has Wheelies2Fight Cancer had on your life, and the lives of others, do you think?
Raising money for the American Cancer Society by riding wheelies has been a great “second job” for me. I’m always trying to put on a good show in hopes of securing that next donation. (By the way, my website is set-up such that all contributions go directly to the American Cancer Society; no money passes through my hands.) And of course bicycle riding is great exercise and helps me to stay in shape.
Regarding others, I hope that I will inspire people to exercise and to find ways to give of themselves.
What’s next for Wheelies2Fight Cancer? Can you share with us your goals for the future?
I need help in the public relations arena. My website is clearly amateurish, and I’m a white-belt at best when it comes to Facebook. Next, I’d like to get some long-term supporters. Every year, I write to the companies whose products I use (Giant bicycles, Gatorade, Powerbar, Red Bull, etc.), but I haven’t yet gotten on their radar. Finally, I hope I can keep at it for many years to come. Both my parents are in their 80’s and doing well. I hope I can still pick-up the front wheel when I’m in my 70’s.
What bikes are best to perform wheelies with?
It can be difficult to tell by just looking, but once I get on a bike, I immediately know if it will be easy or hard to ride a wheelie on it. It would be interesting to have a bicycle frame designer measure my bike and me and see if there is some kind of interesting correlation.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add about biking, raising money for charities, or anything else?
One of my pastors gave us a great guideline for living: promote human flourishing. It’s such a simple and manageable way to approach life. Look at the gifts you’ve been given and try to find ways to use them to make the world a little bit better place. I’ve raised more than $15,000 to help people with cancer by doing something as silly as riding a bicycle on one wheel. If I can do that, think what you could do!
If you’d like to donate to Wheelies2FightCancer, click on over to his site. All money collected there goes straight to the American Cancer Society.