With the correct knowledge and the right approach anyone can get air.
There’s no trick to jumping, anyone can go big and stay safe with the proper technique… and a lot of practice.
Watch: 76 jumps with Danny Hart
All of us want to get big air, and do it in style. Not only does it look cool, it feels amazing. One of the most childish, yet rewarding things you can do on a bike.
The problem is, most of us suck at it. Or rather we don’t suck at it — since becoming good at jumping is all about practice — but we are scared about the consequences of getting it wrong. Broken bones; time off work; the abuse from friends and family — for most of us it’s just not worth the risk.
Anyone can get air
But, with the correct knowledge and the right approach anyone can get air with complete confidence and control.
We’ll start by showing you how to control the take-off properly, then explain how to stay low when you don’t want to get air, and how to style it up when you do.
Before that, though, it’s essential, that you’re already standing properly on your bike, so have a look at your stance, and consider your neutral riding position when you try this.
You’ll need strong legs, and need to use them towards the top of their stroke to get the best out of them — in other words when we say push, we mean straighten your legs. Having a strong body position at all times is the key to maintaining control.
- Stay low for speed. Andy deliberately pushes early to create lift and stability.
- Notice how he pulls the bike in to absorb most of the ‘kick’ of the jump.
- No sooner than he’s in the air, he pushes the bike back down to create downward momentum, levelling him out.
- That downward momentum now starts to bring him in to land a lot earlier. Notice how he softens his legs to bring the bike towards him allowing him to time his smooth landing.
Where do I push?
This is an interesting one. When you watch a good rider take-off, it hardly looks like they’re doing anything. There’s certainly not a bigger push on bigger jumps, and none of the movements are quick or violent. Unlocking the secret involves opening your ears and listening to the sound of the bike. Watch Brandon Semenuk’s most recent Raw 100 video and you’ll hear him push all the way through the jumps. You can hear the volume and pitch of the tyres change as he rolls through the berms and up the lips of the jumps. They are big jumps, as well, but listen to how he manages his weight all the way through. He doesn’t back off anywhere — he pushes through gradually, more and more, till he’s pushing his hardest right off the top. The whole structure of the jump gives him consistent, predictable control right through till he’s off the ground.
Slow it down
This will give you so much more control and allow you to really feel like you have more time in the air. Start with your knees and arms bent and gradually straighten your legs and get stronger right through and off the top. It should feel like you’re smooth and strong all the way through. The best way to think about this is that you’re trying to make the heavy part of the jump something that you take control of. You’re trying to make it last as long as you can, to allow the take-off to be consistent and predictable. That way, once you’re in the air you’re already neutral and you can start doing other things. If you’re fading your effort out early, or picking your bike off of the top of the jump with your handlebars and pedals, then you’re basically just doing a bunnyhop. Look where most riders push and it’s way too early — sometimes even picking their bike off the ground halfway up. If you haven’t got jumps absolutely nailed yet, I guarantee this is what’s happening with you.
Suck it up
If you’re looking to go fast and stay low then you’ll be looking to do the complete opposite of taking off. There’s still a push but it happens way earlier than the top of the jump. By the time you reach the top you’re already looking to back off enough that you barely leave the ground. You’ll absorb the greatest impact of the take-off and be able to stay low.
Once you’re in the air you actually have quite a lot of control over where you go and how you’re balanced. If you’re not used to the sensation, though, chances are you’ll freeze, and even the slightest rotation of the bike will feel like it’s sending you completely out of control. If you watch BMX racers, doing big doubles, you’ll see them pump the bike down in the air so that it looks like they’re about to case the landing. Then at the last second they’ll suck the bike back up and come in for a smooth touchdown at the top of the landing. What they’re doing is managing their take-off by absorbing the bulk of the impact with a well-timed pull. Once in the air, they’ve then pushed their bike down, effectively initiating downward facing momentum — which has levelled them out — then pulled the bike towards them and into a new direction of momentum.
Spotlight on: flats
Being able to use flat pedals can be of huge benefit when it comes to honing proper technique, but not because you can get your feet off in a hurry. The real benefit comes from how you use your body weight to load and unload the bike over obstacles. If you spend time learning how to ride flat pedals properly, you’ll be learning how to push for control instead of pulling for it.
There are two secrets to using flat pedals. Firstly: your foot position. If you’re used to being clipped in you’ll be worried that your feet have to be positioned millimetre-perfect. They don’t. You only need to get them roughly in the right spot. As a rule of thumb (toe?), you’re best running your feet further forward than you would with a clipless pedal, with your toes hanging off the leading edge of the pedal. You might also have to drop your saddle by a centimetre to compensate for your new foot position when seated.
Secondly: moving your ankles to scoop your feet or to drop your heels is key. If you’re braking, or if the trail is rough, you’re going to want to drop your heels. If your toes are pointing to the ground then your feet will skip forward on the pedal. As long as your heels are dropped, you’ll be able to dig the pins of the pedal into the sole of your shoe instead of your shin.
If you’re looking for the bike to follow you into the air — over a jump, drop-off, or during a bunnyhop — you’ll need to do the opposite and point your toes towards the ground, so you can scoop with your feet. It should feel like you’re hooking your toes under the pedals and pushing back. This will allow you to stick to the pedals and lift them with you when you go light in the air.
When you feel like you’re starting to master the smooth, consistent feeling that jumps should offer, then you can start adding a bit of style.
The easiest thing to do is just turn the bars a little. If the jump has any kind of angle, or change of direction to it, then you’re looking to turn the opposite way in the air. So, if the jump is angled to the left, turn your handlebars a little to the right. This will promote a small lean in the direction that you want to go. Just remember to straighten up the bars again before landing.
There are a lot of different ways to whip the bike. Generally, the easiest way to learn is to start turning toward your leading foot. If you ride left foot forward, then turn to the left, and if you ride right foot forward then turn to the right. This will mean that, when you’re in the air, your hips will be open and facing the landing. Start on the opposite side of the track that you want to turn towards and practice just steering a little off the lip. Smoothly does it, but if you’re turning to the left, for example, you want to start on the right side of the jump and try and land with your front wheel towards the left side of the track on landing. This will encourage you to angle the bike in the air. Try to avoid just pushing your legs out to the side while you keep steering forwards. Instead try and turn your bars so much that the bar-end hits your thigh in the air. Once you get to this point you’ll be able to see the back wheel in your peripheral vision. Time to start lining up to land. The trick with this is to shift your hips so that they line up with the landing again. This disconnect from your saddle will start to rotate your weight and encourage everything to line up for a straighter landing.
Laying it flat
This is a lot easier than it looks. The trick is to allow the bike to lean more by relaxing your grip on the bars. If you’re turning to the left, over a hip, for example, you’ll want to take your finger off the right brake lever. Make a loose grip with your thumb and index finger that allows for rotation around the bar, and relax your grip on the right hand so that you can rotate your palm around the bar. Now you’re trying to push the right hand side of the handlebar up in to your left armpit. What most people do is keep their hands firmly fixed on the grips, in which case you are limited by the rotation of your wrists, and will never lean your bike over more than 45degrees. If you allow for rotation on the handlebar you’ll be able to get a much flatter angle.
There’s an app for that!
Dirt School’s coaching app lets you see the right and wrong techniques in slo-mo.
Words: Andy Barlow
Photos: Andy McCandlish