As well as looking pretty damn cool, the bunny hop is the Swiss Army Knife of mountain bike manoeuvres. It’s not how high you can hop but how you’re getting off the ground that really counts.
Bunny hops don’t just look cool; being able to quickly create lift will allow you to smooth out trails and use obstacles to your advantange. And yes, impress your mates too. Andy Barlow from Dirt School breaks it down…
Once mastered, this skill will allow you to determine where you apply weight to the trail. It will mean that you can decide where to go heavy and light, and ultimately it will allow you to control your traction when it all gets a bit stressful. Contrary to what most people think though, it’s not about how high you can get your wheels off the ground, but how you get your wheels off the ground in the first place.
Switch to flat pedals
In order to be able to tackle a bunny hop with confidence you’ll need to trust that your feet will remain on the pedals. To learn this properly, and ensure that you’re not cheating by just pulling on your clip-in pedals, you need to fit flat pedals and get hold of some good flat pedal shoes. Try and position your foot so that you can feel the ball of your big toe resting up against the leading row of pins. All of your toes should be hanging off the front of the pedal.
When you stand up on your bike don’t be afraid to put all of your weight directly into your feet. Dropping your heels here will put your centre of gravity even lower, massively improving your control and stability.
When it comes to moving your weight around in order to start bunny hopping, something that will help you stay attached to the pedals will be flexing your ankle joints as part of your leg push. Generally we’ll tell people to drop their heels when they are riding, but when you’re bunny hopping you want your bike to come with you, so hooking your toes around the pedal, and driving your trailing foot back, will mean you drive your shoe directly into the pins.
This is really no different to how your feet would move if you were just jumping off the ground without your bike. As your feet push off the ground you’d end up on your toes and your feet would be pointed toward the ground. Do this exact same thing on your flat pedal and your feet will stay attached as you and your bike get airborne.
Hooking your thumbs underneath your grips will mean that you are jammed into your cockpit with both your hands and your feet. Do this correctly and it should mean that you feel secure at a time when you could otherwise feel unattached or exposed.
What is a bunny hop on a mountain bike?
The bunny hop is a dynamic movement where you lever off your rear wheel and jump your bike through the air in an arc. This advanced technique allows you to clear much bigger obstacles, and can also be used at lower speeds.
Range of motion
A bigger range of motion is required here in order to make your bunny hops more effective. The first part is basically a manual, as you’re trying to lift your front wheel by quickly shifting your weight away from your front end. As you reach your most rearward range of motion and stop, all of that momentum will be transferred into your bike and your front wheel will go light. Let it hang here for a split second to gauge your tipping point, then go from your hips being behind your saddle to being right up at your stem and bars.
This huge range of motion should feel like not only is your body moving up, but that your legs are pushing through your pedals and levering your bike away from the ground by pivoting off your rear wheel.
Push away from the ground rather than trying to lift your bike off the ground, or suck it up beneath you. What you’re trying to focus on here is your bum going from behind your saddle to being pushed by your legs up to your stem. Your arms will obviously have to pull on the bars to avoid you falling right off the back, but don’t overdo it.
A good way of thinking of a bunny hop is to break it into two parts: the manual part, and the hop. If you’re trying to hop a stick on the ground, set your manual part up a little bit further out from your target. Your first part, the manual part, should be smooth and deliberate giving you time to set up your balance and aim. The second part, your hop, should be explosive and fast. You’re trying to drive away from the ground with power – remember you’re pushing away rather than pulling up.
Using the larger bunny-hop technique, roll towards a stick and keep it on your side. As you turn away from it you’ll set up a tip in the direction of the obstacle. Use that lean and go for a big bunny-hop. Instead of hopping away from the ground, you’ll be hopping sideways over the stick. Spot your landing and get ready to steer for balance once both wheels are back on the ground.
Hop on the spot
Instead of doing a track stand to keep your balance when stationary, why not try and hop for balance?
Pull both your brakes on so that neither of your wheels can turn and use your speed hop technique to raise your wheels off the ground. Once in the air you can tweak your balance by hopping from side to side. You can even try just hopping only your front wheel or only your rear. With practice you’ll be able to adjust your balance with the tiniest of hops.
Every time we run a session on hops we emphasise the importance of pushing away from the ground. This is because in the wider context of trail riding you need to be able to generate traction by making yourself heavy against the ground. The airtime in a speed hop or bunny-hop is a result of driving your weight away from the trail with a powerful push.
You’re not trying to avoid obstacles by getting your wheels off the ground. You’re trying to link all the smooth parts of the trail together by being heavy on them and creating traction.
Make sure your suspension is properly set up – don’t forget to use a suspension pump – and if you need to upgrade your bounce check out our guide to the best mountain bike forks and the best MTB shocks.