With the correct knowledge and the right approach anyone can get air
With the correct knowledge and the right approach anyone can get air. There’s no trick to jumping, anyone can go big with the proper technique.
How to jump a mountain bike
Sailing over jumps on your mountain bike is one of the best feelings you can master. When everything goes well it should feel like you’re floating effortlessly from one part of the trail to another. Why is it then that so many riders don’t feel confident on them. Or why even when it goes well you can’t put your finger on why it worked or how you can replicate it on something larger or unfamiliar.
We’re going to take you back to basics, show you how to identify what kind of jump you’re on, how to control it, and look at specific go to control mechanisms that will allow you to practise the right thing on the right jump.
Watch: 6 jumps with Danny Hart
Jumps are not only fun: they are the perfect place to practise how to use your weight on a trail to generate control and stability. Once a rider masters the technique of balancing or opposing the added weight that goes along with a larger shape like a jump or berm, they can then use that same technique on other less obvious shapes on the trail. Learning how to jump properly doesn’t have anything to do with fitting in with the kids: it’s all about becoming a well rounded rider that can use your body position, range of motion, and confidence to go heavy and light where you decide to. Not where the trail throws you.
Your starting and finishing position here is going to be the same as usual; legs straight, elbows bent, and head over the bars. Remember this is the shape that you always want to snap back into when you catch yourself feeling stressed or out of your comfort zone. In this article we’re going to be talking about pushing back into the trail to generate consistent stability. This doesn’t mean bending then straightening your legs suddenly. It means sinking down into a lower attack position with your legs and elbows bent, then slowly straightening your legs so that you end up back where you started with your elbows bent and your legs straight. Your back should be the same angle to the ground the whole way through this range of motion and none of the movements should ever look jerky or sudden.
When a more confident rider explains how to do a jump they often tell their pals to push off the jump, or to push off the lip. While this is true, it often doesn’t fully capture what the less experienced rider should be doing the whole way through and most riders will push with everything they have way too early making a mess of the jump. What you should be doing is slowing it down. As you roll through the shape of a jump you’re going to feel like you get pushed into the ground and that it gets heavier as the jump gets steeper. This is because your body weight is no longer moving forward but is getting pushed in a new direction as the trail changes shape. The push that you do should feel like you’re opposing that extra weight as it squashes you down. The longer, more consistent, and smother you can make this feel, the more control you’ll have once your wheels come off the ground.
Pushing off the lip
What does this mean exactly? The lip is the top of the jump where the part of the trail that’s now pointing you up suddenly disappears and falls away. Some jumps have more of a lip than others. This will allow a confident rider the ability to ‘pop’ off the top of a jump and get more time in the air and off the ground. You can only use the lip to aid your jump if you’re still going heavy over it though. If you’ve backed off further down the jump then the lip will always feel like it’s clipping your back wheel and sending you over the bars. This is often what people are afraid of when it comes to jumps and they control for this by backing off even more! To control the whole jump properly you have to commit to going heavy through the whole process. That means driving the bike down right the way through the lip at the top as well.
Taking off too early
By far the biggest thing we have to correct on a clients jumping technique is the timing of where they do their push. As jumps get bigger or more aggressive people tend to do too much too early. They push hard with their legs using all their available range of motion, and end up having to pick the bike up over the last part of the jump. For this technique to work they have to go faster and faster to clear the jump, and end up ricocheting off the take off with no real control. Remember and slow the push with your legs done so that you’re not ricocheting off the middle of the jump. Your jumping technique should feel smooth and controlled giving you time and consistency.
Roll into the jump with enough speed that you can make use of the shape of the trail. You want your body position to be low with your legs and elbows bent and your head close to the bars. As the trail starts to change shape and you feel that you’re rolling on to the transition, balance that extra weight by pushing through your legs. This isn’t the time to push with everything you’ve got though. Instead try and tense your core and oppose the downward force by being strong with your legs. From the outside this will look like nothing’s happening as you’ll effectively be still, but you’ll be resisting the collapse with a strong body position that gradually becomes exaggerated to straight legs till you’re right off the top.
Hold it down
Another way of saying all this is that as you roll through the jump the shape of the trail is trying to make your arms and legs collapse. Don’t let that happen. Instead: drive back into that shape and hold the bike on the ground. Do this properly and the noise will be the give-away to how much weight is going through the jump. Your body will go heavy right through the whole shape, there will be no jerky or fast movement, and the shape of the trail will feel consistent and balanced. All under your control.
What goes up must come down. If you’re working to straightening your legs off the top of the jump, then you’ll need to keep them straight in the air for a while as well. Try working on being in the perfect attack or neutral riding position in the air. Your legs should be bent but your arms will still be bent at the elbows. As you feel you’ve reached your highest point of the trajectory and you’re starting to come back down to land, this is where you can soften your legs and prepare for the landing. Look where you want to come down and don’t rush it. The bigger the air the slower the movement.
Doing it wrong
Left to Right: 1. Come in Low. 2. Push too early. 3. Go soft off the top making the bike collapse. 4. extend in the air and fill the gap. 5. Pull up for the landing.
Doing it right
Left to Right: 1. Come in low with all your potential energy stored in your legs. 2. As the trail changes shape oppose that extra weight by powering up your core and driving in with your legs. 3. Build up to straight legs and keep that push going right off the top. 4. Stay in your attack position with your arms bent. 5. Prepare for the landing after the highest part of the jump is over be gently bending your legs.
One of the most powerful and important things you can have as a rider wanting to progress is feedback. To complete the feedback loop we don’t mean the kind of “what the hell was that?” comments that your friends will throw at you. We mean good video footage that you can review objectively. If your pal wants to be helpful, they can film you from the side and you can both review the footage. Look for straight arms in the air, pushing too early off the jump, and pulling your bike up underneath you once off the ground. These are the three most common mistakes people make on jumps. If it’s done smoothly it should look like you’re floating. If you need examples to compare yourself to you can always download the Dirt School app, and Coaches Eye is also a good platform allowing you to scroll through your footage, pinch to zoom, and really look at your timing.
Being able to control jumps by giving yourself more time and making them smoother will then allow you to apply that same technique to cornering. We’ll be looking at this in a lot more detail in a couple of months, but if you follow these articles regularly then you’ll know we always say that a well supported turn like a berm is basically a jump lying on its side. Apply the same thought process to a corner and you’ll have way more traction, time to react, and be exiting with momentum.
How to jump a mountain bike Part 2: getting bigger
Having hopefully nailed the basics we move on to make your jumps bigger, bolder and even more beautiful.
Mountain biking has changed a lot over the last few years. Natural trails have gotten steeper, technical trails are more like downhill courses from a few years ago, and even if you favour the more remote and natural side of the sport, you always end up negotiating fairly large jumpy or floaty obstacles from time to time.
This month we’re going to follow on from last month’s article and look at how to stay in control on larger features like gaps and bigger jumps. We’ll look at how to apply your weight in a consistent and predictable manner so that you feel like you are in control of the jump or kicker – not the other way around.
A huge part of being able to clear larger jumps safely is having confidence in your own ability. Not very helpful if you’re not quite there yet, granted, but one that you can build up to slowly and with a deliberate plan. The trick is to practise on jumps that you feel safe on and spend time trying to do them slower and smoother. Anyone can smash into a small roller at top speed and pull on their bike to make the other side, but if you’re doing this on a fairly safe looking table top then you’re in trouble when you scale it up to a larger intimidating gap jump.
As we explained in the previous issue (available from all good newsagents), you really want to try and resist the feeling of collapsing on the jump and letting it being in control of you – especially at the top! Instead, try and hold a fairly strong position and really think about driving that weight back into the jumps itself by pushing consistently through your legs. It can be surprising how much control there is in a jump once you get your head around how much you can drive back in to that very same shape that most people back away from.
As jumps start to get bigger the trick is to push slower so that your same effort starts to last longer on the bigger feature. Speed will help, but make sure that you’re not speeding up the movements as well. The movements should be the same slow, consistent, predictable push from your easier jumps. The only difference on a larger feature is that the noise and feeling of being locked into a smooth takeoff will last longer. This can really surprise people at first as they’re used to pushing harder and going really fast. Remember that the bigger the feature the slower you have to move. That’s why it’s so hard to see what riders are doing on big jumps. They’re moving so slowly over such a large feature that it’s not very obvious. The noise will give their effort away though as that same whoosh from a smaller jump will last a lot longer over a larger one.
There are lots of ways to practise doubles. You can temporarily fill the gap with something like a wooden pallet or a couple of planks of wood. Pretty ghetto we know, but effective none the less. Or you can take our advice and find two jumps that are very similar in size but where one has a gap between the take off and the landing and the other is a table top. You really want to ride the easier table top over and over till you feel absolutely confident that you can hit the landing consistently. That way when you head over to the double you’ll be safe in the knowledge that you’ll be able to match the landing no problem. It’s one of these things where you’ll build up to it over weeks and months. Then the first time you clear it you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. Remember and stay relaxed. You’re going from a smooth transition that will provide ample opportunity for stability, to an equally smooth landing that was designed to match the trajectory of your bike.
Hitting gaps are one of the scariest and then equally rewarding skills in mountain biking. Everyone gets scared when they hit something like this for the first time. You just don’t know what it’s going to be like! Will you come up short? How much speed will you need to clear it? Will you jump to far and land on the flat? It’s terrifying, and you’ll more than likely be a bit stiff on your first effort, but once you’ve broken that seal you’ll be back for plenty more goes as it becomes addictive.
It’s in your head
You often see riders rolling into a gaps or a larger doubles a few times before they finally send it. They’re doing a few things here. The obvious one is that they’re just bottling it before they commit to the take off! This is understandable, and an important part of the process that many never make it past. The less obvious thing that riders are doing when they have a dummy run is that they are getting a measure of the approach. They’re feeling the way that the jump will push back into them as the roll over it. They might even be rolling up to the end of the ramp, coming to a stop, and imagining what it’s like to clear the space. How long will they be in the air? Will they be able to see the landing as they come into the take off the next time? Will they have to go faster than they thought to make it? An experienced rider will have all of this worked out after one or two dummy runs before they hit the gap for real for the first time.
Practice makes perfect
Getting the basics right here is the key. Having a place where you can ride over a succession of jumps then push back up to the top is perfect. If you have a place like this local to where you stay then we’d recommend dropping in for a few laps as part of your regular ride. The more you feel comfortable on the basic jumps, the more likely you are to have confidence on the more intimidating ones. Remember; Don’t practise till you get it right. Practise till you can’t get it wrong.
Follow my leader
If you’re lucky enough to ride with someone who is already making it over doubles or gaps safely you can always follow them in. Don’t follow the guy that is smashing in as fast as they can, barely making it, and giving you advice like “Just smash it and pull on your bars, mate.” Instead try and follow the rider that’s making it look easy. They’ll be riding with confidence and control. If you can match their speed and timing on the jump then it’s likely you’ll float over with the same fluidity.
Add some style
Once your jumps are feeling like they are coming together with you floating over table tops and gaps safely, you can think about adding in a little style. The easiest one here is to just turn the bars a little. Generally if you are banking towards a direction then you want to turn the bars the opposite way from where you’re headed. Steering away will tip the bike in the direction you want to go. You’ll need to straighten back up on the landing though.
Turn Down or Euro Tweak? Who cares. This is a lot easier than it looks. Here you have to suck the bike up into you but add enough tilt that the saddle misses you and ends up on the outside of your thigh. If you’re pulling the bike up and tipping it to your left, punch your right hand forward. This will cause the bars to turn down in the same direction you’re tipping it in. It will feel like you’re tying yourself up in nots, but as soon as you stand up it will all come undone and you’ll be able to land safely.
The classic X-Up. Believe it or not this can be easier to master than you think. You’ll likely find that you prefer turning one way over the other, but with a little practise you can do both. By ‘clicking’, or doing a trick like this as far as it goes, you’ll actually bounce back into a straight line easier than if you were just turning 90 degrees.