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
Over the last couple of episodes we’ve gone into some of essential skills in mountain biking to help you better understand how to progress your riding. In this episode we’re going to continue on to the world of getting your wheels off the ground. While jumping is fun, a lot of riders out there don’t see the point in spending time learning how to do it properly. As a result there may be a lack of flow to your riding elsewhere on the hill. You might feel like you’re stalling in corners, or feeling unable to seek out grip in the same way you recognise others being able to trust when things get more technical.
This month we’ll break down how to jump safely and with confidence. This smoother method of applying weight to a feature should give you way more control especially on larger features, and in turn allow you to apply that same consistent and predictable control to other shapes on the trail. In a nutshell, if you can jump with control and confidence then you can apply that same feeling to corners and larger features. Let’s explain in more detail.
If you can jump consistently and with control, then getting your wheels off the ground is one of the best feelings in mountain biking. The feeling of floating above the trail as if you have all the time in the world becomes addictive, and as well as being fun, it also opens up a whole world of possibility when it comes to linking features together in normal riding. If you can choose where you go heavy and light on a jump, then you can apply that same strategy to textured trails and technical obstacles. This in turn means that you can generate traction and control where you recognise certain shapes, and enjoy that floaty feeling over the same features that used to cause you all the problems.
Jumps are a funny one. From the outside it looks like a jump should be exhilarating and exciting. Like it should all be explosive and fire you up into the air. In reality though if you’re jumping correctly then it’s because you are confident and smooth. This comes from making slow movements and driving your weight back into the entire feature to cause consistent pressure and drive. Once you leave the ground you’re locked into something so still and predictable that it often takes riders by surprise as they feel like they should be doing more. The effort involved in jumps should be on the ground, and last a long time. Subsequently the air time should feel like you’re floating and that you locked into all that stability on the shape of the takeoff.
Perfect your jump timing
The timing of a riders push is the most common thing we have to correct when running sessions. The vast majority of riders push too early in a jump and control the steeper ‘lip’ by backing away from that pressure. While this will allow them to stay low and control the pop, it comes with a few of its own problems. As you back away from the push your rear wheel can sometimes clip the lip as it rolls past flicking you forwards and sending you over the bars. Once you’ve felt this the temptation will be to back away more as you’ll be able to absorb more of the kick and stay in control. If you jump this way then you’ll feel like you need more speed to clear a jump and be exposing yourself to more risk as jumps get bigger. What you should be doing is actually keeping the push with your legs going longer. Staying heavy on the jump will mean that you can flatten out the lip with your body weight and use the pop to send you upwards evenly. Pushing into a jump is more about balancing the extra weight you feel as you change direction.
Fancy a ski trip?
If you’ve read our articles before then you’ve maybe heard us talking about the similarities between mountain biking and skiing. The reason for this is the way a skier handles the extra weight as they carve turns. If you imaging a skier going through a long corner across the slope that lasts for three or four seconds, there isn’t a huge amount going on. From the outside it would almost look like that skier isn’t doing anything. If you asked the skier where they pushed though, they’d say that they were pushing evenly and consistently the whole way round. This is because as they change direction the slope is actually pushing back into them. They basically weight more in that moment. In order to not collapse they have to push back into the slope and equalise that extra force with their legs. This is the same push with your legs that we’re talking about in jumps. It’s not a fast delivery of power. It’s a slow balanced drive that lasts longer as the shape that you’re pushing against gets bigger. If you see a kid flying over a big jump and ask them where they just pushed, they’ll say the whole way through the jump – same as the skier in a turn.
Range of motion
If you’re looking to men your push last longer then one of the things you can do is have a bigger range of motion. This will allow you to make the drive back into the jump last longer as you’ll be able to extend over a longer area. Make sure that you’re starting in your regular riding position with your legs straight and your elbows bent. As you get lower, then execute your push with your legs, you should always be going through a consistent range of motion. Your back should be the same angle throughout. A lot of the time when people start thinking about their push, they actually push all the way through to straight arms as well. This will cause you to be very top heavy and most likely result in a loss of balance like you’re going squint. Remember to come in set up, get lower to your bike, then extend all the way back through with your legs and finish back where you started with straight legs and bent elbows.
Push 90%, pull 10%
When it comes to jumps and bunny hops you want to break your technique down into how much of it comes from push, and how much comes from pull. For a lot of riders out there it’s about 50/50. 50% of their effort happens on the ground, then 50% of their effort happens in the air. You basically want to do as much as you can while on the ground, and as little as possible in the air. The more you push back into the trail on your takeoff, the smoother you’ll be once off the ground and the less you have to do up there. The best way of seeing what you’re doings to have a friend film you. What are you doing in the air? Are your legs straight? Or are you doing the tell tale pull in the air with bent knees? Ideally you want your jumps to be no more than 90% push and 10% pull. Or even better 100% push and 0% pull. That will take practise, but the more you do on the ground the better your jumps will feel.
Scaling it up
As you gain confidence and feel like you’re making progress, you may want to try your new smoother technique on larger jumps. Remember that it’s all about how you drive your weight back into the shape. You don’t need to push harder, or push faster. What you need to do instead is be patient and drive your weight back into the shape as it progresses. Another way of describing the feeling is that the trail is trying to buckle your arms and legs under the extra pressure. Don’t let this happen. Instead try and hold your bike down and keep it heavy on the ground for longer. This will result in you locking into a consistent, predictable and even pressure that finally releases you right off the top with control. Don’t push harder – push longer and smoother with your legs.
Once you get the hang of riding larger jumps properly, you can apply that same technique to corners. A berm for example is just a jump lying on its side. We find that if a rider is stalling in corners we actually focus on how they jump instead. Once they smooth out their jumping technique they can apply that same consistency and progressive drive to corners, meaning that they generate stability and control while maintaining speed and momentum. Instead of taking off out of a jump they’re now accelerating out of the corners with the same consistency and control they’re enjoying in jumps.
Using flat pedals is a great way of improving your jumping as you are forced to concentrate your efforts on your push. If you ride clipped in all the time then you’re possibly pulling on the pedals without even knowing it’s happening. If you try flat pedals and your feet come off then it’s most likely that you’re relying on being attached to your bike in order to jump. This is not good. The better you can be on a set of flat pedals the better your jumping will be once you clip back in again. Ultimately the advantage in using flat pedals isn’t about getting your feet off in a hurry. It’s about how you weight and unweight a bike. If you can ride a bike will on flats then once you clip in you have an advantage. If you ride clips all the time then they’re not an advantage – they’ve become necessary! You need them to ride and that’s not good.
Develop your style
Throwing a little lean into a jump, or turning the bars a little, is often all it takes to add a little style. Remember that in order to feel like you’ve got the time and control to be able to do a little tweak up there, you have to have your take offs dialled in the first place. The secret to being able to do anything up there is to be confident on the take off. This will come from practicing your smooth delivery of drive. If you’re pulling in the air then that’s your trick. You’ll be SPD-hopping forever. Spend some time pushing consistently with your legs and enjoying more time off the ground, and you’ll have ample time to all a little style while you’re up there.