Get out there and pump!
The backbone of modern mountain biking, pumping is an oft-overlooked opportunity to exploit the trails. Andy from Dirt School tells us how to pump track.
Words by Andy Barlow
Pump is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the world of mountain biking. It describes the act of pushing your bike into the trail and is essentially the backbone of modern riding. The fluidity and control that capable riders have all revolves around their ability to apply pressure to the the trail for traction, stability, and control. This in turn allows them to be more confident and ultimately ride quicker with no extra risk. Why is it then that this seemingly easy technique eludes so many riders? And why do so many of us make excuses around why we can’t master it fully? Or think we can do it when in actual fact we’re awkward and clumsy.
Best times to go
Don’t be intimidated by all the teenagers. They might look like they know what they’re doing but it’s only because they ride there all the time. Nobody looks like a pro the first few laps they do of something like this. You’re going to have to swallow your pride and just give it a go. The quietest times are likely to be first thing in the morning before the hangovers have cleared, and mid-week when all the kids are at school. You’re best going on a dry day so that you don’t slide in the corners, and preferably one where there isn’t too much wind. You’ll get your heart rate up pretty quickly so you’re best to take layers so you can shed them as you heat up, or add them as you start to slow down and get tired. You won’t be able to do more than a couple of laps at a time, so just get to know the place first before you start going fast. You’ll have done plenty laps by the end of your session.
Room to move
The best thing you can do here is get low and close to your bike. The track is gong to throw you all over the place at first so being close to your bike will give you plenty room to move.
You’ll likely be moving a lot more than you normally do – part of the reason it’s a good idea to practice this, so be prepared to buzz your bum off your rear tyre now and again.
Fill the space below
Don’t look at the bumps and rises as features that you have to absorb. Instead try and see the lower parts of the track as the places where you’re trying to push into with your legs. This will generate a lot more control because you’ll be taking control of the situation every time you pass through a ‘heavy part’. By ‘heavy part’ we mean the lowest part of the track where it changes direction and starts coming back up again. This is where you want to be forcing all your weight back into the track by pushing against all that heaviness.
Try coming in lower than you naturally would and keep your legs and arms bent. You can absorb the impact of the rise before hand a little and should be all coiled up and in a good position ready to push your arms and legs away again with plenty room. As you fall into the hole between the rollers tense your arms then push powerfully with your legs so that you feel a whoosh through the lowest part. It will likely make a noise as your weight is heavier on the track and should not only neutralise the shape of the trail, but generate a lot of stability at the same time. Stay fluid and immediately allow the track to push your bike back into you. You don’t need to pull it in as the shape of the track will do that for you, and you’ll be ready for the next shape.
The same goes for the corners. Remember that a bermed turn like the ones you’ll find here are basically just jumps lying on their side. As long as you stay high and take a clean line all the way round, you can make the same slow powerful leg extension and enjoy the same stability that your pumps allow you on the rollers. The whoosh noise from the rollers should follow you through the turns as well, only it will last longer because you’re riding a bigger shape and moving your limbs slower relative to the distance that you’re spreading the force over.
Once you start getting that hang of the movement and feel like you can do laps with relative control, it’s time to take it up a notch. Find a mellow roller and roll through it a few times getting a hang of the timing of the shapes. Once you feel confident enough to try this you want to let the bike come back into you and open up loads of space to work with underneath. Don’t pick the front wheel up. Instead try hanging off the back allowing the front wheel to remain light because you’re counter-balancing with your bum behind the saddle. Think about pushing your legs and back wheel into the gap and filling the hole. As long as you’re low enough to begin with you should have loads of space to do this with. Remember, you’re not lifting your front end over the gap. You’re pushing your back end into it with your legs.
A full suspension bike can let you get away with your timing a little as your travel has time to sink or rebound meaning that you can make it last longer. A hardtail however will transfer any efforts you do immediately into the surface your working with. At first this can feel awful as you’ll be pushing way too fast and in the wrong places. This is kind of the point. You won’t be able to get away with riding this way, and instead you’ll be forced to slow it down and ramp it up towards the tops. With a bit of practice, jumping a hardtail will become so subtle and smooth that once you go back onto your full sus bike it will feel like an armchair. Remember and slow it down. Short sharp stabs at the track will just result in you spiking and loosing control. The longer you can draw out powerful, smooth, exaggerated range of motion, the cleaner the experience will be and the more control you’ll have.
You don’t need to have a dedicated pump track bike to do this, but there are a few things that you’ll need to get right if you’re going to get the most out of it. Firstly it really needs to be a hardtail. The smaller the frame the better, but remember that as you go down a size you’ll also lose a bit of length off the reach. Ideally you want something with a very low standover hight and a long top tube. This will be the heart of your ride, so if you’re going to spend any money at all a good frame will mean the rest of your build will work well. If you get this part right you’ll be amazed by how cheap you can build up the rest with spares and old parts. Finally you may have found a use for all those old 26” wheel parts!
Slick tyres are also a big advantage as it will mean you have a much lower rolling resistance. We run ours at about 65psi or 4bar. After all it’s all about generating momentum and speed. Knobby tyres at low pressures will not only slow you down but also start to squash and deform in the corners causing you to wobble. Get some faster rubber on there and you’ll be a lot more stable once you’re up to speed.
Two brakes are a bonus, but at least one on the rear one will keep the weight down and mean you can still stop safely. It also means that you’ll be legal when you travel to and from.
Any old forks will do, but sticking with suspension forks will give you a bit of cushioning if you come up short. You’re basically going to pump them up as hard as you can. You can probably find a pair of fairly decent 26” forks second hand if you look around. The burlier the better. Your local bike shop can reduce the travel for you and about 100mm will be plenty. You’ll probably only use about half of it.