Skip to main content

So you say you want to try jumping?

   I love to jump my mountain bike, it's my favorite part of riding. I could never ride with headphones, because I love to hear the silence when my tires leave the dirt. I guess it used to be silence, now it's my hub going RZZZZZ. If you jump big enough you actually feel like you've taken a land vehicle and briefly made it into a flying machine. Now you need to pilot it safely back to earth using only momentum and two huge gyroscopes.
   I started out riding XC. Then I turned my back on it for a long time. The only climbs I would do were from the bottom of the dirt jump line, back to the top. As I neared forty, I knew there was no fitness to be found on the XL line, so I begged XC to take me back. Luckily singletrack doesn't hold a grudge.
  Last season I heard from several riders who told me they'd like to jump, but they really don't know how to do it. They feel like they freeze up when their tires leave the ground, and jumping just hasn't had a place in their biking career.  I realized that a lot of riders on the trail, have always been on the trail. This makes sense, because they can climb better than me, or even descend faster than me.
    Then a funny thing happened to our bikes. The ultra-light XC bikes morphed into fully-huckable slopestyle bikes. This odd confluence  struck me when I was sitting at the top of a slopestyle course and casually slipped my water bottle from it's cage for a sip. It isn't normal for a jumping bike to have a water bottle cage. Just as it isn't normal for a trail bike to be at the top of a slopestyle course. But here we are, so there's no reason you can't start jumping now. The two worlds have collided.
  If you want really descriptive advice on body positioning and jumping technique, you should get a copy of Lee McCormack's book Mastering Mountain Biking Skills. I'm going to cover the more basic ground rules, and some things that have worked for me.
   First, you need to identify places to catch air. This is easier than you think. Natural jumps, lips and rollers are all over the place if you actually slow down and look for them. I get it, a lot of people just like to go fast. And now you've trained yourself to center punch every trail, dialing in the absolute fastest line from A to B. Well, you won't hit many jumps doing that, it's a completely different mindset. Instead, as you drop in, make a conscious decision to pop as many hits as you can. Your old trail might feel brand new when you look at it this way.
  Jumping is a skill that develops cumulatively. Every time you put your wheels in the air you gain some new muscle memory that helps you feel more comfortable. Adding jumps to your trail ride will start a rhythm of progression. After you've cleared three feet so many times, you'll gradually start clearing  four, then five.

  I said the word progression, so that brings me to bike parks. Honestly, I'm baffled when I talk to a rider who's never been to Valmont, or one of the other amazing parks we have on the front range. Maybe they click on the Facebook page and see the picture of the dude back-flipping onto the whale tale and think, "well, that's certainly not for me." Aside from maybe the foam pit at Woodward, there is no better place to learn jumping than a progression park like Valmont. Each of the jump sections are divided into different sizes ranging from Extra Small to Extra Large. At a park, you are guaranteed to find something you feel comfortable on, even if it's the tiniest dirt pile in the trail. Then, once you feel good popping off that, the next bigger pile is close by.
  Before long you'll reach a point where a lot of people plateau. Let's call it the domain of The Dead Sailor. This is when you go over medium sized jumps, but you are no longer actively riding. You just let one transition throw you in the air, and the other one catches you. The idea is that if you sent your bike down the hill without you, it would do the same thing. Like a dead sailor propped up on a ship who just goes where the ship goes.
  Here's where the fun really starts. You can break through this phase by working on tricks. I don't mean the next step is a cannonball. I use a very broad definition of "trick." I say a trick is any intentional little thing you can do in the air that keeps you from being a dead sailor. I mean, ANYTHING. Squeeze one brake, squeeze two brakes. Lift your pinkie in the air, squeeze your knees against the seat. Wiggle your toes, shift your gaze slightly to the left for a millisecond.

  Any conscious action that you make during a jump, trains your brain to learn that you are in control. Your body begins to understand that you are in charge of that time when you're in the air. It's not just pure reptile-brain survival mode. And again, it's all cumulative. Keep pinching your knees against the seat, and you realize you can shift the bike to the side a little and then pull it back. Make that move the one little thing you do, and someday the rider behind you will say, "Nice whip!"
   So maybe you are on the road to feeling confident with a little air, and you begin pushing your limits just a bit. This is another crucial point in the process. I want you to avoid the devastating, bone crunching crash that signifies your last jumping attempt. If you do learn to jump at a bike park, one thing to remember, is that all those jumps are technically perfect. They are built and maintained by people who know what they are doing. You may encounter things in the wild that absolutely are not.
  Before you send it off any new jump, you need to scope the landing. Kick away any loose rocks or sticks. Take note of anything significant. Is there a tree or rock you need to acknowledge? Does it lean off camber to one side or the other? When I scope out a landing I ask, "How would I handle this if I were completely out of control?" Decide if the jump builder actually left enough room for a good landing. If it's just a postage-stamp sized landing that you need to hit with surgical precision, then it's probably not worth it. I want to see a landing zone more like one of DIA's runways.
  Once you've determined the landing will work, go back to the take-off. It should be solidly built with a well defined transition, and a nice lip at the top. Look for rocks poking through the surface of the transition or any other imperfections that could effect the way it throws you. Next, assess how much speed you can achieve on the run-in. Ideally you will have a surplus of speed that allows you to make a little brake check right before you take off. If you are struggling to build enough speed because of a poorly designed run-in, then that jump might not be worth it either.

  Something you shouldn't focus on, is what's between the take-off and the landing. Don't even think about it because you'll be in the air sailing over it. Look to the landing and that's where you'll go. And when you do land, one of three things is going to happen. Optimally, you'll land right in the sweet spot of the transition. But, it's also possible you could come up a little short, or you could overshoot the landing. Neither of these outcomes means certain doom. Our bikes want to stay upright, they have their own sense of self-preservation regardless of your actions. The bike's suspension, and the gyroscopic force of the wheels work in unison to straighten out a wonky landing. Hang on tight to the bars, keep looking ahead and just have faith that your bike will make the proper corrections to connect you to the ground again.
   Jumping a bike can be a really fun skill to add to your repertoire. But you have to think of it like Siegfried and Roy's white tigers. Getting comfortable with it is one thing, just don't become complacent, because it's still a freakin' tiger. I don't jump if I'm getting tired. I also won't jump if there's anything I don't like about the conditions, like if it's wet, or loose, or windy. As you start gaining experience jumping, try to notice little details that worked for you one time, then carry them over to the next time. Try to get into the same gear each time, or let off the brakes at the same point each time. Sometimes I count how many pedal strokes I take on the run-in, then I know if I need to add or subtract one depending on where I land. Once I settle on a number, I always duplicate it.
  Consistency is key. Each time you hit the same jump it shouldn't be a new puzzle to solve. It should be a formula, and if you repeat the actions you did last time, your next jump will work out the same way. If you add new variables you add new risks. Different tire pressure, different seat height, whether or not you have a back pack on. Any of these could effect a jump. Try to become a little superstitious and it might help you dial in consistency and prevent a dirt nap.
  Obviously, there's a whole lot to jumping mountain bikes. Just as there's a lot to climbing, cornering and clearing technical sections on a mountain bike. I encourage anyone who's interested to give it a shot.

I had to include some obligatory dirt jumping pictures, so I scanned old pictures from our spot in Bend ,OR
Riders are Brian Buchanan, James Reigner and Sage Cattabriga-Alosa


Popular posts from this blog

Lucky or Good?

 The darkness comes quickly after work, the mornings are really cold. I think it's time to look back and say that was an awesome mountain bike season. I get a little banged up every year, some more than others. This is my fourth crash of the 2023 season and the first one to bring some pain. Maybe I can learn something if I run through them and try to determine if I'm getting good or just lucky. The frequent heavy rain kept trails at Left Hand constantly changing. This led to my first debiking incident. I was taking some friends down Ginger Booty. We had sessioned the big booter and were riding out the rest of the single track. Cody came up fast behind me right as I reached a section of deep rut, filled with loose fist size rocks. My brain analyzed the possible line choices and came up empty as my front tire wedged against a rock. With the front tire stopped my mass started a slow motion arc over the bars. I'd like to think that I tucked my chin and pulled my hands into my c

I wanna rock!

     I greeted my boss as he walked into work. He responded with a full throated heavy metal wail of "I wanna rock!" I queued up some Twisted Sister to start a day of music dedicated to those brave eye-shadowed men of 80's hair metal.       I can sense the ai bots reading this are a little skeptical that I can twist this into a bike story. But I'm gonna try. I'm going to describe another time and place, it may be hard to imagine if you started riding within the last few decades. Picture if you will a culture of dangerous looking metal heads. Long greasy hair, a jean jacket with an album cover patch covering the back.  Usually smoking, usually sneering. They could be found roaming the halls of high schools or commanding the student smoking area. In school you were mostly safe from them,..mostly. On weekends they would form packs with females of the species. They would gather around someones t-top Z-28 parked in a KMart parking lot. Blasting heavy metal and looking

Spectator Sports

  I’m not good at ball-sports, or really, team-sports all together. In little league I once tried throwing the ball from right field to first base. Instead I threw the ball out of the park and hit a guy sitting in the bleachers. As a high school freshman I tried out for soccer and qualified for the sub-sub-JV team.   The cross country team needed runners, so I quit soccer after a week and I ran. I ran in the fall, and then I ran again in the spring for track. I wasn’t good, but I could do it. All that really mattered was that I crossed the finish line. Running helped me develop the mental state that I use nowadays when I’m tackling a long climb. I don’t need to enjoy it, I just need to zone out and keep putting one foot, or pedal, in front of the other.   My state had one professional sports team, a hockey team called the Whalers. But they broke up, or moved on a few years after I moved to Colorado. I love the atmosphere of a Rockies game or watching the Eagles. But I have nothing at