The What, Why, and How of Jumping your Mountain Bike

To really become good at jumping your mountain bike you must first understand the various types of jumps and related terminology.  From there, it’s time to understand the what, why and how of jumping. And once you’ve got all that dialed, learn how to apply your new understanding of jumping mechanics to all the different types of jump features you might encounter on a trail.  Learning how to jump isn’t a straightforward journey – it’s takes time, practice, and a good guide.  That’s where we come into play.  Let’s get started.

The following illustration breaks down the parts and types of jumps you may encounter on your local trails or bike park.   Get familiar with the terminology!

(Source: Pinterest)

Next, let’s break down the what, why and how to put it all together into 8 steps.  The end goal will look like this (see: the human, not the dog).

1. Inspect and Visualize

Prior to attempting the jump, get off your bike and inspect the jump and the landing. Figure out the best angle for approach and exactly where you’d like to land your bike. Then, visualize yourself successfully completing the jump. A simple rule that will keep you safe: if you can’t visualize yourself successfully completing the jump, don’t jump it. Perhaps the jump is too big? Or the face is too steep, or you’re unsure of the landing? Skip it and work on jumps you feel more comfortable with – then work your way up to the more difficult jumps.

Once you’ve visualized yourself jumping successfully and have determined the best line, it’s time to jump.

2. Get Ready

Ride towards the jump in a high ready position on the bike. Stay focused, present, and positive–a little positive self-talk is a great idea here. Once you reach the point of commitment (your last opportunity for bail-out), stop pedaling and raise up a little — relax.

3. Compression

Next, as you transition down into your ready position, compress your bike with the goal of your compression ending on the face of the jump.  Ideally, this should be a short / powerful compression initiated with your feet — think STOMP.   Your elbows should be out and your knees bent.

Your compression (stomp) will result in an equal and opposite explosion / rebound thrusting your bike into the air.  Let your bike fly!  Be as light as you can at this point and allow the bike to rise into the air.  If your compression timing is correct, you will sail right over your jump.

Pro Tip: You can clear a gap/table using speed and/or COMPRESSION.  Just because you are clearing a table with speed, doesn’t mean you’ve got the compression right.  Slow down and try to clear the jump with compression (rather than speed).

Perfect the timing – figuring out when to compress can be challenging.   Start by rolling the jump the feel when the bike naturally compresses – mentally mark that spot- and then focus on compressing then.  Don’t pull up on the bike,  rise up with your bike!

The biggest mistakes we see riders make when trying to jump is the lack of compression on the take-off (face) of the jump.  If you don’t compress your bike will behave very similarly to a rock.  Gravity will get the best of you (and your bike) and you will promptly get pulled back down to earth a la Newton’s apple.  So stomp down on those pedals like you mean it. Get aggressive. Grrrr.

Note: You don’t need suspension on your bike to compress it — compressing is merely the action of stomping your feet quickly.

4. Take Off — Go for height!

Once you’ve got the hang of you timing and are clearing the gap / table,  try putting a small object such as a few sticks piled up to practice clearance.   More compression = more height!

5. Landing

Once you’re flying, relax and resume your ready position and keep looking forward to your intended landing spot. Push your bike down onto your desired landing spot to increase.  Your arms and legs are your primary suspension when landing so keep them relaxed enough to absorb the impact, but sturdy enough so that you don’t lose control of your bike.

Where you land is up to you — jumping and hoping you land where you’d like to land is a risky proposition.  When you’re flying, look down and spot your landing.  Tell that front wheel where you want it to go – set a target (“x”), extend your arm pushing your front wheel down and try to hit it.

If the jump has a descending landing, land on your front wheel right before your rear wheel. This will give you more directional control and smooth out the landing. If you land rear wheel first on a descending landing, the front of the bike is likely to pivot forward and slam the ground thus thrusting your weight abruptly forward and potentially over the front of the bike.

If your landing is flat, land with your rear wheel first.  Landing on flat surfaces is more abrupt than landing on a descending landing. Landing on your rear wheel first allows you to use your legs to absorb the majority of the landing force.  Relying on your suspension solely tends to cause a hard landing and a potential for loss of traction.

Land light!  Practice landing light like a feather.

6. Roll Out

As you touch-down and resume your ready position, bring your head and eyes up looking down the trail.

7. Practice

You’ll find that if you add more speed and more compression, you’ll fly higher and further. It’ll take some time to calibrate your brain, body and bike to take off and land precisely as you intend. Experiment with controlling your landing – rear wheel first, front wheel first, both wheels and then play with your distance and height.

Table-top jumps are the most forgiving and one of the best places to take your jumping skills to the next level. If you short a table-top (don’t make the landing), there isn’t much of a consequence, just land on the ‘top’ of the jump. Unlike a double where you have to make the landing spot or you risk casing your bike.

8. Experimentation

Try applying these skills to different types of jumps (gaps, doubles, steep face, steep landing, flat landing etc.). Make a note of how your compression and/or speed varies depending on the feature.

As your confidence (and skill) increases, pick bigger obstacles, going up and downhill while jumping, experiment with your air-time and HAVE FUN! If you’d like to learn more and practice jumping in a safe, controlled environment with real-time feedback, join us for a Jumping Fundamentals Mini-clinic.

RELATED CONTENT: When Jumping My Feet Are Not Staying On The Pedals!

About

Richard La China is a Professional Mountain Bike racer, USAC Certified Cycling Coach and a IMBA Certified Mountain Bike Skills Instructor who coaches beginner to pro cyclist. Currently working with mountain bike XC, Endurance and Enduro racers and other competitive and non-competitive mountain bike riders seeking to become their best.

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