Hitting jumps on a bike can have a steep learning curve for mountain bikers. Riders who can shred single track better than anyone can struggle to become comfortable in the air. With time and practice, jumping a bike is very doable and one of the most fun things you can do on 2 wheels. When first starting, it’s ideal to find a nice tabletop before you go right into doubles and triples. A “double” is where there is a gap that drops off between the takeoff and the landing. Good places to start are your local dirt jumps, a bike park, or a trail network with man-made features. Everyone isn’t lucky enough to have these sorts of places available locally. If that’s the case, find a place you’re able to build and start digging. When learning, a jump with a smooth takeoff that isn’t too tall or steep is ideal.
Body Position for Jumping a Bike
Being super comfortable on your bike is essential to learning to control it in the air. Even if you’re talented on a trampoline or similar sports, having a bike under you makes a big difference. When preparing to jump your bike, your pedals should be parallel to the ground with one foot in front of the other. Most riders have a preference of which foot should go forward. Your weight should be slightly back, but overall in a comfortable, upright position. Your knees and arms should be slightly bent. Approach the jump with an appropriate amount of speed, and follow someone in who has hit it before if you’re unsure of how fast to go. Most jumps are built in such a way that it’s easy to judge the speed required, but some are a bit tougher. Overshooting and undershooting jumps is no fun.
Hitting the Bike Jump
Now that you’re rolling into the jump with the correct body position and speed, let’s talk about the takeoff. Stay calm and controlled on the takeoff. Not much needs to be done. As you roll up the lip of the jump, you can bend your knees a little bit more and compress your rear shock. If you’re on a hardtail, the same concept applies. As your front wheel starts to roll off of the takeoff, you can begin to “pop” every so slightly by extending your knees just a little bit and allowing your fork and shock to extend. This is not an exaggerated motion, and doing too much of it will cause your bike to “buck” you off the lip. Controlled is the name of the game when jumping your bike. Start small and work up from there as you get this feeling down.
In the air, let your arms begin to bend even further as your bars rise towards your chest. Again, this is a small motion. Do not focus on pulling your bars, but rather letting your bike rise. You can also move your center of gravity slightly back. Be sure your knees are still bent and the bike feels controlled under you. If your legs have straightened, you popped far too hard off the takeoff and your control will be minimal. As you approach the landing, you want to both wheels to hit the ground simultaneously. If you have to pick a wheel to hit first, I’d recommend the back wheel. Landing with your front wheel first can be risky business if your weight is too far forward. If your arms are bent properly, you can alter the angle your bike hits the ground.
If your front wheel is too high, straighten your arms to push the front end down. If your front wheel is too low, try to bend your arms up even more to bring the front end up. This is much harder than bringing the front end down, and if you’re way too far forward there’s not much you can do. This is why you need to focus on a proper takeoff.
Other Bike Jumping Tips
When you’re jumping a bike, be loose. Tensing up with a bike under you is the worst thing you can do. The bike will take control of you instead of the other way around. Be calm and confident. Also, don’t jump in the wind. You might not think much of it, but wind can blow you feet to the side and throw your bike in ways you never thought imaginable. A light breeze is okay, but be weary of heavy crosswinds. Jumping a bike is incredibly fun once you’re comfortable with it, so get after it! Best of luck. Leave a comment below with questions or progress!