Technique: How to master basic jumping
By Doddy | Tuesday, April 29, 2008 1.13pm
Jumping isn’t just for adrenaline junkies – it’s a fundamental skill that every mountain biker can and should learn. Doddy aims to get you safely off the ground…
We can all gaze at top dirt jumpers like Timo Pritzel and John Cowan and admire their jaw-dropping skill, but don’t discount yourself from the equation. A surprising number of riders seem to think that they can’t jump, won’t be able to learn and don’t even need to know how to.
Not so – everyone can beneﬁt from learning how to jump, at however basic a level. Picture this: you’re blasting your favourite singletrack full-out when you rail a turn and forget about that big-ass root blocking your path. Going too fast to stop, you tense up and find yourself in the air with the saddle kicking you up the backside, threatening to nudge you over the handlebar. Your heart rate goes through the roof, and barely riding out of it is almost as bad as crashing.
The next time you ride this trail you take a leisurely pootle instead, preferring to stay safe and opting out of one of the reasons you ride in the first place – the adrenaline rush of speed.
Had you been confident that you could control the bike in the air, you wouldn’t have had to panic – or ruin your ride. Jumping is nearly a taboo subject among those who can’t do it, but to those who can, it’s merely an essential skill used for covering ground in a fast and efficient manner, not to mention giving you a buzz at the same time. Here we’ll show you the basics of jumping…
Here's a step-by-step guide
Start by learning on a tabletop jump, rather than a double, because you’ll have a flat, safe area to land on if you mess up. In order to clear a tabletop, you need to visualise yourself ‘making the shape’ of the jump. Imagine watching a dolphin jumping out of the water, travelling in an arc and nosediving back in again. Look at the line of the landing and take-off, and imagine how the natural curve would be if the top of the jump wasn’t flat.
Approach the jump standing up out of the saddle with your arms and legs relaxed, your cranks horizontal and your natural foot forward. This is the ‘attack’ stance and it allows your body to move as it needs to. Keep your eyes focused on the take-off, but also make sure you’re scoping the landing. As for speed, building up from just being able to roll over the jump will tell you how fast you need to go to clear it.
Push your legs into the take-off and follow this motion with your wrists to keep the bike following the trajectory of the transition. Stay relaxed here; tensing can make the bike ‘buck’ off the lip awkwardly, which will throw you off line and possibly to the floor. Keep your weight as central on the bike as possible: leaning forward will lighten the rear end, causing scary nosedives, and leaning back could have you off the rear of the bike.
 Levelling out
As the rear wheel comes up, the bike will start to level out. At this point, keep your weight balanced to prevent the rear wheel rising too high. Make sure your arms and legs are relaxed because this is your ‘air time’. If you’re tense, you’ll be on the edge of control and you risk pummelling into the ground. Allow the bike to naturally follow the curve of the jump – think of a dolphin leaping.
 Spot the landing
When cruising through the air, you have to make sure you spot your landing and also the run-out area. You only need to glance at the landing ramp for a split second because your first instinct will be the right one. Look at its shape and ignore any bumps and lumps that may be bothering you – you’ll be going pretty quick and so you’ll roll over these. Don’t stare at the landing too long or you risk messing it up – you need to look ahead as well!
If your bike is still level, extend your arms slightly and tuck your legs up a bit to allow the bike to follow the transition of the landing. Ideally, you’ll be nose-diving slightly, ready to ‘scoop’ into the transition for a smooth landing. Avoid touching down rear wheel first because the front wheel can wash out if you’re skewwhiff. Likewise, avoid steep front wheel landings so you don’t go over the bar. Also look ahead for obstacles as you absorb the landing.
Where to learn - There’s no point running before you can walk, so start small and build up. The latest craze at many ride spots is the freeride area, like the new trail at Cwmcarn, South Wales. These will always have some tabletop jumps, which are good for learning the basic principles of jumping in relative safety. BMX racetracks are also littered with tabletops and they can be found near most towns.
Be prepared - Until you’ve earned some decent air miles, you should lower your saddle by at least 3in to keep it out of the way during jumping, and remove anything you might be likely to trash should you bin it, such as lights, computers and bar ends. Flat pedals are also a good idea if you’re not too confident on SPD style clipless pedals – it’s easier to ditch the bike should it all go wrong, and it might help give you the extra confience that you need.
Warm up - Before you throw yourself in at the deep end, make sure you’re nicely warmed up. Have a good stretch and get your heart rate up by having a brief ride – that way you’ll be zoned in better and able to focus on the job.
Get those air miles - Until you’ve mastered it, jumping a bike is something you have to be 100 per cent committed to. If your mind’s wandering then you’re likely to make a mistake, which, without the skill and confidence to correct it, will probably result in you crashing. Check out the jump before you do it and visualise yourself clearing it. By all means, watch other riders jumping – you’ll quickly see who’s good and who’s not – and learn from them.
Keep it rolling - One of the biggest mistakes jump virgins make is to sit on their bikes staring at the jump, psyching themselves out then eventually giving it one almighty go – and crashing. Don’t do this: it’s a tabletop, you can roll it, so if needs be, roll it slow to start with and you’ll begin to learn the feeling of the bike wanting to come up underneath you. Practice for a while and get faster each time until you clear the tabletop, and then once you’ve cleared it, jump it as many times as you have to until you could jump it in your sleep. This is the best way to become confident being airborne.
Work on your style - Don’t expect to learn to jump instantly; it’s something that you will have to work at, but stick with it. If you really can’t get it, try tagging along with a few riders that are better than you – you’ll be surprised how quickly you learn from them. Once you have the basics mastered, you can get out there and perfect your style. When you’re confident jumping, try it using SPD style pedals or with your saddle nearer your regular height. Remember though, it’s not a race – jumping is a skill that takes time to master but one day it will just click and you’ll be getting air whenever you can from then on.
Now go forth and learn, grasshoppers…
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