Skills Q&A: How to flow over drops

Mountain bike coach Chris Ford answers your questions

Chris Ford of bike training and holiday company CycleActive is back to answer your questions about mountain bike skills and technique in the run-up to BikeRadar Live 2010.

He and his team of experts will be on hand at the UK's ultimate bike festival at Brands Hatch from 10-11 July to offer their unique brand of skills tuition to experts, novices and kids.

More on that later this week – for now here's his advice on how to tackle drop-offs.

Q: Hi Chris. Every time I go out on the trail and there’s a drop or step of about a foot, I just freeze and don’t really know how to go about tackling it. I’ve seen people do it but I just can’t seem to understand how they do it sometimes. Can you help me? Ta, Ollie.

A: When we coach jumps and drops we always work on two things – the 'outer game' and the 'inner game'. The idea of working on your inner game comes from some great coaching research carried out in the 1970s, in tennis, and has developed a lot since then.

Basically, we need to look at why you're freezing up and how we can tackle that (your inner game), and at the same time make sure your actual drop technique is working well (your outer game). Then we combine the two and you’ll be able to fly off anything.

So, working on your raw technique first, you need to find a simple kerb sized drop that you can roll off without a second thought. Work on rolling off it with good body position, as if it were bigger, with hips back and body more flat than upright, arms flexed with forearms fairly flat and elbows low (rather than sticking out too much).

In this position, when the front wheel drops away it won’t pull your body with it. That’s the first key point. You want to just allow the front wheel to go down as your arms extend.

Next step is to perform a small pumped manual as you reach the kerb. This was covered in a previous feature on pumping to jump, and is basically pushing the front wheel forwards and into the ground so it pings into the air. This is our second key point – pumping at the right angle.

Don’t push down into your forks or they will soak up the effort and release it slowly. Push almost forwards into the ground ahead of you. Practise this until you can do a kerb with both wheels landing flat. Get someone to watch or even film you, or if you want your technique finely tuned then get a coach involved.

Now let’s think about the inner game. The freezing up is a natural reaction but we need to build your mental control to enable you to perform the skill in a real trail situation without hesitation, holding your breath or going stiff. 

One way to do this is simply to progress through from easy drops upwards, so your confidence grows, but I’m guessing you’ve tried this. Another is to identify key coaching points and use your inner voice to remind you of these as you approach the jump.

If you like to learn aurally (most people have a preferred style – they need to hear it, see it or do it to get a full understanding of it) then actually speak those coaching points out loud. So, as you approach the drop say either internally or externally “stay low, pump on the lip, stay low, pump on the lip, stay low…”.

Ideally I’d need to see what elements of jumping technique are not working for you, so we could tune in on those specifically as there may be key areas that are holding you back. However, these ideas should help and by working on your 'self talk' you can push thoughts of failure out of your brain and replace them with a mantra of good technique to keep you focussed, positive and far more likely to succeed.

Technique advice from Chris@CycleActive

If you want to work on your drop-offs with professional tuition, Chris runs training company CycleActive and offers both one-to-one and group courses at centres across the UK. Visit www.cycleactive.co.uk for more information.

You can also email us with your skills questions and we’ll pass them on to Chris. Whether it’s how to ride fast in singletrack, how to blast through a berm or what can you do to stay on the bike in the mud, our skills expert will have the answers for you.

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