Getting the whole bike flying through the air can happen in lots of ways, some of them more accidental than others. The approach we’ll look at here is the smoothest, highest and most controlled hop, which can be performed on any bike with flat or SPD pedals.
The first thing to master is the pumped manual. This is a way of getting the front wheel into the air using the natural rebound of the tyre – not the rebound of the forks, and not throwing your weight backwards or pulling back on the bars.
Use the rebound of the tyre to get your front end in the air
You simply roll along at a steady pace, not pedalling, cranks level and with your forearms low. It also helps if your heels are dipped. The lift comes from a thrust forwards through the hands, and possibly feet too. It’s a sharp, short burst of energy that’s mostly forwards and a little down, but not directly into the forks or they’ll soak up all the force. The tyre will immediately rebound and the front of the bike will lift.
As the front comes up, don't be tempted to swing your weight backwards – instead push through with your feet and stand tall instead. This is important, because you will find it hard to get the back wheel in the air if you’ve just shoved all of your weight on top of it.
Scoop your feet back to lift the whole bike into the air
As the front wheel reaches full height, throw the bars forwards and rotate them at the same time (rolling them forwards to help twist the back of the bike into the air). You can also scoop upwards with your feet (toes down, push back into the feet and sweep them up towards your backside), bending your legs to absorb the bike as it comes up towards you.
When practising it pays to have your saddle down to avoid a badly timed whack on the backside.
The forward thrust on the bars will push the bike out in front of you as it lifts. How far it travels, and the angle it ends up at depends on lots of factors, like how hard you pumped for your manual, how hard you kicked through with your feet, how hard you threw forwards, how quickly you scooped the back end up with your feet, and where you kept your weight.
This technique is particularly handy for pre-jumping big slopes
Experiment with all of these things and see if you can control which wheel lands first when riding on the flat. You can then take this skill to a drop and try pre-jumping it so you land both wheels together on the down slope.
This is a technique known as pre-jumping, and it gives you much greater speed and control – you spend less time in the air and get a much greater pump down on landing, resulting in much more forwards speed coming out of the jump.
Chris Ford is the founder of CycleActive, and ran skills coaching courses for all levels of mountain biker for more than 10 years. He is currently studying a PhD. To find out more about the courses CycleActive runs at centres across the