Technique: How to air drop-offs

With a bit of caution, you can be airing your way down the trail faster than ever

You’re pelting along your favourite trail at full speed, only you know that around that corner is the steep drop-off that’ll brain you unless you slow down. Wouldn’t it be great if you could keep going?

While you may not choose to launch from drop-offs all the time, learning how to do so is a very good idea because there will be occasions when you’re faced with one, and won’t have time to slow down. You’ll also be able to leave your mates for dead…

Some drop-offs are just about pulling up, plopping off the top and holding on for the landing.

More often than not, there will be something you can use to land on that’s sloping away from you – this will help reduce the impact to both you and your bike. Wherever possible, scope out a suitable landing spot that resembles a landing ramp – even the smallest of transitions (like a rock or bank) can be used.

Beginners should look for something to roll off at first, but as you get better try bigger drop-offs that can only be dropped.

Here's a step-by-step guide:

[1] Approach

This is the edge of the drop. If it makes it easier for you, make a mark on the ground where you’d ideally want to take off, then try to aim for this on your approach to the edge. Have your preferred foot forward and be ready to shift your body weight back as you pull up.

[2] Take-off

Lean back while you gently pull up on the bar, and bring the front wheel up. Remember you’re going off, not up, so don’t pull up too much or you’ll risk looping out. Just pull up enough so that both wheels will touch down together. At first though, you may prefer to land slightly rear wheel first. Keep your weight slightly behind the saddle to keep the bike balanced.

[3] Levelling out

Use your weight fore and aft to balance the bike as you head for your landing spot. It’s best to touch down both wheels together, so use your weight to let the bike follow a slight arc, allowing you to meet with the landing as in as smooth and controlled a manner as possible.

[4] Spot the landing

By now you should have spotted the landing, but you should also be looking ahead to see the run-out and where you need to be heading. As the bike starts dropping, let it fall away from you and straighten your arms and legs as much as you can to allow them full travel on landing. Imagine mimicking a cat dropping from a height, and remember that your arms and legs are the most advanced suspension system there is.

[5] Landing gear down

Keeping your head upright and looking ahead, use your whole body to absorb the shock of the landing. Unlike landing on transitions on proper jumps, the sort of transition following a drop won’t be anywhere as smooth, so don’t rely on your suspension to smooth things out. Always anticipate a harsh impact rather than assuming it’ll be softer. That way, you’re less likely to be caught out by a really heavy one.

Drop-off basics

  • Tech and prep - Drop-offs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are vertical drop-offs/ steps that are too big to be rolled, others can be steep banks that are too steep to be ridden at speed and the rest can be big stepdown jumps. Obviously, you need to start off small and build your way up, but even fairly large stepdowns can be achieved on regular trail bikes. Just remember that if there’s any sort of transition available, you should use it.
  • Where to learn - Finding a suitable drop-off to practice on is your first task. For the sequence above, we’re using a medium-sized drop on to a fairly steep bank. Sure it can be rolled, but in all honesty it’s far safer and easier to drop. The long, steep landing area offers plenty of run-out, and all that’s required for a basic drop is essentially to pull up the front wheel. You’ll encounter many different types of drop on the trail. Some you can simply drop off, others you can use your gapping skills on (learned last issue) to turn into stepdown-style jumps. We’ve opted to show you the steep bank variety, although ours is exaggerated to accentuate what we’re teaching you.
  • Back to basics - For starters, being able to pull up the front end is an absolute must. Not only will this stop the bike tucking underneath you, but it also balances you and so keeps the bike ready for the landing. If it’s a drop to a flat landing, you should ideally land rear wheel first so that your bike takes less of an impact. 
  • 'Place' the rear wheel - When you become more advanced, you can learn to ‘place’ the rear wheel on the ground and use your back and upper body to lower the front for minimal impact. To learn this technique, you’re best off lowering your saddle and finding a large kerb or ledge to bunnyhop off. As you leave the edge, pull up on the bar as hard as you can, tuck the bike up under you then lower the rear wheel for landing. This sounds a lot harder than it actually is – just imagine you’re doing a super exaggerated bunnyhop.
  • It’s all in the mind - Jumping off drop-offs isn’t technically difficult, you just need the courage to take a chance. Roll up to the drop a few times to get warmed up, but don’t psyche yourself out peering over the edge. Don’t attempt it if you’re feeling sketchy – come back to it later. It’s a good idea to practise drop-offs with a few mates at hand – although you’re unlikely to injure yourself on something small, sod’s law says that you’ll get hurt toppling over on the run-out…
  • Progressing your skills - With a drop-off like this, the only thing dictating where you land is the speed at which you hit it. Given that you’re learning this skill in order to ride your trails faster, and with more flow, you may as well see how far you can go. That way, you’ll be able to really let rip when you’re out riding and it’ll help you learn the speeds at which you have to hit different drops. However, it’s no use being able to jump out on the trail if you still have to slow down for steep drops that are too big to launch. Pre-jumping is the final skill you need in order to truly pin it along your favourite trails. 

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