Learning how to bunny hop is a hugely useful skill that can get you out of trouble, keep you moving forwards at speed, and help you clear big jumps better. 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.
Sometimes called the "American bunny hop", it involves getting the front wheel up first, then springing up and "scooping" the rear wheel behind you, similar to an ollie on a skateboard. It'll take plenty of practice, but is definitely worth it for mountain bikers and roadies alike.
There's also something called an "English bunny hop", which relies on clipless SPD pedals, and sees both front and rear wheels spring up simultaneously. While it's also a useful technique for jumping small obstacles on the trail, we're going to focus here on learning to bunny hop with flat pedals. While it takes a little extra practice, it's much more effective.
1. Practise the pumped manual
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.
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.
2. Stand tall
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.
3. Throw the bars forwards
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).
4. Scoop upwards with your feet
You can 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.
5. Learn to control which wheel lands first
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.