drops and jumps on your mountain bike

Hit Big Drops and Jumps on Your Mountain Bike!

Disclaimer, drops and jumps on your mountain bike can be dangerous, make sure you are wearing the appropriate safety gear and have the basic skills I mention below wired before practicing them. Always practice with a friend in case you do get hurt!

A common email and/or phone call we get starts off like this, “Hey guys, I’m a really skilled mountain biker, I don’t need your whole curriculum,  I just need to learn how to do bigger drops and hit jumps better.” So, since that is a common question I will give you a detailed answer so you can got out and hit those big drops and jump better!

Drops and jumps on your mountain bike are not really hard so I have to ask this question to those emailing us claiming to be experts who simply can’t do drops, “If you are a really skilled rider, why can’t you hit big drops and jump better?” I mean isn’t that what skilled riders do? Could it be that you are not as skilled as you think you are? Maybe your ego is getting in your way? I mean you basically said, “I can ride really easy trails well but I struggle with more difficult trails” but at the same time you called yourself a skilled rider! I’m confused! Seriously, not trying to be a jerk, just being realistic. Maybe you feel drops and jumps are separate skills from “riding skills” as most/all of the trails you ride don’t have jumps are bigger drops. You may be saying, “Gene how can I become good at drops and jumps if I never encounter them on trail?” The simple answer is to become a better rider (on the ground).

Drops and Jumps on Your Mountain Bike

Gene Hamilton hitting the 48 foot gap jump at Sol Vista, 2009 US Mountain Bike National Championships

So, how does a 47 year old rider like me (who doesn’t have near the “nerve” he used to have) hit 10-30 foot drops and 48 foot gap jumps? Through coaching and lots of deliberate practice I am very good at the basic skills of body position and vision, not near the most skilled rider in the world but good enough at the basics to hit this 48 foot gap when I was 43. Not saying that to impress you but to impress upon you the value of core skills as it doesn’t take “balls” to do a jump like this, it takes confidence in your core, basic skills. We teach how to do drops and jumps in our camps without doing them (we do do small drops). Which often leads to this question, “How can you teach me to jump with no with no jump?”. Which I fully understand it would seem at first thought that, “you need a jump to teach someone to jump. duh!” On further thought you might realize that that is like teaching someone Karate while they are fighting! Remember “wax on, wax off”?, you first need to not only understand the basic skills required to do a drop or jump but also be really good at doing them!

Drops and jumps are pretty easy actually, you just ride off them, in balance and in control. This is something any “skilled rider” can do! The 15-25 foot drop below is no harder than going off a curb correctly. It was a lot scarier as the penalty for failure is pretty massive but it really didn’t take much skill. Here is how to do a big drop like “Mushroom Rock”.

Mountain bike coach Gene Hamilton Mushroom rock

Mountain bike coach Gene Hamilton dropping Mushroom Rock

First learn to ride in control, in balance and in a neutral position why looking ahead 100% of the time (and get so good at it that you do this all the time, even on the steepest, scariest mountain bike trail, drills are the best way to do this). See this video tutorial on body position for help with being in balance, in control and in a neutral position: http://wp.me/p49ApH-aT  . This is something any “skilled rider” should already being doing but if you go to a place like Whistler you will realize that 75-95% of the riders are not doing this. Those riders are easy to spot as they just look a little off balance, they aren’t smooth, they are stiff, their head is moving a lot (the head of rider in balance and neutral almost never moves), herky-jerky is a great description of the majority of mountain bikers. If your view keeps changing, your head is moving or you are getting “eyeball jiggle” you are not in balance nor in control.

Once you can ride in balance and in control baby step your way up by using the drop techniques we teach (As a matter of fact they are barely techniques, we teach them on the first day of our skills progression and 8 to 78 year old students have an excellent grasp of them by the third day) on smaller drops (such as a curb) and working your way up to bigger drops. What are these techniques? Well, at speed, above 12-15 miles an hour you simply ride off the drop in balance (all your weight on your pedals). Going below 12 miles an hour you will have to do a little baby manual or coaster wheelie off the edge of the drop. I say little because you aren’t actually trying to lift the front wheel, your goal is to simply keep the front from dropping quickly. On drops with a flat landing your goal is too decrease the angle of incident that you hit the ground at (and land in a centered, neutral position looking ahead, ready for the next thing the trail throws at you). This means slightly front wheel first or both wheels landing at the same time is best.

Once you are consistently landing both wheels at the same time, in balance, in control and looking ahead off a curb find small drops with a steep downhill landing (you can often find these in the local elementary school playground or if you are fortunate enough to have a bike park near by at the bike park) so you get used to landing on a “transition” (which will ease you back to earth, much less jarring than a flat landing). A big focus should be looking past the landing! Must crashes on drops don’t actually happen on the drop, they happen after the drop! On a drop with a downhill landing your are going to being going much faster when you land than when you take off so knowing what the trail looks like after the drop and looking where you want to go after the drop (not at your landing) is very important. Also, as you work you way to bigger drops that will have a blind landing (where you can’t see the landing before you take off) make sure your thoroughly inspect the landing and make a plan of where you want to go after the landing before you do the drop!

What “technique/s” or skills am I using in the photo above? None, I am simply rode off the edge in control, in balance and in a neutral position. Then I stayed in control and in balance throughout.

Jumps are pretty similar, at least the jumps you will be learning on, steep “dirt jumps” are not the best place to learn. Find table top jumps (no gap to clear) without steep take offs to practice on. Once you have found a safe jump to practice on (safe is a tricky word as any jump can be dangerous, wear your helmet and safety gear) set your bike up for jumping by stiffing your suspension a bit and slowing the rebound (so it doesn’t “buck” you on the take off or landing). Then simply ride off that jump slowly in balance, in control and in a neutral position. Pretend there is a clear piece of plexiglass under you and you aren’t actually leaving the ground, just riding over an arc. Focus on how would stay centered and neutral as you ride over that arc and look past the landing (where you want to go) once you take off. Once you are comfortable slowly increase your speed until you are landing both wheels at the same time or slightly front wheel first on the “backside”.  That is really all there is to it but many people get hurt jumping as they aren’t doing those seemingly simple skills. Mountain bikers get hurt jumping when they ride off balance, ride off the back of their bike, try to do something as they leave the jump (like yank up on the bars or pedals), ride stiff and let their suspension buck them, aren’t looking where they should be and don’t “baby-step” their way up to bigger jumps.  There are advanced jumping skills that I didn’t mention because you need to master these basic skills first!

Hitting bigger drops and jumps on your mountain bike isn’t hard, you just need to have a few core skills wired. Once you are consistently riding in control, in balance, in a neutral position and looking ahead you are ready to practice small drops (start with a curb and baby step your way up to bigger drops as you feel comfortable). Jumping is a little more dangerous but if you find the right table top jump and start slow you figure it out.

Create a great ride,

Gene

 

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13 replies
  1. Geoffrey says:

    Interestingly, the one jump I have done was an accident. I was on a trail following some friends, and I thought it was a big gully with a 15 foot drop-in with a steep climb on the other side. There was a two foot jump in the bottom. I saw it scrubbed some speed, and decided it was better to relax and hope. The practice (thanks Gene!) took over and I neatly sailed up and over as smooth as could be.

    I now know of a friendly jump run nearby. I need to go out and practice there, because the small jumps still make me nervous. I need to know I can do it on the flat ground before I go sailing while descending. I am also thinking about new pedals, because my flats feel less grippy than I’d like.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Great to hear Geoffrey! Also a great testimonial to how important deliberate practice with drills is!

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  2. Doug says:

    Got pretty banged up trying to go off the boardwallk drop at Fountainhead VA last summer. I realized the problem was that I was having too good a ride up to that point and my confidence was basically like “Doug is awesome”…so i went off it fast without a clear mental picture of what i was doing…naturally, i nose dived and bruised up some ribs pretty bad. That was a sorry 5 miles out again. I love the smaller gaps there, but that big drop, I just don’t think I’ve got a mental idea of what my body should be doing (pulling up the front wheel a bit). Maybe next summer, wearing the UnderArmor shirt pad thing i picked up afterwards (nice product, made for football i think).

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Doug,

      Sorry to hear about you getting banged up on that drop at Fountain Head. Your approach is one way to kind of learn things, “…I just don’t think I’ve got a mental idea of what my body should be doing (pulling up the front wheel a bit). Maybe next summer, wearing the UnderArmor shirt pad thing i picked up afterwards (nice product, made for football i think).” You might make it and might possible learn something with the trial and error method. Another way to learn is to do what the best athletes in the world do (think Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice, Bode Miller, etc.) and get some quality coaching! We can teach you exactly how to hit that drop with confidence every time! Will will teach the correct techniques, teach how and why they work, have you practice those techniques with drills and soon you will be a master of those techniques! All for about 1/4 the cost of a top of the line wheelset (that won’t improve your technique a bit).

      The choice is yours, good luck and have fun either way.

      Create your best ride yet,

      Gene

      Reply
  3. Fabien says:

    Hi Gene, thanks for the great article! I took the class last year in Austin with Andy and really enjoyed it. Since then I take drops and ramp jumps with no problem (where I used to plant my front wheel before…) and won my first XC race ;-) . The advice of performing a small wheelie before a drop at low speed is invaluable… However, I tried a steep dirt jump last year (BMX style jump) and that did not go so well… Because the jump was pretty steep, it seems that, as I was taking off and my front wheel was already in the air, my rear wheel propped me up while the front wheel was already going down, which came as a surprise being used to small jumps only, and I found myself with all my weight on the handle bars and my bike nosing dangerously down..! I managed to land it but did not dare to try again… Maybe I was not going fast enough?

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Computers are great tools (Strava too) for seeing if you are getting faster or stronger on trail but not good in the moment as the last thing you want to do while riding is look down at your handlebars. As for judging speed while jumping it takes A Lot of practice to be able to just look at jump you have never hit and guess the right speed to hit it at. That is what younger riders are for! Let them guinea pig the jump then follow them in the first time!

      Reply
  4. Steve says:

    Quick question re jumps. My biggest challenge is my confidence, so I tend to tap off the speed just before I get to a jump as I am essentially expecting to overshoot. Last year my friend and I headed over to Northstar in Tahoe after an event in San Fran, long story short I was told to “preload” the DH bike suspension as we hit the face of a jump, i.e. put force down on the rear shock.

    We’re going back there again this year and although I got better with practice I was somewhat disappointed with my performance as I let my nerves get in the way a little.

    in your post you were saying ride off keep neutral position etc, so would I not “preload”?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Steve,

      Yes, when learning to jump just ride off in a centered and neutral position. Preloading is an advanced technique that envolves compressing both front and rear suspension. Done with out knowing exactly how much preload, when to preload and how it will affect you in the air is dangerous.

      Have fun at North star,

      Gene

      Reply

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