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

 

mountain bike rocks

Mountain Biking in Sand, MTB Video Tutorial

Mountain biking in sand is a skill that flusters a lot of riders. On my first trip to Moab in 1990 I really struggled with it and it wasn’t until MTB Legend Missy “the Missile” Giove gave me some tips on mountain biking in sand that I figured it out. It is especially hard on flat ground when you have to maintain your momentum or worse yet on an uphill.  If you struggle with riding in sand check out this video tutorial for some help:

An important thing I left out of the video, when riding in sand don’t try to be absolutely precise with your line. As long as you are basically going where you want to go you are doing fine! I call this “fuzzy navigation”, just keep looking where you want to go and making the smallest corrections possible! Any sudden attempt to change direction will end up with your tire crabbing and you stalling out. This includes trying to turn in sand which is nearly impossible. Ideally make you turn (or at least part of it) before the sand and after the sand. If you do have to turn in sand make the biggest, most gradual arc you can.

Mountain Biking in Sand, Fruita mtb trails

BetterRide Mountain bike skills student Ali Fuchs on Joes Ridge in Fruita.

Mountain Biking in sand, coasting

Going downhill and/or coasting in sand is a little easier. When transitioning from a hard surface like rock or hard packed trail to sand there are few concerns, mainly making sure your bike doesn’t stop while you keep going! Here is a second mountain biking in sand video on how to transition to sand at speed:

Of course, these are two minor skills compared with mastering the fundamentals of mountain biking which sadly few mountain bikers have. Until you are always in the right body position and always looking at least 3-5 seconds ahead (100% of the time, even on the gnarliest trail) most skills and tips like this have little value. Remember knowledge is worthless without action!

 

 

how to brake on a mountain bike

How To Brake on a Mountain Bike (supplement to our mini-course)

How to brake on a mountain bike is a very misunderstood subject and I received this great question from a newsletter reader: ”Going down an incline brings up a question. As I’ve seen stated before, it is suggested to apply 80 – 90% front brake going down a hill. (Keep in mind I’m almost 63 and only MTB a few times a year).

Anyhow……while going down a slope with a curve, a drop off on the left, heading toward a narrow bridge crossing a creek. Favoring my front brake I came upon a very small root crossing the trail. This caused the front wheel to lock or catch suddenly on the root. Which also happens on trails with massive mazes of roots coming out of the base of trees covering the trail. Thank God I release the front and relied on the rear brake to keep a slower speed. Thus, the question to you is….explain the importance and how to use the front brake vs the rear as I often see stated.
When I was little, too much front wheel braking would cause the front wheel to lock and the front would slide out sideways, if the area was wet, sandy, loose dirt or gravel, etc….
Thanks!!”
Great question Dan. I love to hear from riders who are picking up sports like mountain biking later in life! This is the problem when “tips” are substituted for actual coaching, there are so many variables in mountain biking (like the root you hit) that you can rarely say, “always do this …..”. This a great example as we cover many of the most common variables like roots, off-camber, rough and loose conditions while braking in our skills progression mountain bike camps. We teach you the how, why and when, demonstrate them, have you do them then give you drills so eventually (with enough structured drill time) these skills become automatic. Impossible to do with the written word (although your question has made me feel I might be able to write the braking part of the mini-course a little better).

We brake for either of two main reasons, to cut speed or to maintain speed (not accelerate). When cutting speed the front brake does most of the work. Where we cut speed is very important, we only cut speed in a straight line, on-camber and where the surface is smooth and has good traction. As 3 time world champion Greg Minnaar has said in our camps, “don’t brake on off-camber and don’t brake on roots.”. Which means all braking happens before or after off-camber or roots. You did the right thing in letting go of your front brake on that root! Had you let go of both brakes before the root it (the root) would have had little to no effect on your trajectory. Few skills are isolated, there are a lot of important vision and body position skills that allow us to brake more efficiently and safer too. For instance in the first part of our mini-course you read about being centered with all of your weight on your pedals, this is really important when braking because if you shift your weight back the front brake can skid instead of hooking up and slowing you down (and if going off a small ledge braking with your weight back can cause you to endo as you will get pitched forward as your arms, hands and chest are yanked down the ledge). See article, Mountain Bike Descending body position 101, video demonstration:  http://wp.me/p49ApH-aT

When our goal isn’t to cut speed but simply not speed up and we are descending a mellow to medium pitch hill using just the rear brake will often be enough to keep us from speeding up (“dragging” the rear brake). There are a few pros (it can keep your speed at a comfortable level, keeping you relaxed, and a few other reasons) and cons (it can break traction and slide sideways, your rear wheel will smack into a bump instead of gently rolling over them and many more reasons) to doing this but again, hard to explain with just the written word. On steeper hills the rear brake alone will not provide enough power to not slowly accelerate so on steep hills you will be using both brakes to simply maintain your speed. The photo below is an example of a steep hill on a cross country trail in Whistler that you must stay centered and use a massive amount of front brake on,  just to get down it! (the scary thing is you have to release the front brake for a second for the off-camber left turn he is about to make which about doubles your speed! Then get on that front brake hard!)

mountain bike braking

Shawn Neer staying centered and using a lot of front brake!

Riding a mountain bike in balance and in control on dirt, rocks and roots, up and down steep and often slippery surfaces is rather complicated. Riding a bike in balance and in control on easy trails or on pavement is also complicated, the difference is when the conditions are easy (on pavement or easy trails) you don’t need much skill and can get away with doing a lot of things wrong. This often gives riders a false sense of competence that gets them scared or hurt when they try more challenging trails! Knowing what to do and even knowing how and why to do something are NOT the same as being able to consistently do something! Being able to do something effortlessly without thought requires a high volume of quality practice (usually in the form of drills designed to make something you know but currently have to think about turn into an unconscious habit). This is true in all physical endeavors, sport, music and art and the only way to truly reach your own potential.

A quick recap of the main new braking concepts (not addressed in our mini-course): 1. Only brake to slow down in a straight line 2. Never brake over roots or on off-camber, brake before or after! 3. Stay centered with weight on the pedals while braking. 4.

I hope this has helped. Good luck with your riding and have fun out there. For inspiration I have attached a photograph of our oldest student, Fred Schmid. In the photograph he has just finished the Leadville 100 in 13 hours and 9 minutes, at 81! The year before he finished in under 12 hours!

Mountain bike racer Fred

Fred was actually 81 at the Leadville 100 mountain bike race this year!

Create your best ride yet,

Gene

 

 

 

Long time student and now coach Brian Buell racing enduro in Moab.

Why Do You Treat Your Mountain Bike Better Than You Treat Yourself?

Why do you treat your mountain bike, car and house better than you treat yourself? To mountain bike at your best don’t you need to have your body functioning perfectly?  I had the pleasure of training and working with our newest BetterRide certified coach Brian Buell this weekend and he made a comment that really resonated with me! We were explaining to our students the importance of taking care of our bodies as mountain biking alone is terrible for us physically (muscles imbalances, tight IT bands, over use injuries, twisting of our legs and core as 99% of us favor a forward foot, etc. (see article, “Is Mountain Biking Wrecking Your Health?”  http://wp.me/p49ApH-J9 ) when Brian mentioned something his massage therapist or Chiropractor had asked him. His body worker asked, “How much time do you spend working on your mountain bike, cleaning it, making sure it shifts right, the brakes are working properly, the tires have the right pressure, the suspension is working correctly, etc.?” To which Brian replied, “at least two to three hours a week.” Then he said, “Wow, you love your bike more than yourself. I mean, you certainly spend much more time fine tuning your bike than you do your body!

Long time student and now coach Brian Buell racing enduro in Moab.

Long time student and now BetterRide certified coach Brian Buell racing enduro in Moab.

So why do you spend more time making sure your bike works properly than making sure your body works properly? My guess, if you are like I was, is that is feels decedent to “treat yourself” to a deep tissue massage, physical therapy or chiropractor visit.  Society seems to think that a new car every four to five years, a bigger house, marble counter tops, 70″ TV’s and $10,000 bicycles are fine things to spend our money and time on but if we spend money and time on improving ourselves we are being wasteful or extravagant. Not sure why this is but you might want to reevaluate your thinking if you feel that way. Your body is the most important bike “component” so make sure it is functioning at it’s best! Make taking care of yourself a priority!

This goes for how you fuel your body too! It saddens me to think people spend extra for high octane fuel for their automobiles but eat pesticide laden non-organic apples, heavily processed foods and junk that your body can not even convert to fuel. If you aren’t eating a healthy diet start fueling yourself with high octane “whole foods” and treat your body like the fine tuned machine it can and should be.