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Pushing yourself to improve is one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of mountain biking - there’s no better feeling than cleaning a new technical feature or taking your speed to the next level. With this in mind, we reached out to longtime professional mountain biker and coach Simon Lawton with Fluidride to get some mountain biking tips to help you improve your skills and have more fun out there on the trails. 

How to Hit Drops on a Mountain Bike

Hitting drops, be it roots, rocks, or features in the bike park, can be a scary hurdle for progressing riders. With proper technique, these trail features can be super fun, and totally safe. So before you go hucking yourself off the biggest drop you can find, read along and we’ll show you how to safely hit drops on a mountain bike. First we’ll go over basic form, then how to adjust that form to different speeds, and finally, some more advanced techniques.

Correct Basic Form for Hitting Drops on a Bike

There are a couple of different techniques for hitting drops on a bike. The first, we’ll call “Correct Basic Form,” this is our go-to method for drops at Fluidride, and a great starting point to build from. The technique includes a basic shift of your hips rearward at the edge of the drop. This puts pressure into the palms of your hands which keeps the front wheel safely elevated off the drop - keeping you from landing on your front wheel and tumbling over the handlebars. Timing is the single most important part of this technique, as moving too soon can pull you forward off the drop. This technique does not include preloading your suspension and popping off the drop, we will cover that below.

In this image, I’m approaching in a neutral position, or what we call Throne Position at Fluidride, which is essentially a standing posture. From this position, I’m about to move forward at the knee caps. Movement forward allows me space to shift rearward, which is what is going to put pressure into the palms of my hands.

In this image, I’ve moved forward at the knees, which has created elbow bend, and the space needed for the rearward shift I’m about to make. Notice that my eyes are looking toward the landing, and not at the edge of the drop.

After the front wheel breaks the plane of the drop edge, I’ll shift rearward with my hips, creating pressure in the fronts of the bars.

As my front wheel hits the edge of the drop, my hips start shifting rearward. Notice that my knees and elbows are starting to straighten, which is putting some pressure into the palms of my hands. This move is very much like creating a manual (standing wheelie). In the next frame, we’ll see that I’ve moved further back than I am in this frame.

Here I’m shifting rearward. My hips will be the furthest back when my rear wheel is on the drop edge. The pressure built up in my hands serves to keep the front wheel elevated, and also puts me right back over my feet upon landing, pulling the bike back under me. This keeps me from landing front-wheel or back-wheel heavy.

With my rear wheel on the drop edge, I’m the furthest back I’m going to be on this drop. From here the pressure in the hands serves to put me centered over my bottom bracket for landing.

Airborne. My extended arms are now starting to pull the bike back under me. Had I pushed my bars out, as this is sometimes taught, I might struggle to get the bike back under me. Pushing the bars away from me could also create a situation where I might eventually be pulled forward off a very large drop.

My front wheel is touching down here, with my rear wheel on track to land in the same place. Using correct basic form allows us to get the bike back on the ground with control.

Touchdown. Notice how well set up I am to land right over the bottom bracket. This is one of the many benefits of dropping with Correct Basic Form. This technique can be used while turning, which isn’t possible with pre-load. Additionally, we can modify this move to get the bike back on the ground quickly when going warp speed with what we call “Racer Style” or “Squashing.” We also get a very smooth landing with the use of this method, which allows the rider to move directly into a turn or deal with upcoming trail features effectively.

Tips for Hitting Drops at Different Speeds

Adjusting to hitting drops at different speeds means adjusting the amount of rearward hip movement. The more slowly I go, the more I will need to shift my hips. Basically I’m shifting from the time my front wheel breaks the plane at the end of the drop (front of my front tire at the drop edge) until the time my rear wheel leaves the drop. This process takes longer when going slowly than it does going quickly, which means more movement is needed.

Hitting Drops at Slow Speeds

When moving Slowly, I’ll need to make a very aggressive shift rearward. In order to do this, I’ll need to have access to lots of space to shift, which will require moving forward toward the drop edge with my knees more than if I were going very quickly. Riding a drop at a slow speed is actually much more technical than at high speed. If you are out practicing this, be sure to do so with gradual reductions in speed, and on drops you are super comfortable with already.

To drop consistently, it’s important that our arms are fully extended. If my arms aren’t fully extended, I’ll end up using my biceps too much and get uneven outcomes with my drops. I think of my arms and hands being like hooks which create pressure on the fronts of the bars without using a lot of muscular strength. The tension in my arms and in the fronts of my hands returns the bike back to its neutral position, which allows me to land over the command center of my bike - the bottom bracket.

Hitting Drops at Fast Speeds

When riding a drop at faster speeds I don’t need as much of a hip shift, since it won’t take long for my rear wheel to get to where the front wheel left the drop edge. With enough speed, very little hip shift is needed as speed alone will help to keep the front wheel elevated.

If you find yourself landing too heavily on the back wheel, you simply created more hip shift than was needed for the speed you were going. Once we are super comfortable with this technique, we should land with our wheels more or less in the same place and not at the same time. This means the front wheel will touch down just before the rear wheel. This is subtle, but will allow for a softer landing as the front wheel is able to start rotating before the back wheel touches down creating less deceleration. We feel deceleration as impact, so getting the front wheel to land a little before the back will smooth this out since it will start rolling before the back wheel lands.

Mountain bikers often ask how to stick to flat pedals when riding off a drop. Since you have a little knee-bend at the edge of the drop, your legs will extend in the air and allow your feet to chase the pedals. If you are coming off your pedals when practicing drops, there is a good chance you are rising up off the edge of the drop instead of moving rearward.

“Squashing” Drops on a Mountain Bike

This technique should only be used by advanced riders who have really good command of Correct Basic Form. When properly done, squashing a drop helps carry speed. Notice how tall I’m standing on approach. Standing tall allows me more space to move down toward the edge of the drop.

With this modification to drop technique, my helmet line will start to move toward my landing before I even arrive at the edge of the drop. In this image, I’m getting ready to start moving down and back. We should be able to see my helmet effectively starting to fall before the edge of the drop in the following images.

From my tall position, I’m starting a rapid movement down AND back. Essentially I’m already starting to fall, even though I’m still on top of the drop. If we had a scale under my feet we’d see that it would read less than my actual body weight at this moment. This is essentially the opposite of preloading. This technique should ONLY be done at speed as less hand pressure is created.

With my front wheel on the drop edge, I’m starting to move rearward. Notice how much my helmet has already lowered from a few images back. In the next couple of photos, we’ll see me at my furthest back and lowest point. This technique allows the rider to take drops at crazy high speeds without creating a lot of distance, or a harsh landing.

Almost at my lowest and furthest back point which will happen as the rear wheel is on the drop edge.

Full Squash. Notice that my clearance over the rear wheel is maxed out here. Also notice that my arms are fully extended, which is putting pressure into the palms of my hands to help return the bike under me without conscious thought. When you are learning this move, you should start small with your squash. The danger lies in hitting your rear wheel with your body off the drop edge, which could pull you forward. Start with just a few inches of downward movement added to your Correct Basic Form.

Almost centered. Notice the wheel path. My rear wheel is going to land about where the front wheel lands.


Simon Lawton is the founder and owner of Seattle based Fluidride, and the creator of The Fluidride Method. Simon has been teaching riders for over 20 years. He raced pro Downhill and Enduro for 15 years. During his racing career, Simon amassed over 50 pro podium finishes at regional events, and two Medals (Silver and Bronze) at the UCI Masters World Downhill Championships. Simon created The Fluidride Method by watching the world’s best riders, and mimicking their movements on the bike to sharpen his own skills. He then created terms and vocabulary based on these movements to help transform the riding of his students. Simon has taught in a dozen countries on three continents, teaching over 1,000 riders per year in person. His teachings reach many more via his free online content and 3 feature-length films which are currently on iTunes. Simon’s latest venture, soon to be launched, is SNAPMTB, an online learning platform created to reach and benefit riders around the world.

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