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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. 

Improve Your Mountain Bike Jumping Technique

Jumping well isn’t complicated or inherently dangerous, it’s just mysterious until you start to master the necessary skill set.

Every year, I notice mountain bike trails have more and more jumping opportunities. It’s common for riders to think of jumps as being dangerous, but jumping well isn’t complicated or inherently dangerous, it’s just mysterious until you start to master the necessary skill set. The most common emotion which comes up with mountain bikers learning to jump is fear – which is the same thing that causes most mishaps on jumps. Learning the proper technique for jumping on a mountain bike will help you avoid these common pitfalls and jump safely. Plus, once you dial in this skill, you unlock a whole new side of mountain biking.

How to Jump on a Mountain Bike

  1. The approach: Jumps should be approached in a standing position with slightly bent knees, putting them directly over your toes. This is basically a normal human standing posture. As you approach a jump, fear can often push you out of position, with your hips moving rearward. This is what we refer to as “Fight or Flight” in action. Moving rearward is a flight response, and puts the rider in danger. You also want to approach in a relaxed state with your upper body. To get started, practice approaching a tabletop (non-gap) jump at a speed which allows you to relax. 
  2. The ramp: As your front wheel engages with the ramp, be sure to think about nudging your knees into the ramp of the jump. This isn’t a big move, just a slight nudge of the knee caps toward the jump face - this will keep you from moving rearward out of fear. It’s important that riders aren’t pushing forward from the hips, but only the knees. This will keep you in a healthy standing posture. As you start to feel pressure building into your legs, firm your quad muscles up to build energy in your legs and your bike's suspension and tires. Your body should basically stay perpendicular to sea level, which means on steeper faced jumps, the bike's handlebars will move closer to your thighs. 
  3. Hold compression: Hold compression until your rear wheel contacts the lip of the jump. The back wheel contacting the lip of the jump IS what gives us this a good arc through the air. On long takeoffs, this is a longer hold, on shorter jumps it’s shorter. Hold pressure for the length of the jump ramp, which will vary from jump to jump.   
  4. After take-off: After your rear wheel contacts the lip of the jump, soften your legs to allow your bike to fly through its arc naturally. Remember the bike is rising up into your body and you need to accommodate that motion in order to jump smoothly. Essentially your knees will bend slightly to let the bike move through the arc. On a jump, this is how you stick to flat pedals - your bike moves up into your feet which allows you to maintain contact with flat pedals to the crest of the arc.  
  5. Slight extension for landing: After the crest (highest point) of your flight arc, your legs will naturally extend a little toward the landing. This is a very natural part of jumping for most people, as we are hard-wired as humans to land on our feet with our legs somewhat extended as opposed to very bent. Think of jumping off your kitchen counter. You know what to do with your legs without conscious thought. This is what allows your feet to stay on flat pedals during the last half of the flight arc.

More Tips for Jumping on a Mountain Bike

Relax Your Upper Body

Relax your upper body. Tensing your upper body comes from the Fight or Flight mechanism – in this case, the fight part of it. You want ALL your pressure to manifest through your legs, and not your arms. Try this on: Coast around on your bike with a slight knee bend which puts your knees over your toes. Push down through only your legs. If you are on a full suspension bike - the bikes suspension - both front and rear, will compress evenly given that it’s tuned properly.

Resist Pulling Up

Riders often assume that pulling up will give them more air. In most cases, the opposite is true. For more air, you want more compression into the jump face, which means we firm the legs up more into the ramp of the jump to get bigger air. Remember it’s the jump that possesses the energy you are trying to tap into (or often are scared to tap into) so you want to compress into the jump and allow the rear wheel to roll all the way to the lip of the jump.

Creating Functional Style

While this video is about jumping basics, you can see that I’m getting quite a bit of movement off most of the jumps (I do demonstrate straight air a couple of times in the video, but it’s less comfortable for me as an experienced rider). While it might look like it’s all for show, there are reasons advanced riders almost never ‘straight air’ on a bike. We’ll get into functional style in a future post. For now, go out and practice your basic jumping with the principles we just outlined.

Common Mountain Biking Questions and Issues

  • I often end up really nose heavy off jumps
    This is typically because a rider has moved back out of fear (flight response). If I move back before takeoff, my arms will be almost fully or even fully extended at the crest of my flight arc, which will pull me forward as the bike moves into its downward arc. Most riders move back more when this happens, which makes things worse. My simple mantra is “move forward (at the knees) and relax.”
  • I often make the jump with my front wheel, but my back wheel lands first and I come up short
    This happens when a rider takes off too soon with the rear wheel. Without the rear wheel contacting the lip of the jump, the rear wheel will be unable to follow the flight path of the front wheel. This is typically caused by either pulling up on the bars, pulling up on the feet (common with riders who ride clipped in) or riders who pre-load to early and aren’t in tune with the length of the jump.
  • I Get Crooked In the Air When Jumping My Bike
    This happens for a couple of reasons. The most common is that riders pull up on the bars at takeoff and are stronger, longer, or more coordinated with one arm than the other. The other thing which causes this is getting rotation at the bottom bracket with the feet, which is great when we want to create a turn on a trail but not so great when jumping. We want to keep our feet level relative to one another when jumping. Working on your ‘footwork’ in turns is a great way to start to create equality between and coordination with both legs. You can also practice just pressing down with your legs while coasting around and trying to create compression without unwanted foot rotation around the bottom bracket.

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.

Learn More Mountain Biking Skills