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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. 

Jumping using natural terrain is a great way to open up your riding, making it faster, stylish, and more fun. Once you dial in this technique, every small bit of the trail becomes a jump or a feature, opening a new world of possibilities on your mountain bike.

Below, we’ll break down the steps that go into executing these jumps, the basic steps are:

  1. The approach
  2. Compression
  3. The takeoff
  4. The landing

A Step-By-Step Guide To Hitting Natural Features

Approaching the feature I’m going to use for take-off, I want to stand in what we call ‘Throne Position’ at Fluidride. This is essentially a standing posture with a straight but not necessarily upright spine. My knees should be over my toes so that I can load my legs as I near the trail feature I want to use for my launchpad. Having my knees over my toes allows me to properly engage my quadriceps to load power for takeoff. It also centers my weight over the bottom bracket which will load my front and rear suspension evenly without pushing through my hands.

About a yard before takeoff, I’m pressing my legs down firmly. Loading should be done through the legs only and not the arms. Loading should not be a quick push, but rather like someone is putting a heavy backpack on your back. I want this press to feel progressive so that compression can last until my rear wheel contacts the feature. Preloading should happen at a distance from takeoff which allows the rider to contact the trail feature with the front wheel during the compressive phase of the suspension (fork) cycle. If you want to practice loading without hitting a feature, simply coast around on your bike with level feet and knees over your toes. Pressing down through the legs should create even suspension compression at both ends of the suspension.

With my suspension still compressed, my front wheel is striking my takeoff.

After the front wheel has contacted the takeoff, I’m inviting the front end up with a small bit of pressure under the bars - a light pull.

With my front wheel in the air, my back wheel is still on the ground. The back wheel should contact the takeoff - essentially both wheels take off in the same place - not at the same time. This is also the way a proper J-hop or Bunny Hop is created on a mountain bike. If you want to use this drill to learn to hop, practice featuring until you are getting good air - and a healthy arc - then try the same movement about two feet earlier. This will allow you to hop over the feature.

Having properly struck the takeoff with my rear wheel, it will now be on a trajectory to follow the path of my front wheel. It’s the back wheel contacting the feature which allows the rear wheel to follow the path of the front. This will allow your wheels to land in the same place - not at the same time. Landing both wheels in the same place means you can use really small trail features as a transitional landing. In this image, I’ve just started to push my hands forward lighty. This is the third element of featuring, to lightly push forward on the bars. Step one - load the bike into the feature. Step two - lightly pull up on the bars when the rear wheel contacts the takeoff. Step three - lightly push bars forward to help the rear wheel follow the path of the front.

In this image, I’m still pushing the bars forward lightly. This is going to allow the rear wheel to follow the flight arc of the front wheel. Here I’m essentially at the crest of my arc. Notice how much height I was able to get off the feature. This was done with very little physical effort. A very small takeoff can create a significant amount of air, and get you over lots of terrain down the trail.

Here, I’m on the downward path of my flight arc. Notice that my front wheel is going to touch down well before my rear. The rear wheel should land in the same place as the front wheel did. This will allow me to use small bits of terrain on the trail to create a smooth and flowy transition.

My front wheel is touching down here, with my rear wheel on track to land in the same place. Notice how far my bike has traveled since takeoff! This kind of distance could take me over lots of technical rocks and roots. Jumping over terrain can offer tremendous speed and safety benefits to riders - and it’s fun!

Touch-down! Mission complete.

Trooubleshooting Topics

  • My wheels always land at the same time, and not the same place.
    Be sure to contact the rear wheel properly into the take-off feature. A bit of patience is required in practicing this to get it just right.
  • I’m not getting air.
    Be sure your feet stay level during the compression of your suspension. Riders often push too much with one leg and too little with the other which can create unwanted rotation around the bottom bracket. Feet should stay level at what we refer to as 9 and 3 o’clock. Another thing which can rob us of airtime is loading too soon and simply not using the obstacle properly. To avoid confusion over what we are doing here, I sometimes call this ‘running into stuff’ when teaching. We are actually trying to run into the take-off feature to create proper compression in the legs, suspension and tires.
  • I get sideways in the air.
    Be sure your arms are straight when you pull up on the bars, Having your elbows bent too much will cause arm dominance to show up as you will be forced to pull from your biceps too much, which typically results in an unwanted directional movement. This outcome can also be caused by uneven foot pressure - be sure both of your feet are pressing evenly.

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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