Your First Mountain Bike Moves

Tactical Hops

You won't always be able to avoid trail obstacles; in fact, riding over trail obstacles plays an important — and fun — part in mountain biking, so it pays to have a well-practiced technique for safely clearing limbs, branches, and deadfalls, the most common examples of what you'll find blocking single-track.

When you've committed — either by accident or design — to riding over sticks two inches or less in diameter, make sure you ride as close to the center of them as possible. Sticks this size have a tendency to become airborne if a tire rolls over one end. I quickly went over the handlebar once when my front tire flipped a two-incher in between the spokes and behind the front fork.

Most of us will never launch ourselves and our bikes over a three-foot-tall deadfall; we'll walk around instead. But we will regularly find six-inch-tall (and smaller) obstacles lying across the trail.

At the parking lot again, lay down things resembling the most common trail obstacles — limbs, branches, and deadfalls — such as scrap 2x4s or broom handles. It would, of course, be better if you had the real things (several sizes, too) to put down for practice, but in the absence of anything else, a pencil or even a good imagination will work for those first trial jumps.

Begin riding far enough from the jump zone that you can pick up some speed (10 yards should do) and get into the set position. Approximately one bike length from the object, begin coasting with pedals parallel to the ground, brakes off, and eyes ahead. Look at the space between your front tire and the obstacle. Just before the front tire makes contact with the obstacle, shift your weight back slightly on the pedals to take weight off the front tire. Give a quick even jerk on the handlebar. With less weight on the front tire, it should be easy to lift.

Don't worry about the front tire clearing cleanly; all you need is to help the front tire roll over it. As the front tire clears the object, shift your weight slightly forward by leaning more on the handlebar, taking as much weight off the back tire as you can without flipping over. This weight shift allows the back tire to roll over the object more easily.

As the jump height increases, you will discover you can absorb some of the shock by coming up slightly on your toes before the back tire clears the obstacle. After the back tire lands on the other side of the obstacle, the flex in your feet will straighten and cushion the impact, making it less likely that buttocks and saddle come crashing together.

All trail obstacles make a clean jump more difficult when they're wet and slippery. Prepare for the possibility of the back tire sliding across the branch — either left-to-right or right-to-left — especially the less perpendicular the approach is. Keep your head and shoulders steady. Counter the sideways motion by slightly swinging your hips into the slide.

Short, round limbs have their own potential for surprising — and dismounting — the mountain biker. On more than one occasion I've had a short length of round trunk roll with my back tire for a quarter turn or so, causing me to lurch off the saddle and nearly impale myself on the bar stem. The remedy comes from having a faster speed than the speed of the rolling object and shifting your weight off the back tire even more. Remember, it's a delicate balance between a clean ride and a dismount.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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