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Learning To Jump On A Mountain Bike

Find Balance & Momentum With Evan Green

Learning to jump on a mountain bike gives you a valuable tool for clearing obstacles and having even more fun on the trail. Here, I’ll demystify the art of flight on bike by providing some progressive skills and tips for getting started with jumping.

MTB Jumping Basics

Prior to takeoff, it’s key to focus on the fundamentals of bike handling. The more comfortable you are on your bike, the easier it will be to hit your first jump. 

The first step is learning to lift the front tire of your bike off the ground, aka, doing a wheelie or a manual. The main focus is on maintaining balance while lifting the front wheel up. 

Start on flat, smooth ground at a low speed, bend your elbows, and pull up on the handlebars while maintaining even body weight distribution over the pedals. The goal is to get the front wheel off the ground for just a second. When starting out, the tire will likely only get an inch off the surface for a split second, but as you repeat this exercise you’ll begin to gain more control. 

Once you have the basics down, work on the timing of the front tire takeoff. Try drawing a line in the dirt and work to lift the front tire over the line in order to fine-tune the coordination and consistency of the move. 

Next, try graduating to lifting your tire up over a small stick or old t-shirt, while letting the back tire roll over it. The final phase of mastering this move is to take it to the trails and try lifting your front wheel up to get over an obstacle or dropping off of small rock ledges. I’ve also found using curbs around the neighborhood is great practice.

How To Bunny Hop

After you’ve gained some confidence with the front tire lift, the next step in the progression is learning to lift both wheels off the ground at once. Bikers usually call this move the bunny hop. 

This is an important step because it teaches you to control your bike through the process of takeoff and landing. When the time comes to hit a jump, being able to perform a solid bunny hop ensures you guide your bike off the jump versus being launched out of control. 

Again, it’s best to learn this skill at low speeds on smooth, level ground. Use the front wheel lift as the foundation; pedal to get rolling, bend your arms and knees to lower your body towards the bike, and level your feet on the pedals. After that pull up on the handlebars, extend your arms and knees, and then push the handlebars forward to create lift at the rear wheel. 

I recommend watching some tutorials online so you can see what this looks like, and then putting in some time to practice. Getting down the proper technique and timing can be difficult and the initial height of the hops will likely be small, but this is one of the most useful and rewarding skills in mountain biking. 

Take It To The Trail

Once you have achieved a consistent bunny hop, it’s time for the final phase: taking it to the trails! Find a small bump feature in the trail and evaluate the feature and landing zone. 

Pedal towards the jump and prepare yourself to do a bunny hop. As your front tire reaches the end of the launch ramp lift both wheels into the air. The mix of momentum, the elevated jump platform, and the bunny hop will pop you into the air. 

While in the air, it’s important to stay balanced over the pedals and keep your eyes focused ahead on the landing. As your bike comes to meet the ground again, use a slight bend in the arms and legs to absorb the impact and roll away. 

From there you can begin to look for more and more jump opportunities on the trail and build up to larger features as you get more comfortable. 

Evan Green is an Albuquerque, NM-based mountain biker, climber, snowboarder, and backpacker who loves to get outside with his fiancé, Charlotte. Aside from being an all-around outdoor enthusiast, he’s also an accomplished photographer and Nat-Geo contributor. Follow along at @thegreenevan.