Getting your front wheel over steps, roots, puddles
and ditches is no sweat, but what happens when your back wheel hits them? Puddles
aren’t often a problem, but other obstacles usually require you to stop dead, wobble,
and put a foot down. In an ideal world, you’d lift the rear wheel over them effortlessly
Ride in the second or third largest sprocket towards your chosen obstacle. You should
be able to pedal smoothly and easily in this gear – don’t go too fast. Looking for
the easiest route over the obstacle you want to clear, tackle it head on.
2 Stand up with your legs and arms loose – there’s no need for this to be
a white-knuckle ride. Keep the cranks horizontal and prepare to pull a small efficient
wheelie to get the front wheel over the obstacle. Use a small, pedal push at the
top of the stroke to lift the front wheel.
3 As the front wheel goes over, move your body weight forward and down by
bending your arms, legs and ankles. Compress any rear suspension you may have.
4 When the front wheel hits the ground lift the rear wheel up and over with
your lower body. Jump yourself up from your bent knees, sharply straightening your
legs, and springing your feet upwards. The rear wheel should rise off the ground,
just to the height of the obstacle.
5 Whilst the rear wheel is airborne, push the bike forwards and underneath
you with your arms. This helps get the back wheel onto or over the obstacle itself.
|Five steps to rear wheel lift success
- 1 Try compressing your legs and body in preparation for the
move. Stand up as you ride along a flat piece of ground and relax. Bend your knees
and ankles to lower your body weight, and determine how far you can move your bum
down before it lands on the saddle.
- 2 Develop pushing the bike forwards as you lift the rear wheel
by simply practising the forward push by itself. Standing, use your arms and legs
to move the bike forwards underneath you. Make the move quick, but don’t move the
bike too far – about five to six inches is enough. Draw the bike back and have another
- 3 Practise lifting of the rear wheel by itself. On a piece
of flat ground, leave out the wheelie, and just have a few goes at lifting the back
wheel. Remember the compression and spring of the legs, and try to make it one fluid
movement: down; bend; forward a little; spring; lift; pull feet up and forwards.
As you improve this action, try drawing a line in the ground or use a thin, dead
branch, and time it so that the back wheel clears it.
- 4 Over the same line, or thin branch, try to wheelie and then
lift the rear wheel. Initially, try to develop the transfer between the two moves
- wheelie and rear wheel lift – until they start to become one. As you improve, try
riding faster and speeding up the transfer.
- 5 Find a larger branch, rock or smooth step about three to
four inches high – something you could ride over without having to lift the rear
wheel, just in case it all goes wrong. Try to develop a feel for the amount of lift
needed to get each wheel over the obstacle without hitting it. There’s little point
in getting your bike eight inches of the ground, when the obstacle is only four inches
high unless you’re out to show off. Keep the movement smooth and the speed continuous.
If you use a branch, arrange it so that it doesn’t move and get caught up if you
do hit it.
- 6 Practise: harder, faster and higher
Now you know how to do it, you need to get out there and put
it into practice. Build on the basic technique to tackle harder trail hazards.
| LEVEL 1: getting over steep-faced steps
The steps are too large or steep to gain any grip, and the bike stops when the back
wheel hits them.
SOLUTION: Use the technique outlined under ‘The Basic Technique’, but emphasise the
movement and lift of the rear wheel. Steps up to 18 inches can be taken on.
- Initiate the lift sooner, so there’s still some distance between
the obstacle and rear wheel.
- The larger the step, the more dynamic your movement should
be. The same goes for the forward push of your arms and legs. As the obstacle gets
bigger, you should slow your speed down to help you get the timing right.
| LEVEL 2: stop the chainring catching
PROBLEM: The obstacle is high enough for the chainring to dig in just as you’re about
to lift the rear wheel. Be wary of big rocks, trees or large branches waiting to
SOLUTION: You need to lift both the back wheel and the chainset over the obstacle.
You only get time to make one lift, so preparation is the key.
- Initiate the lift early. At first, ride more slowly at the
obstacle, and make the rear wheel lift as soon as the front wheel hits the ground.
As you improve and speed up, try the suggestions made at LEVEL 5
- Because the back wheel is in the air longer, you need to increase
- distance covered by the back of the airborne bike. Aim to
make the lift more dynamic and higher.
- Push the bike further forwards as you lift because the back
- distance in the air.
| LEVEL 3: ditches and puddles
PROBLEM: The rear wheel gets caught in the hole of a ditch, or a moorland puddle,
after you’ve wheelied the front over.
SOLUTION: An extension of the basic technique, bearing in mind the following points:
- Make sure you time the lift for when the rear wheel is still
on firm ground. You need a launchpad – ground that drops away below you or is too
soft to support your weight is no good.
- You may need to use the pivot system to make the transfer
before the front wheel hits the ground.
- The height and effort involved will depend on how big the
puddle or ditch is. Aim to get the rear wheel to land where the front one does. Firm
ground the other side is a sensible option.
| LEVEL 4: speeding up your move – the ‘pivot’
It’s no sweat getting over the obstacle, but you have to slow right down, sometimes
to a near standstill.
SOLUTION: Keep your speed high by changing the way you perform the wheelie and lift.
The transfer time between the two diminishes with speed, to the point where you start
to make the transfer from one to the other when the front wheel is still in the air,
effectively bunny hopping.
- Once the front wheel is airborne and directly above the obstacle,
use your leg spring to help lift the rear wheel as the front one starts to descend
- Pull your body weight forwards as you make the transfer.
- Develop a pivoting action, raising the back wheel at the same
time as you push the front wheel down. Using the pivot system means the bike doesn’t
need to be lifted so high.
- If the co-ordination is right, the front wheel lands just
over the back of the obstacle and the back wheel lifts before it hits it.
- Don’t make the pivot too early, or your front wheel could
hit the obstacle. Because you’re lifting the back of the bike up, it’s very easy
to fly over the bar – nasty!
| LEVEL 5: obstacles on steep climbs
You get the front wheel onto the obstacle you have to ride over, but as soon as the
rear one hits it, you lose traction and stop. Often the obstacle only needs to be
one or two inches high to put a stop to your plans.
SOLUTION: Assuming you can lift the rear wheel high enough to get over the obstacle,
you should keep pedalling and pushing the bike forward once the back wheel is up.
This will get it onto firm ground above the obstacle.
- As the rear wheel approaches the obstacle, raise your bum
slightly out of the saddle. Keep your weight back as you lift yourself up.
- Lift the wheel up and, as you lift, push the bike forwards.
The wheel should roll smoothly onto the top of the step or ground on the other side
of the obstacle.
- For a smooth execution, lift the bike, but just far enough
so when you pull the back wheel up, the saddle smoothly meets your bum. You’re not
sitting down as much as raising the saddle towards yourself.