Welcome to the A-Z of skills and technique, a bi-weekly look into the language around skills tuition with some useful riding tips thrown in for good measure.
The good old bunny hop
If you went to a race event back in the 80s and early 90s you may be familiar with the post race entertainment Bunny Hop contest.
These evening entertainment sideshows soon became a hotly contested battleground for some of the big names in mountain biking, riders included David Hemming, Steve Peat, Jez Avery, Scott Dommet and the late, great Jason McRoy, who would all have a stab at raising the bar higher, hopping some serious height. Although vertically challenged I could still hop my way into the final half a dozen riders, often maxing out around the 38 – 40 inch mark. I recall the forward hop record was around 44 inch at the time, which was set at the legendary Malvern Hills Classic by either Hemming or Team Hot Pies head honcho Jez Avery.
It was only a matter of time before the trials guys were rocking up and taking a stab at the title, they introduced us to the static side hop or pedal hop, with small wheels and no saddle they had an instant advantage and pushed the bar higher and higher. The current record according to the UCI is held by Benito Ros Charral at 56 inches (1.42m). The trials guys schooled us 26-inch wheel riders on our cross country/downhill/dual slalom race bikes and the Bunny Hop competition disappeared into obscurity.
The bunny hop, or as I have re-labelled it in the 21st century, “manual hop”, is a fantastic skill to learn no matter what type of riding you are doing, it’s a huge “get out of jail free card” and a key skill that leads into jumping with ultimate control. Through the manual hop you learn to move and place the front and rear wheels independently, a skill that is essential to riding trail features such as hip jumps. The manual hop also enables you to jump from features with less speed but still gain high amplitude.
Unfortunately the alphabet was not designed around my skills syllabus and on a regular skills session we would have covered the M for Manual before progressing onto the H for Hopping,
So to speed you on your way here are a few pointers on manuals before we get hopping proper.
Part 1: Manual practice technique
Roll in around jogging pace on flat level forgiving ground, covering the rear brake.
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Stand tall and proud in the centre of the bike relaxed with your belly button hovering over the Bottom Bracket and your body weight being transferred through the pedals, avoid leaning into the handlebars.
Dip in the knee allowing your torso to move forwards slightly, the elbows will push out and your hips should remain parallel to the trail.
Pressure into the pedal as you move forward then thrust the bike out in front of you by dropping the heels, straighten the legs and arms out, imagine you’re trying to drive that rear wheel under your bum while flicking the bar away from you.
Synchronise the action of the legs with the arms, your elbows will go from pointing outwards to being straight, get under the bar by dipping the wrist to match that dropping of the heel, you will feel a slight twist on the grip.
Avoid “lifting” or “pulling up” on the bar. If you “tug” the bar up to the chest the front will simply drop back down to the trail. The tell-tale here is that the elbows will still be bent!
You torso will appear to have gone backwards in a photo sequence but in actual fact you have moved the bike below you out in front. The torso should come closer to the vertical, a flat back means you have lifted the arms up but failed to roll the shoulders back over the rear axle.
ALWAYS COVER THE REAR BRAKE TO PREVENT LOOPING OUT!
Remember to keep the chin up, if the front fails to lift or you can’t sustain the lift it is often caused by the head dropping; where you look you go, same as Corners.
Make the movements smooth, fluid and synchronized, every step has to roll off the previous, you’re a human not a robot!
Part 2: The hop
I will cover more detail on the manual later in the series when we reach M, I will also add some more detail on the Manual Hop in that feature too, so stay tuned.
So how do we get the rear wheel in the air form this manual position and what’s wrong with the spud hop (relying on your SPD pedals for the hop) or car park hop?
When we ride trail our mass (person and bike) is trying to move forwards, think about your belly button and eyeballs moving parallel to a virtual flat line below you.
Why do I need to hop?
The thing that makes this process hard is friction or resistance, big hills get in our way on the big TV view of trail riding while smaller hills and holes have a similar effect of impeding forwards motion on a more microscopic view.
From mountains down to mole hills there are “things” out there that increase resistance/friction (ERR – Earth, Rocks & Roots), on the small scale square-edged hits and harsh tight holes “stall” the bike and make for tough going, every time this “stalling effect” happens speed is lost and we burn energy getting going again. Simply yanking up on the bars and pedals (the fabled spud hop) wastes a lot of energy and is never a good look, so we’ll avoid that too.
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Back to wheels and getting some daylight under the rubber. From that Manual position you will have the body and bike “loaded up”. The heel drop and strait arms are key, once again making all the movements flow will result in clean energy transfer and a nice hop.
From the dipped heel spring upwards and lift the legs up into the torso to get even more lift, the arms lift up (hands get under the bar) and snap out forwards, this really kicks the back end up, you can get this shape without even being on the bike!
Q: Won’t my feet come off the pedals?
A: I see novice riders jumping up off the pedals, what has happened here is they have lifted the legs too fast, on the flip side if you don’t lift the legs quick enough then the bike stays stuck to the trail. The name of the game is to learn to lift the legs with the same rising rate as the bike.
Your hop height is limited by the height of your manual, distance is limited by speed and height of hop. Practice makes permanent and a good skills instructor will speed up the process no end. Don’t forget that when you do come back down to earth you need to use those limbs as shock absorbers to help smooth out that landing, keep that chin up and look down the trail for added smoothness.
Clive Forth. MTBSkills, Transition Bikes.
Follow Clive on twitter – twitter.com/cliveforth