Because jumping over an obstacle is way more fun (and faster!) than riding around it
Of all the kung fu mountain biking skills, the bunny hop might be the most vexing. A lot of us can hop poorly—mostly by pulling upward on our clip-in pedals—but few mountain bikers possess a truly clean hop. That porpoise-like arc through the air not only looks fantastic, it gets us over taller bumps and doubles as the foundational skill for pumping and jumping.
In the third edition of the book Mastering Mountain Bike Skills (due out Fall, 2017) I review the old fashioned methods for hopping, which required weight shifts forward and backward, and I lay out a “kung fu master” approach that keeps the rider balanced on the pedals. The new method requires extra strength and coordination but, in my opinion, it’s ultimately easier and safer than the old way.
The following drills attack bunny hopping from the new, kung fu approach. Give them a try and tell us how your riding changes!
Drill 1: Practice the Pull-Push
You’re coasting down a sweet trail when, all of a sudden, a big, round rock blocks your line. You could slow down and go around it, but that’s not how you roll. Instead, you ride right at the boulder, pull and push your bars and… Viola! You’ve melted right through it. The pull-push row is a simple and amazingly capable way to roll over serious obstacles.
1. Scan softly beyond that thing of which we shall not speak. It will pass smoothly below you, so don’t waste your time staring at it.
2. Get into a low hinge. Find the perfect alignment that lets you pull and push HARD with your core muscles. Stay balanced on your feet. Do not lean back.
3. Pull the bars backward as you reach the thing. Remember: The bars travel in an arc around your feet. Pull hard (like, really hard) along that magic arc.
The pull does some great things for you:
- It raises the front wheel so you don’t smash into the obstacle.
- It levers your rear wheel heavily into the ground. What happens after any object is heavy? That’s right: It’s light. We’ll add more leg power later, but for now be amazed at what your lats can do.
Feel the opposition between your hands and feet. Notice how pulling the bars drives more pressure into your pedals, and feel how that force travels through your core. We’re gonna use this later.
4. Push the bars forward as soon as your front wheel reaches the top of the thing. Push hard along that magic arc. Again, key word being: Hard! This also does some great things for you:
- It pushes the front wheel down the other side of the thing.
- Since you’re standing on the pivot point, it raises your rear wheel. Yes! When we add leg power, you’ll start to honestly hop. For now, focus on staying balanced and pivoting the bike below you.
The harder you pull, the more smoothly your front wheel goes up the thing. Additionally, the harder you pull, the harder you can push—which makes your rear wheel go up the thing even more smoothly. At this point, you might be thinking, “Hey Lee, this feels just like the pump track.” Yes! It’s the same thing. Get great at pump tracking. Get great at push-pulling. Even more awesome things are yet to come.
Drill 2: Add Some Punch to Your Pull-Push
When you practice the pull-push, don’t be surprised if you find yourself pushing sharply right before you pull. For your body to generate a powerful pull, it has to create tension with a powerful push. We’ll call it a pre-push, or a punch.
In the above video, watch how I punch the bars forward right before I pull the bars. This is not the same as rocking back into a manual! When you manual, you intentionally shift your weight behind the bottom bracket. Frankly, that’s lazy, and if you time it wrong you can get pitched over your bars. When you punch, you’re generating force between you and the handlebar by virtue of opposition instead of by leaning forward and backward. This move takes power and coordination, but it makes your riding much more balanced and controlled.
As you practice your pull-pushes, make them bigger with a timely, powerful punch.
Drill 3: Do Some Real Bunny Hops
You’re hauling butt down a wooded, overgrown trail and—bam!—out of nowhere a log pops up and says “Hop me or die!” So you hop it. Like, whatever.
At this point, we’re talking about a real-life, bonafide bunny hop. The kind that separates good riders from great riders. The kind you see Danny Macaskill doing from rooftop to rooftop. In an old school hop, you rocked back into a manual then hopped off the rear wheel. In a kung fu hop, you’ll explode from the bottom bracket, and you’ll harness the power of your entire body all at once. Have you wondered how Danny can hop so high? This is how. Also, he’s super gifted.
Practice hopping at moderate to high speed when you’re not pedaling.
1. Just barely notice the thing you’re about to hop as your eyes scan into your brilliant future.
2. Start loading your bike into the ground waaay before arriving at the thing. You should start your hop much sooner than you think. It takes a lot of time (and, depending on your speed, space) to get heavy then light. Let’s say it takes you one second to generate a kung fu hop over a log. At 15 miles per hour, you travel 22 feet in that second. So your hop should start 22 feet before the log. Yes, that far!
3. Explode as you reach the thing. To do this well, you’ll need to do three things simultaneously:
- Stay balanced on your feet.
- Drive your hips forward and smash the pedals downward.
- Row your bars back to your hips.
BOOM! Hips to hands, hands to hips. This action uses your biggest muscles in a carefully orchestrated symphony of violence. As you row the bars backward, you lever the rear wheel into the ground. At the same time, you’re pushing with those massive glutes, and you’re making the rear wheel even heavier. The heavier something is now, the lighter it’ll be in a moment.
You’re now leaving the ground. Nice.
4. Do the opposite move as your bike arcs through the air:
- Stay balanced on your feet.
- Drive your hips backward while floating the pedals upward.
- Push your bars away from your hips. Use this motion to match the angle of your bike to the landing. If you’re landing flat, make your bike level. If you’re landing into a sloped transition, nose your bike down. So sweet!
The more integrated you make your hip push and lat pull, the more balanced you’ll stay and the more pop you’ll generate. When you can hop like this, you can pump like an absolute boss, and you’re ready to learn to jump safely.
In this video watch the integration of arm pull and leg push and how the riders are not rocking back into manuals before they hop off their rear wheels.
Start small. Focus on form. Have fun!