Photos and words: Seb Kemp
Whether you are sending mad gaps like a Utah freeride lizard or popping off curbstones, drops can be incredibly intimidating. Even though the dimension and conditions of different drops can vary radically the same basic technique is maintained across most. Just modify the execution according to the specific drop. But remember, start small before you go big.
Point of Commitment
First, understand what your drop looks like - the approach, the drop and the landing. When learning to do drops always take the time to stop and look first. While doing so you need to create a zone of safety, including the point of commitment.
A point of commitment is an imaginary line that marks a point beyond which you are going to be poised, balanced, committed and will not pedal or brake beyond. This line should give you plenty of room to stop before the obstacle if you find you are not prepared, ready or committed. Obviously it will vary for each drop, but generally it you are going to be cruising into a jump (gentle rolling speed) then one and a half to two meters (five to seven feet) might be an appropriate safe stopping distance.
You should be constantly imagining lines of commitment on the trail the whole way down.
The Four L's
The easiest way to remember the techniques involved is to look at the back of your left hand. See the four fingers and the L? That's your pointer.
Get into a low athletic position: bend your arms and knees to load your suspension and to get ready to initiate your move.
Lunge the bike forward off the drop: push the bike out in front of you by extending your arms and legs. Accelerate the bike out from underneath you by forcefully pushing it forwards. This should feel like you are allowing your hips to go back but really the bike should be moving forward faster underneath you, not you going backwards.
Spot your landing.
Match your wheels with the landing and use your arms and legs to absorb the impact. Land with both wheels rolling and try to land quietly. If you were to jump off an obstacle without their bike, you would extend your legs just before reaching the ground, and then bend your legs right after touching the ground in order to absorb the impact and keep things smooth. The rougher terrain you’re landing in the more important this is.
We have more suspension in our bodies than on our bikes, and it’s better to make sure to really bend our elbows and knees on impact rather than just relying on the angels in our suspension.
This is the basic techniques but remember that different drops require different variations of these techniques depending on the size of the drop, your trail speed etc. And remember, go small before you go big.
It is important to note how the different factors work together: the approach speed, the initial compression and the lunge.
Doing an air drop successfully requires a certain amount of energy and that this can come from their general approach speed, the amount they load the bike before take off, and how explosive the lunge is (and that in a way doing a really explosive lunge is a bit like speeding the bike up a lot right at the end).
When one of these changes, one or both of the others has to change to compensate. Candace points out that "once someone is doing a great job at drops with a high approach speed, I get them to slow down a bit so that they have to work on the other aspects. After all, sometimes you won’t be able to come in as quickly as you might in the manicured drop park you’ve likely chosen to learn this skill to begin with."
Know your features. Look ahead and if in doubt stop, put your bike down in a safe area off the trail and assess the obstacle from a different vantage point.
Another big “depending on” factor is the relative angles of your take off and landing, so know your obstacle, mindfully prepare for it and remember to consider your point of commitment.
Candace Shadley and the Trek Dirt Series
Candace Shadley is the founder and director of the Trek Dirt Series Mountain Bike Camps, a women's only and co-ed mountain bike education experience. The program was started in 2001 and they now run an average of 18 instructional camps per season, both women’s only and co-ed, and throughout North America. Since the beginning they've taught nearly 9000 participants.
Bike Magazine’s Gun For Hire is also a certified mountain bike skills coach and before he joined Bike he worked for the Whistler Bike Park and well as guiding and coaching clients throughout BC, New Zealand, Switzerland, Sweden and Nepal. Seb believes that both writing and coaching are, in fact, very similar roles - both require information to be broken down and communicated clearly and concisely. In an attempt to simplify coaching techniques Seb learned to strip back the skills to their core elements and designed a series word games or visual clues related to each technique that make them easier to learn and remember. We will be revealing some of these throughout Friday Five, however, there is no replacement for hiring a good coach and getting some first hand guidance and feedback.