Is 35 (ish…) too old to learn to jump a mountain bike?
Bummed out with casing jumps Jamie reached out to the experts at Pro Ride MTB Coaching to see if it’s possible to teach an old dog new tricks.
I’m not saying that I’m utterly useless at jumping my mountain bike… I just never really enjoyed it all that much, wasn’t sure really how to do it and didn’t know many spots that were all about jumps. So maybe, yeah, utterly useless isn’t far off.
Exhibit A: the before
I grew up riding steep stuff not jumpy stuff. We had steep, slippy, rooty pine forests.Where there were jumps, they were usually a singular feature, standing ominously tall in the middle of a race track to separate the men from the boys. Guess which one I was?
And so at the ripe old age of 35ish, I decided enough was enough. It was time to stop destroying my rims and consult the experts.
“Nah, I’ll give it a miss”
I’m not sure what the exact trigger was. It was more a general lack of interest in jumps that was squarely caused by being shit at it.
“Nah, I’ll give it a miss” was the usual excuse or “Nah, not my thing, I prefer tech”. That sort of nonsense.
When I did somehow manage to find myself hurtling towards a jump I would leap gloriously skyward and come down an exact half-wheel short. Regardless of the size of the jump.
I’d been chirpsing Olly Morris for a while to help me out. After one particularly successful day of denting rims I sent him a video of my efforts, he agreed I needed some help and off we went.
Olly is an elite racer that competes in World Cup downhill alongside managing the Intense UK race team. More importantly, he’s part of the Pro-Ride MTB Coaching family and helps riders like me become less useless, using the Forest of Dean’s trails as a base.
Olly was pretty keen to start with the basics on his ‘Progress’ course, whereas I was pretty set on focusing on the jumps, using his ‘Airtime’ course. We compromised with one of his custom one-on-one courses which give riders the chance to get a private coaching session, start with a loose plan and adapt as they go.
Break it Down
We started with a coffee at Pedalabikeaway then nipped out to a quiet corner of the woods.
I’d ridden with Olly a few times but he was keen to break my riding down a bit and tune up some basics. He asked me to ride down a flat, simple section of trail without pumping, hopping or doing any jazzy stuff.
We moved on to some basic cornering, some pumping and some stone-cold, day one mountain biking basics.
I’ll be honest, this bit was tricky and stripping away those bad habits didn’t come easy. We worked out that I needed to keep my head much more upright and looking down the trail. I also needed my chest and shoulders much lower to the bars. It’s all about building a solid, strong base that will keep the bike steady on rough stuff.
Whatever happens on the trail or over a jump you can move around that position and then return to it as your safe place. Like all good things it felt weird at first, but I learned to enjoy it with a bit of repetition.
I got the impression we could have spent the entire day working on body position and pumping. Then another week on cornering alone. Thankfully Olly spared me and on we went to the jumps.
I was pretty relieved to find the coaching didn’t involve the “here’s a massive jump, just go for it” approach. Thankfully.
We started on some mellow table tops that I knew I could ride stress-free. I immediately messed them up and Ollie laughed, a lot. I had another go and thankfully quite wasn’t so bad.
My main issue with jumps, as I explained to Ollie, was that I just wasn’t really sure what I was doing. I could go fast, chuck myself over the lip and get off the ground. I wasn’t really sure what I needed to do to improve.
We hit the jumps a few more times. Ollie shot some video on his iPad. I cased them a few more times. We laughed more. Next stop was to watch some slow-mo clips of my efforts to understand what I was or wasn’t doing. If you’re trying to improve, film yourself and watch it back. It’s a massive help.
We worked out that I had a few bad habits that I was repeating over and over without realising. Like most of you probably did, I wasn’t ‘coached’ to jump. I just went out and had a go as a kid with a few mates. Whatever I picked up back then was what stuck.
Part of it was not really knowing what I should be doing, also bad timing, also pulling the brakes too much. In a way I was relieved that it wasn’t just that I was too scared to get off the ground, it was something that was actually fixable. Good news.
“So, what am I actually doing wrong?” I asked
“You’re not jumping. You need to actually JUMP!” Olly explained
It turns out I’ve always been relying on just hoofing the bike over the jumps with speed and some poorly timed pumping.
If you ran over a jump on foot you’d need to physically spring your legs up to propel yourself through the air. We worked on using that analogy on the bike. Roll up the lip, let the front wheel start soaring skywards, then pop the legs upwards as the bike wheel leaves the lip.
With that technique put into practice, we also took a look at timing.
The iPad came out again and we worked out that my JUMP! was happening way to early. Rather than springing off the lip, I was punching upwards and squashing any loft that my speed was generating.
This bit was where the real bad habit was lurking, the metaphorical troll under the bridge. Beating that one took a bit of persuasion. “No worries” I’d say and then propel myself down the trail to repeat the same mistake.
A bit of chatting with Ollie helped me work it out. My brain felt like I needed to jump from the front of the bike, pulling it up and over the jump through the bars. We worked out that I needed to let the lip get the bike started and worry about the back of the bike. Basically, I needed to do my JUMP! way later, as the front wheel was punting skywards. Mind. Blown.
With the surprising realisation that I needed to actually JUMP! to do a jump, I was away.
I felt like a big barrier had been knocked down. With a bit of practice and lots of “nope, JUMP! later” from Ollie I was suddenly flying over jumps I’d previously cased or politely declined. I felt like Olly had unblocked what I needed to get the basics right to help me progress to bigger and better jumps. If that’s not worth investing some time and effort into, I don’t know what is.
I’m not going to pretend that a day of coaching turned me into Matt Jones. I wasn’t suddenly sending the biggest jumps in the forest as if I’d had a brain transplant. Ollie helped break down the basics. He showed me what I should be doing and what I wasn’t doing. We then put it all back together so I knew before I hit the jump what I needed to do. Where previously it had been a bit of ‘hit it and hope’ I now had a set of instructions to work with.
Since my day with Ollie, my riding has genuinely stepped up a level. I’m still not Matt Jones but I’ve hit bigger jumps than ever and I feel way more confident than before when approaching new features. Most importantly, for me at least, I’m actually enjoying those jumpier trails or moments when a double rolls into view on a trail.
I think we just assume that we should know the basics of riding our bikes… but there’s few things in life you’d just try to learn through trial and error. Especially things that we want to do well, do safely and enjoy. You know, like jumping our bikes.
Are you about to drop more cash into new pedals, jazzy race kit or another day’s uplifting? Have you ever spent cash on bike kit or yet another race to try and get your skills up?
Why not take a minute and invest the cash in a day of coaching, with someone like Olly at Pro Ride MTB coaching and make a positive step towards breaking bad habits, levelling up and becoming a better rider?
Exhibit B: the after
Try It Yourself
You can book with ProRideMTB at https://proridemtb.com.
Courses run all year round with Flow, Tech, Airtime and Progress courses available, as well as custom days that can be tailored to your riding.
‘Private’ courses are £240 a day for up to two riders. Group courses host up to 6 riders and are £85 per head. They last 10am till 4PM.