Pushing Comfort Zones: Learning to Jump - Rider Perspective

Nov 23, 2015
by Catharine Pendrel  
Rider Perspective Header

Too old, too scared, too out of shape, they’re all just excuses. The only reason we can’t learn to do something new is because we are unwilling to try.

In the past, my riding style didn’t involve much air time. That changed when World Cups started adding man-made drops and jumps in 2010. All of a sudden the way you had to train for xc events changed. Rather than just riding trails, adding focused skill sessions became really important. If you weren’t jumping, if you weren’t pushing up the base level of your comfort zones, you were losing time (and face) taking B lines. You weren’t progressing your riding.

Most of you probably do jump and more than me, but there is always something you can be working on to up your skill level and make full use of the trail, push your boundaries and your bike’s capabilities. When I started jumping in a park it translated to the trail beautifully. A whole other dimension was added to my riding. I became more dynamic, I started seeing different lines. Riding the same trail is a different experience when you are jumping over, rather than skimming roots. A smile keeps popping up on your face.

The jumps were not a problem for canadian riders

Learning a new skill in mountain biking has that risk-benefit balance. A couple years back when I first started jumping I got pretty confident (read cocky). I was out riding with a couple guys and we saw this big jump that looked doable. When I saw them hesitate to go first I stepped up without really scoping it out first and went flying in only to see the landing did not match my speed at all. A broken collar bone and confidence later I had gained more respect for progressing a skill. Confidence will get you through a shocking amount on a bike, but eventually if you haven’t put in the practice to really learn a skill you’ll come up to that feature that beats you.

I know I’m not alone in learning to jump after 30. I recently joined that Instagram thing (@cpendrel) and posted some jump videos. I expected female riders to get stoked, riled up and excited to jump, but when the 45+ guys in town started approaching me about jumping, talking about how intimidating that line was, how they were trying to figure out the timing, the speed, I was kind of surprised. It was cool to see that sharing a skill I was working on, like jumping, was encouraging guys in town to also push their comfort zones. Friends and friends of friends wanted me to take them jumping when they came through town.

Learning from my broken collar bone...ok two broken collar bones, I took weeks this summer, riding a small set of tables, changing up my height, distance, hitting backside, trying to do my little xc version of a whip before moving on to bigger stuff. I’d watch endless streams of people go through bigger lines, case them and make out ok and felt like a rookie sticking to the small lines. I knew I could likely go bigger, but when I did I wanted to be able to control the attitude of my bike in the air.

But there’s a limit to how patient and thorough you should be when learning. At some point, when you know you have the skill to do something, you just have to do it. You have to push yourself if you want to progress. You have to turn down the chatter of the what ifs and focus on what you know you have to do to ride well, why you want to go faster, further, bigger.

Some XC style from Nino Schurter
On the World Cup XC scene, Nino is one of the top jumpers and bike handlers.

Six weeks after my first collar bone break I was already toeing the line of an international race. In that race, going for a couple gap jumps was going to be the difference between leading the race or just chasing the leaders. I had progressed my confidence and skill back from injury with some smaller jumps, but I was still nervous. I knew I had the skill to do them. I had seen other riders do them, but I was having a hard time letting myself do them. You can ride in your comfort zones beautifully for eternity if you like, but if you want to find more you’re going to have to trust the work you’ve done and push yourself. I got the lines, I felt super shaky after, but I kept repeating them so that by race time I wasn't just getting through them, but having fun doing them comfortably. It was super rewarding.

That’s why we push ourselves because once we get something that was hard to do it feels amazing. So put away those excuses, challenge yourself, up your game and have fun with it.

If you’re newer to jumping or any skill for that matter, here are a couple things that make learning easier:

Progression: Start smaller and work your way up. If you’re relaxed in the air you will be successful. When you come to a new feature check it out. Size it up and compare it to something you know you’ve already done. Don’t just hang out there getting more scared.
Break it down: Focus on one part at a time. Roll a table before you jump it to get the feel of the lip, Focus on the lip and land on top, Focus on hitting backside.
Set your bike up to make you more confident and comfortable: A dropper seat post. Get that seat outta the way. Yeah, they’re pretty rad…and in time I’ll broach droppers in xc racing…
More suspension: It’s easier to learn when you aren’t afraid of getting bucked. A plush bike will soften the landing allowing you to come up a bit short or overshoot as you’re learning to gauge speed or get confidence with the speed required.
Practice. Practice. Practice: Why are those 12-year-olds in the park so good? Because they’re out there for hours every day.
Challenge yourself: Push yourself for more when it’s time.
Ride with someone of equal skill but more jumping experience. Gain confidence.
Ride with someone better than you: Watch what they’re doing.
Ride with someone less experienced: If you can identify what they need to do and teach someone else what you do to ride something well you know what you’re doing!

- Catharine Pendrel


MENTIONS: @cpendrel / @orbea




116 Comments

  • 40 0
 Whistlers A-Line sorted out my jumping issues. I can't remember how many jumps are on that trail but at least thirty. Two or three runs of that, 60-90 jumps later, thats a hell of a lot of practise in a very short space of time.
  • 78 2
 THREE RUNS DOWN A-LINE AND JUMPING IS SOLVED. GOT IT, THANKS!
  • 15 0
 YOU'RE WELCOME! Wink
  • 9 0
 Everyone should learn to jump on a pump track, flow trail, or a buffed out park trail like A-Line. Unfortunately, most of us, the latter is not very accessible. But the table-toppy-ness of all three are a great / safe way to learn to relax and keep your body weight centered.
  • 1 0
 Does A-line include doubles?
  • 1 0
 @Layman A-Line doesn't have any doubles. Only tables
  • 5 9
flag Mathhhh (Nov 23, 2015 at 19:53) (Below Threshold)
 and thats why east canada rider can't jump shit (msa rider will know..RCR doesn't want one single jump because it's too ''dangerous'')
  • 13 2
 Your attitude is dangerous.
  • 14 0
 A-line is like the mythological sirens song, beautiful creatures luring you in, letting you think you know how to jump - then you go to jump real trails and reality comes crashing in. Great for a confidence boost though!
  • 2 0
 Like the author here, learning in a park eally did translate well to my trail riding. I guess the point i was making is that park gives us such a huge amount of vertical, and in my experience i learn more in a week than in a month trail riding. True, the reason for this may be that confidence was an issue for me, and becoming confident on Crabapple Hits meant i had all the confidence I needed to hit jumps on trails. Horses for courses I guess.
  • 5 0
 If you think table tops on full-suspension bikes is fun, get yourselves a BMX or DJ bike. You will never forget the first time you spear earthwards towards a near-vertical landing. My DJ days are long over, but my heart still races when I think about it.
  • 25 0
 One piece of advice stands above all else: Commit or eat shit.
  • 16 0
 The best way to learn how to jump get a plank of wood and couple of bricks and see how many friends you can jumps over. Ahh those were the days
  • 1 1
 True that
  • 3 1
 "Nut up or shut up" "Huck it or f*ck it" Thanks guys, I'll be here all week.
  • 1 0
 I learned to jump at age 7, at our neighborhood "trails". There was a gentle descent, then it got steeper. At the top of the steep section, there was an 8-10 inch tall "takeoff" and no landing. Send it to flat or prepare to get made fun of by all the neighborhood kids. I sent it to flat and hit a tree. That's technically where it all started for me.
  • 25 1
 @cpendrel - this is spot on! I'm old (45), and have been spending more and more time working on jumping and confidence like you describe. I like riding too much to spend time off the bike healing, so I spend more time working on jumps I can ride, changing parameters (I'm a computer nerd). I work on the same jump, changing approach speed, pump, lift, landing, moving the bike in the air, everything I can think of, over and over. My moment came this year at Mammoth racing Kamikaze games. I was able to 'see' new features and when I was faced with trail features that I was seeing for the first time, I had the confidence and muscle memory to clear gaps and have fun.
Working on jumping has made me smile so much more than working on fitness, but now I'm getting slow! I love mountain biking!
  • 14 8
 You're over thinking it haha, just line up and send it
  • 17 3
 nice one Bikerguy13! You must be what, 13? Smile
  • 11 2
 I wasn't trying to take away anything from @bcamapgnolo's technique, just saying from my experience the less I think about it the better I jump @ColquhounerHooner
  • 3 0
 @bcamapgnolo is right. It's confidence and muscle memory. He's not overthinking it at all, it just took some thinking to get to that stage. Nothing wrong with learning that way.
  • 4 0
 @bcamapgnolo has it figured out. Once you get to that 45 or 45+ mark (sooner for most) it's pretty tough to just "send it" without a significant amount of progressive learning. Things get less flexible, hurt longer and heal slower, not to mention I have to be able to work the next day. But with the effort, the will, and the repetition it's awesome when you land it just right. And @Crush12 I remember those bricks! and constantly resetting that board between jumps LOL times have changed. I don't think that old CCM Mustang would last very long on A-line.
  • 1 3
 @teschenbrenner I totally get that for the older riders out there like my uncle who is learning how to jump at age 50 but for the majority of riders (generally a younger demographic) that wouldn't work as well. I'm 18 and I find it much easier to let my body jump instinctual versus consciously thinking about it
  • 2 0
 @bcamapgnolo. I thought I was having a mind-meld moment as this is my exact approach as well! I have built some jumps, gaps and drops and I practice everything, fast, slow, keeping low, popping high, ride when its windy, dry, wet and also when I am knackered. Now, no matter what the trail throws at me I know I am prepared.
  • 2 0
 @bikerguy13 I don't think any of us are "thinking about it", progressive learning is about riding to ur ability and then pushing the limits incrementally, adjusting the approach and execution to build up experience. I think most riders even the younger demographic follow that approach the difference is how much time you have to spend on ur bike and how much risk ur willing to take when you push it to the next level. But just "sending it", without building skills leads to more down time than air time at any age. End result is the same for everyone when you finally nail it! Big Grin
  • 1 0
 Agree D! I'm almost the dirty 30 and hit up the jumps regularly despite XC racing is my thing. All types of riding helps another so I do D its best to do it all
  • 23 3
 Did that whole big jump thing with other guys, they were afraid to so I stepped up to the plate, I didn't brake anything on my bod, but 350 dollars worth of damaged gear later, and no gain in skill. WORK YOUR WAY UP.
  • 37 5
 Throughout my 15 years of riding I sensed a pattern with people approaching sketchy bits but I realized it only after I got kids and started going to the playground watching some kids going nuts. You know, that situation where you are considering to either tell them to stop trying doing a backflip on a swing or stay PC and simply have your hand on the phone, ready to call 991. There are three types in each group: a daredevil, a calculated kid and the poor shy fkr that feels he needs to prove something. Daredevil will go and execute with too much confidence, thus he still has a small chance to fail. Calculated kid will look at it and he will either go for it or comfortably say, he doesn't care. He has the least chance to mess up. The third kid though... has no self confidence, he is scared to sht but feels he needs to step up. He's the one that has highest chance to eat dirt. Roles change depending on situation and group you find yourself in. Make sure you don't take the role of the third kid Big Grin
  • 29 3
 Way too long at least give me paragraphs to work with.
  • 11 2
 911 Jesus.... Smile
  • 2 0
 omfg WAKI this describes my two friends and I to a tee. I'm the calculated kid. lol
  • 19 0
 Waki this is Jesus. What is your emergency?
  • 1 0
 this is life, right here, waki summed it up.
  • 8 1
 @acali - my emergency is that I can't stop writing, this is too enjoyable! #iwriteforpaul

@rabatt and @tyler555g - I used to be the third kid all too many times. Now I am the second. I have never been the Daredevil. WHen daredevils fail, they fail worst.. but they steal the best chicks and get on podiums... f*ckers...
  • 1 0
 Normally I'm the calculated one but I figured might as well go for it for once, bad decision...
  • 19 1
 Suspension set-up is key, more travel isn't necessarily better
  • 6 0
 I'd say firmer suspension is better too, as you can get a better feel for the lip of the jump and you can pump/work/pop the lip more efficiently too, as well as the landing. I guess it will also make you more aware of landing smoothly too.
  • 3 0
 less rear sag i find helps
  • 9 0
 slow that rebound down too. If you are working on hitting a single well built jump you don't have to worry about the hits stacking up so just wind it in a few more clicks and you won't worry as much about the buck, but you won't get as much pop. dial it back as you get more comfortable.
  • 4 0
 I agree. My only concern is that a lot of people use high rebound to cover up a fundamental issue with their technique and don't always get to learn because of this mask. There are some really badly built jumps in UK centres though so sometimes it's a necessity.
  • 14 0
 Before you learn to jump I think you need to learn how to do a 'proper' bunny-hop with flat pedals. This is a skill that very few clipped riders learn, but if you can't do it, you'll never learn how to boost a jump and that may be the difference between a broken collar-bone and riding away unscathed.
  • 1 0
 You're right the 'flow' you learn from bunny-hopping is essential for jumping! Some people by-pass this as they are in a rush to learn.
  • 13 0
 Progression is key, but also the problem.
Where I ride there are a handful of beginner "lines" (if you can call two 4ft tables a line). The rest are single and double black diamond type freeride lines or expert level dirt jumps...
  • 7 0
 I find this at all the spots i ride as well nothing to bridge the gap
  • 6 0
 @j12j "nothing to bridge the gap" quite literally. We have this as well where some awesome tables and then all the harder stuff is just huge ass gap jumps.
  • 12 0
 get out there and build what you need then folks!
  • 3 0
 ^^ 100% right! If you're not a lazy poacher you can always build a jump or line that's at or just above your level. Plus digging and shaping teaches you more about dirt jumps than just jumping alone. For example height, length, steepness, transition shape, and landing shape all affect how you should hit each jump.
  • 1 0
 @ColquhounerHooner definitely planning on on doing that, it was just last summer that i realized it was a weak point and my season was cut quite a bit short by an injury
  • 14 0
 Suspension not required and in fact can be a hindrance to good form. Hardtail on a pump track is what I'd recommend.
  • 2 1
 I'd die if I tried to hit the drops I do on a rental with my hardtail.
  • 10 0
 Learning to jump. I'd like to thank my first real bike, the Mongoose Motomag circa 1981.
  • 2 0
 Two horns up for that one! Restoring one right now.Wink
  • 1 0
 I want my Redline back
  • 10 0
 Cool read, thanks @cpendrel
  • 7 1
 53 - daredevil days are over. Takes too long to heal. Bike park has helped with the table top skills for sure. Every progressive distance in drops is still an "oh sh*t" moment which I love. Don't try new stuff while fatigued!
  • 12 0
 That "one more run" at the end of the day gets you every time
  • 14 0
 100% of serious injuries occur on the last run of the day.
  • 1 0
 still healing up from my last run...
  • 1 1
 100% of serious injuries occur on the last run of the day.
0% of riders who have serious injuries do one more run that day.
just sayin..
  • 7 2
 I get real nervous when I'm a comin down the trail and I see a root, you never know when those little bumps can become deadly ramps to launch you into the air. I say all trails should at least be five feet wide, no steeper than flat, and smoother than a Malibu residential street. Any true XC rider should know that jumps are a menace to society. All jokes aside I do the NorCal XC race league whatever and don't get me wrong, its good, but we race on the lamest courses ever. The NorCal rulebook also mandates that I never ride unsanctioned trails and don't jump. I'm supposed to follow those rules year round. Honestly XC culture is pretty weird. Thats my bit.
  • 2 0
 California XC culture is weird. I did a couple of XC races in California last year, XC is a bit different there then any place else in the world.
  • 1 0
 Did you race NorCal or SoCal
  • 3 0
 SoCal. I swear, they are actively trying to make XC racing as lame as possible there.
  • 3 3
 Here in Boise, Idaho, we have a surge of dog walkers wanting to turn our trails wheelchair accessible basically. Swimba and Ridge to Rivers uses our donations and grants to take our best technical singletrack, and they drive skid steers up them and build bridges over tiny creek crossings and make them wheelchair accessible. Even when they are miles from town....its really frustrating. They get mad when there's user conflict. But they seem to only deconstruct our trails to encourage the groups that complain to use them, and also are aging and now walk dogs more than ride....its pathetic. I wish they would use our mountain biking money to make mountain biking trails, not turn existing ones into walking trails for wheelchairs....maybe its the influx of Californians moving in....who knows, but it blows. So, illegal trails are booming also....and that's where the shredders go. We have no other option. Its that or run into your local city council member walking dogs on trails that used to be the best tech singletracks, and piss them off more when you have to skid to slow down....multiple use trails, of multiple ability levels is the way forward as I see it. But they exist only in the illegal form at this point. Hikers stay behind the fences...bike shredders have to be rebels like skateboarders basically.
  • 1 1
 That's so true! The number of good public legal trails in SC is much smaller than it should be. The best legal spot, demonstration forest may be closed down due to 'unsanctioned trails'. The funny thing is, the demonstration forest doesn't even have that many unsanctioned trails. It is ironic because the purpose of if was to be an example of how hikers, bikers, and forestry could coexist. The sweet thing about demo is the hiking isn't very scenic so most hikers go else where and since the demonstration forest is far out of the way, the only other people there are bikers. Even though the climbs are long as f*ck, they are relatively easy because they are all on forestry fire roads. The only bad thing is the flow trail in the demonstration forest which is like the only flow trail ever worth riding is in shitty condition because people don't know when not to ride stuff like that and dont know how to slow down without making braking bumps. The flow trail would be maintained more but it is at least a 45 minute drive from downtown SC and 5 miles from the point where you can't drive in further.
  • 2 0
 I may never get back there, but Demo trails are like Polar Bears - I just liking knowing they still exist.
  • 1 0
 @iamamodel You're talking about the ones in SC?
  • 1 0
 Yes, I am. I loved the Ridge Trail because it was just so long and so, so fast. Last rode there in 2009. I hear there are new trails now.
  • 1 0
 @iamamodel great new trails there, also the unsanctioned ones in UCSC are great, just hard to find your way around there if you arent with someone who does. You can check out all the demo trails on trailforks too.
  • 1 0
 You guys in SC have it rough. Spent a week riding there last year, some good trails but not enough and holy cow are they ever crowded. I swear I ran into more people in a single ride then I have ran into in total in 10 years of riding in Kamloops.
  • 1 0
 Makes no sense to knock US high school XC race courses for lack of tech features. The high school races have to be hyper-concerned with safety because so many true beginners are participating. Not only that -- as the sport grows and takes hold the biggest resistance is the uninformed masses who sit on school boards and administration and think our sport is "too dangerous." (Never mind that football, cheerleading, lacrosse are all far more dangerous.) When we have the numbers and are more established then we can make the courses more challenging (most likely there will be alternate courses, easier and harder, at the same venues). Until then, if you want a tough technical course just go a different race -- pretty simple really.
  • 1 0
 @jfloren It isn't that they aren't technically challenging really, they just aren't fun! I mean, there aren't even berms! The tracks are under-BUILT if anything. I had a buddy who broke his shoulder on the first race of the season because he was going around an off-camber corner, went into the wet grass and totally stacked. The courses are smooth enough to be done on a gravel road bike. Also I would do other races but apparently having a course that actually constitutes mountain biking is too dangerous/expensive. It is true that many racers are very inexperienced but even something like a flow trail would be more interesting.
  • 5 0
 I learned to jump by my younger (but way more of a daredevil) brother laying in front of our homemade ramp and him telling me if I landed on him he'd hurt me. That solved my problems.
  • 4 0
 BMX or jump bike is the place to be. I have been hurting myself in front of the youths at my local skate park for a while now and my jumping and other bike controls have come on literally in leaps and bounds.
  • 1 0
 Yeah, best idea I ever had was to throw my old MTB stuff on a dirt frame and head to the local skate park and dirt jumps.
  • 3 0
 I moved to Vancouver 19 years ago from Toronto. I thought I can mountain bike until I rode the North Shore. It chewed me up and spat me out! I had a hard tail with a Manitou 2. Don't laugh! 1.5" of travel!!! I was in awe that humans can ride down these trails. I walked away and gave up. I thought it was impossible. Yes. In my young 20s. I put fenders and slicks on the bike and puttered around the city after that.
2 years ago, my good friend gave me his old Heckler to just chase him to just try it again. Took it mello. Blue trails and such. Last Christmas I got my self a Reign Advance 1. Everything changed!
I feel like a bird after riding a full year at least once a week. I'm 40. I have a family, have a mortgage, etc, etc. That's not stopping me. I want to go faster every time I get out. I feel I can ride over almost anything after one year. Except Lower Ladies Only. 160mm of travel, under 30lbs of mechanical marvel. The bike makes a difference. Spend lots of money on a really good bike. It really helps! This is the best sport, ever!!!
  • 2 0
 Jumping has totally ruined me for the ground--there are roots down there and I don't want anything to do with them. Stuff the FS monster truck, what you really need to up your jumping game is a crappy hardtail with a WalMart fork sprung for Andre the Giant. Then you'll evolve wings in no time if you want any hope of passing on your genes.
  • 2 0
 Its a mental game. If you don't have the commitment to want to try it within a few minutes, your not confident enough. If you don't feel right just showing up and doing it, you're risking a lot. I go for it when I know I've got it(still not true until you do), but the confidence makes it so much safer than sitting there for 30 minutes psyching yourself up to do it. That's when big injuries happen. You've gotta really want it, and know you can. Hesitation breeds devastation... That's what I've learned...and my non self appointed nickname(broke ass) means I've payed the price for trying things when I shouldn't have. It took me a while to learn how to realize when my confidence and skills are inline with high success rates. Know how to interpret your desires correctly or you pay the price.
  • 1 0
 Spot on, started learning to jump earlier this year and getting there very slowly, at my own pace. Every time I start having to sit there and really psyche myself up pre-jump, 9 times out of 10 I end up on the floor at the end of it.
  • 2 0
 @cpendrel it was pretty amazing how you encapsulated how I approached jumping about 5 years ago (without the busted collar bones). I've walked away from a lot of jumps and just watched how the cool riders did it. Worked slowly up to being pretty competent on Dirt Merchant. Not awesome, but not bad for a 55yr old.

Thanks for putting up such a doable method for airing out and for representing BC riders to the world so well. Hope to see you at the top of Jelly Roll again some time.
  • 2 0
 After visiting Whistler this summer my jumping game got a lot better. The jumps there helped me build confidence after crashing soo many times trying to jump at my local trails. Thumbs up for the builders at Whistler!
  • 1 0
 Interesting to see different approaches to learning to jump. Seems to be those who think a DH bike, full face helmet, and MX protection is the only way to get started. Nice to see that an XC bike, helmet, and Spandex works just fine for features the size of those pictured.
  • 1 0
 I won't be surprised if Zink comes up with "how to jump the Oakley sender" in the next few days. Im 37 and still learning how to jump bikes. Thanks for the optimism @cpendrel.
  • 3 0
 Aahhhhh, good ole huck to deal my sailor, we meet again, my nemesis
  • 1 0
 dont forget to learn how to crash before committing to a jump! bike skills equal thrills. set myself up to fail right there haha
  • 2 0
 Nice to see they are all on scott sparks Smile
  • 1 0
 Old, and ugly! Big Grin
  • 2 0
 Still can't, despite coaching and practising a lot.
  • 2 0
 Get a BMX bike, go put around the local track and slowly learn the basics.
  • 2 0
 Exactly. Many years ago I took up BMX racing mostly to force myself how to jump. One of THE best things I ever did for my MTB skills, because I also learned to pump, change bike angle to match landing etc.
  • 2 0
 those bikes must have sparked them into jumping
  • 2 0
 I'm liking these articles though.
  • 1 0
 I thought Keith could do backflips Catharine?
  • 2 0
 Nerd.
  • 1 0
 Um, Catherine, what happened to your chest in the second pic? Wink
  • 1 0
 Nice one Cath.. XC now a days are focused on technical aspect..
  • 1 0
 @oacboy Good read man!
  • 1 0
 Great article! Smile
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