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.
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.
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
: 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