Taj Mihelich's How to Pump Illustrated: The Trail is Giving Away Free Speed

Oct 2, 2020
by Taj Mihelich  
Rejected titles:
Pump Harder, Pump Longer, and Pump More Often!
Impress Your Partner With a Better Pump.
Let's All Go Into the Woods and Watch Each Other Pump.


Don't miss the speed boosts!

I can tell right away when the rider in front me doesn’t have a good pump. The giveaway is when they’re clearly trying to go faster, sneaking in desperate turns of the pedals over awkward terrain, but I'm catching them without a single crank. It is often much fitter riders (almost everyone is these days) that would bury me if we were pedaling on flat ground. It breaks my BMX heart to see the power of the pump undervalued and unlearned. The trail is offering us all the gift of free speed and it shouldn't be left unclaimed.

Pumping is the key to all the coolest parts of mountain biking. Want to jump higher, go faster and corner quicker? It all comes from a good pump. Pumping isn't just for pump tracks or dirt jumps, you'll find spots to squeeze out a little more speed on every trail. Often a good pump will generate more speed than pedaling possibly could.

If you’ve ever ridden a bike or skateboard on a half pipe you’ll understand the concept. It’s how you go higher and higher on each wall without pushing or pedaling. You create all your speed through pumping. It’s a lot like swinging on a playground swing set. You pump your way up and down.

How many pizzas did it take to get here?

So, how do you do it? How does one learn to harness the primal power of the pump?

Let's start by imagining that you’re standing on a bathroom scale. Make it an old school one with an analog dial if your memory goes back that far. It shows your weight of course, but if you lightly bounce up and down the needle jumps around. It reads heavier when you land, and lighter as you un-weight yourself.

How long can you hold the needle down?

If that’s making sense the next step on our journey to discovering your inner pumping power is to pick an arbitrary weight that is more than your own. Let’s say 55lbs (about 25kg). So your target is now 55lbs + your weight. You can easily bounce the needle past that mark and it bounces right back. Now, imagine yourself trying to hold the needle at that target weight for as long as you can. Stand up really tall and then drive your weight down on to the scale. Try to meter out the downwards force that you are generating. The longer you can stretch out that moment the longer you can keep the scale pressed down and the needle at the target. It will still only be a short time, but it will be more sustained than if you just jump into the air and land stiff legged on the scale.


Cranks level, dropper dropped, strong arms and drive the whole bike down.

We’re already closer to being able to properly pump but I’ll need your imagination a little longer. Same basic scenario as before. Picture yourself on a bigger scale with your bike (go ahead and make it your dream bike if you want… why not?). You’re out of the saddle and standing on the pedals. The scale is showing your weight plus your bike’s weight. Just like before bounce around a bit and jostle the needle. I’ll assume you’re on a full suspension bike so you are also bouncing the suspension.

Now imagine trying to achieve that sustained push-down on the scale from earlier. You’ll gather your weight up and then drive it down while at the same time pushing the bike down through the pedals and grips into the scale. This is where having your seat as low as possible will really help. The more room you have to move in the cockpit the more momentum you can generate. It takes a focused effort to drive the bike’s suspension down, weight the scale, and try and keep it down. This is a “down pump”.

Do this on the backside of a roller and you will accelerate.

Show gravity who's boss!

The partner to the “down pump” is the “up pump”. It’s not exactly the opposite of a “down pump”, but kind of. For the “up pump” let’s visualize riding towards a knee high roller. While you’re still on the flat ground, and just before your front wheel starts riding up the roller, you’ll drive your weight up. I kind of feel like I’m standing up extra tall on the pedals and trying to bring the bulk of my weight up higher (raising your center of gravity basically). You don’t want to do it so much that you start levitating off your pedals, just get some momentum going upwards.

Then, as your bike rides up the roller let it come up to meet you (you can help it along by pulling it towards you). In this way you are essentially reducing the amount of weight that has to ride uphill on the roller. It is almost like bunny hopping without leaving the ground and you'll carry more speed over the roller than if you were seated.

Take the valley between two rollers, turn it sideways, and you have a berm.

Pumping works pretty much the same in corners (especially a good, smooth, bermed one). Try thinking of a corner as the trough between two rollers turned on to its side. The g-force will hold you on to the berm (you’re going fast right?) and it feels like the direction of “down” has suddenly become sideways. You compress to build speed through the berm just like weighting the scale on the backside of a roller. As you get towards the end of the corner you fight your way through the g-force and get yourself up to spring out (hopefully aiming the right direction).

There are times when you’ll pump more with your front wheel, or back (in long turns there is often a kind of a front to back shift), or maybe in a manual. The terrain and the size of what you’re riding dictates what works best. The same basic concept applies everywhere, “weight the scale” on the way down and get yourself up and over the uphill bits.





So while you're riding this weekend, try to mend Taj's BMX heart. Harness the power of the pump, and claim the trail's gift of free speed.


65 Comments

  • 133 3
 Taj is da best.
  • 44 0
 So true - he really is.
  • 10 0
 If you check out the strava segments at Michigan Tech's trails, you'll see that he is, indeed, the best (especially on trails with lots of pumping).
  • 6 0
 Excitebike!! True legend. Also, he helped us attach skateboards to bikes.
  • 65 2
 ..."Let's All Go Into the Woods and Watch Each Other Pump."

"I'd rather get some lovely Honey if you don't mind Piglet" , said Pooh.
  • 7 2
 lovely honey is a good start, for sure

www.lovehoney.co.uk
  • 3 0
 @iiman: Links to not click on at work...
  • 37 0
 That was one of the best tutorials that I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Clear, concise instructions along with great illustrations to help bring the concepts home. Add a little bit of humor and it's perfect.
  • 1 0
 Yes, but the title is misleading... Anyone whos has done laps on a pump track knows that speed aint free. However, pumping is so much fun! I often challenge myself to not pedal and only use pumping to maintain speed.
  • 19 0
 One of the better pumping analogies /instructions I have seen. I grew up racing BMX, riding street. I comes as second nature to most of us from that background. It is shocking to see so many who don't understand it. Kudos to Taj on this one
  • 1 0
 Sometimes you realize you're doing it when you overtake others who pedal when you don't. Big pumps help a lot but apparently even those small unconscious pumps help you keep or gain momentum.
  • 12 0
 Wow thats some serious learnin’s
  • 11 0
 So who's coming around this weekend to go at it like rabbits? No, not like that, I mean to pump like bunnies.
  • 8 0
 Going into the weeds a bit, but for a long time I've been trying to think about the physics behind pumping on a bike - where the work is actually been done that generates the speed. It seems easier to think about with the berm corner, using the ice-skater analogy (ie conservation of angular momentum), if you get your weight low/far to the outside of the radius as you come in to the corner, and stand up against the centrifugal force, you do the work against that force, and you increase your speed (alternatively, while conserving angular momentum, reducing your moment of inertia increases angular velocity).
With the up/down pump though it's a little more confusing. The up pump seems obvious at first - you're doing work against gravity prior to the upslope, so that you're not taking that energy out of the forward motion of the bike as it rolls up the hill. And what about the down pump? In the scale analogy, the reading is higher because you are dropping yourself down and apply extra force (increasing weight on the scale) to do work and bring yourself to a stop (the higher you stand, the more momentum you have to arrest). On the bike, are we merely getting the small component of that down force that is in the direction along the trail (down the slope)? Because there's a part of me that wonders if the key element is the curvature of the ground, rather than the slope... that gives you the ability to push off one wheel in the direction in which your other wheel is free to move...
If it's the curvature that's key, I think you'd actually want to time your pumps a bit later: for an up-pump gettng tall between the front tire going onto the bump (while rear is on flat) and the back tire going onto it; for a down-pump pushing down through the hands while front is on downslope and rear on top, and then through the feet once the rear wheel is on steeper ground than the front (this would fit with the pump not being helpful if the gradient is constant)
  • 2 0
 This is an underated comment
  • 3 0
 I'm going to print out this comment and tape it to the inside of my goggles next time I go riding
  • 2 0
 Yes. Good reasoning. The conservation of angular momentum will be the key on berms and through the transition of a ramp or a nice smoothly radiused trail. But on a rocky trail or with small downslopes you are just reacting against the angular face or edge.
  • 3 0
 @G-Sport: I think that's right about the rocky trail and small downslopes. But again that seems to be benefiting from the change in slope rather than the slope itself (being able to push off one surface - the bump - in the direction along another - your path)
  • 3 0
 I did originally pitch this story as one for the Enginerding series. Not sure if I could pump while dizzy from all that physics though!
  • 1 0
 This. To simply: it's the transition, or curved area, where pumping is effective. If it's just a downslope, you can pump up and down all day with no effect on speed. This is well known to anyone who's also skateboarded. One of the illustrations in the article is inaccurate in this way.
  • 1 0
 @eddiecycle: I think you can pump a downslope for sure. If you are on a long constant grade you can't do much but if the trail is flat and then goes down you can generate some speed out of that no matter what shape the down is. You could pump riding down a set of stairs for example i(f you didn't like you wheels very much!). I suppose in a situation like a stair case you use your body weight to make the path you travel down the wedge shape more round. Kind of making a transition out of a wedge. You can even pump flat ground. Kind of like how you make speed tic-tacing on a skateboard. You can do the same thing on a bike by swooping back and forth and pumping the turns you make.
  • 9 0
 Excellent explanation and graphics. I'm showing this comic strip to my kids....and I'm going to go practice, too.
  • 9 0
 nothing like pumping with your family!
  • 5 0
 Is that a bump, or another transition to pump? A wise man once told me, "Riding is about rhythm and flow." Once I understood what he meant, I realized that for those who could pump, the world is covered with power boost speed nuggets waiting to be found and exploited. Go find some!! And your riding partners will hate the sound of your hubs as they keep pedaling like mad!!

Brilliant illustrations and explanation. Made my day!
  • 6 0
 I just want to not get out of breath after 2 laps on a pump track and need an ice bath.
  • 5 0
 Ha ha Smile
And the ones with motor possibly don't even know what this is all about.
  • 2 0
 I’ve found explaining it the easiest way is you get shorter on the ups and taller on the downs. Having grown up riding skateboards it is so intuitive , though admittedly I suck at pumping corners on a bike compared to a skateboard. It is funny my buddies are all better riders than me but in rolling terrain I actually get slowed down by them, it is the only time that happens. Also pumping is under appreciated in the great wheel size debate. A smaller wheel will pump better. Why I think eventually the smart pros will opt for different wheel sizes based on the track.
  • 5 0
 Lee McCormack has been saying this stuff for years, but still just as true today.
  • 3 0
 The line at 1:26 is a video representation.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=myzdNqwnsB0

Yes, I realize it is at potato resolution, but this is one of my favorite video segments ever.
  • 2 0
 Basic physical principle behind pumping is fully extending (by pushing the bike down when G force want to pull you down) on the bottom of the down curve, increasing distance between center of gravity and radius, increasing angular velocity and speed and than pulling bike up on the up curve to maintain speed.
  • 4 0
 Is it better to practice on a pump track with your trail bike or a jump/skills bike for a better trail skills?
  • 2 0
 Both! I think they both teach different skills.
  • 1 0
 Both work. Obviously, the trail bike will feel slower, losing more energy in the bumps than a DJ bike, but the timing of where to pump stayed the same. On the plus side, when you feel ready, you can take what you learn in the pump track and take it to the trail ride away, a great way to consolidate and apply what you just practice!
  • 4 0
 I find it easier to learn on a pump bike - you get quicker responses, and due to the tyres/pressure/geo its a lot more satisfying (pumping round a whole lap of a pump track on a trail bike is tough). That said, if you don't have a pump bike, just go ride what you've got
  • 1 0
 @hughlunnon: I agree. With a hardtail or rigid dirt jumper (or even bmx) it's just easier to know when you've pumped with the optimal timing. If that makes sense.
  • 4 0
 I recommend standing on a bathroom scale.
  • 3 0
 Even with the fork locked, trying to clear the pump track with a trail hardtail rolling on 2.6 Minions is exhausting. More so, if you're a 44 y.o. dad and the track is full of teens on DJ bikes.
  • 1 0
 My kids learned to ride on a pump track. They never knew a life without PUMP.
  • 5 0
 @Tasso75: That's why I bought my first ever bmx 2 years ago when I was 42
  • 1 0
 This is great! Thanks for being and doing great Taj! Love the illustrations and clear metaphor. I found years ago when I took a coaching course that something that really helped me understand better was when it suggested to isolate the rear wheel when learning- to really drive your weight through the rear wheel on the down side of the curve using primarily your hips and legs. I know watching newer riders or those that haven't ridden BMX (especially those with front suspension) if you are weighting the whole bike or favouring front end (pumping with just arms and not hips/legs) while learning there is a risk of driving that front end in and stalling out the back as your weight can pile up forward.
  • 4 0
 I'm also a fan of the pre-jump. Bit of a bunny hop before a dip and pump the down slope and you're off!
  • 2 1
 Question...When building a trail what is the best way to help generate speed on a flat section:
-build rollers so you can pump them to generate speed
-keep the ground flat so you can pedal

It seems like keeping it flat so you can pedal is better. No uphill to loose speed/energy.
  • 1 0
 Rollers, no question
  • 4 0
 More Taj how-to articles! This is a great one, and fun to read.
  • 1 0
 Thank you Taj for describing this so eloquently, and for sure, coming from a skateboard and BMX (whether it's racing, trails, or park) background, this is one of the first skills you pick up, out of necessity!
  • 2 0
 like the fact that the rabbit still wear is bathrobeand flip flops on the track!!!
  • 2 0
 I can personally attest to being one of those riders desperately trying to fit in a pedal while being caught by taj
  • 2 0
 I tell kids.. an some grown ups..... It's like standing up on a swing
  • 2 1
 "Let the bike come to you"

Ive never thought of it that way. Will be super useful for teaching my friends
  • 1 0
 Kids get it instantly. So many pump tracks out there these days at all the parks. Love illustrations!
  • 1 0
 Pumping > pedaling, the best trails have lots to pump! The scale is a killer analogy, Taj obviously knows what's up!
  • 2 0
 How do you favorite articles?
  • 1 0
 I love everything about this
  • 1 0
 Taj is an artistic and conceptual genius. That article was great.
  • 1 1
 When your local trails are basically blown out hiking trails this is hard Frown
  • 1 0
 10/10 beautiful article Smile
  • 1 0
 less pedaling, more pumping!
  • 1 0
 Whoa there! Helpful AND funny? Where is this going to end?
  • 1 0
 @taj psssat, don’t tell them about the anti-pump
  • 1 0
 Great!
  • 1 0
 great explanation!
  • 1 0
 The pump is the cure.
  • 1 0
 This is great!
  • 1 0
 I pump on an E bike !
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