Keeping it low is not the way to go
There is nothing better than air time on a mountainbike. It doesn’t feel quite as good as manualling, but the added bonuses of clearing big gaps, drops, small children and dogs plus the fear and adrenaline that it produces is very very addictive(not to mention all that adoration you get from people who can't get air). Whats the best dream you’ve ever had? ( sorry, except that one where you had that x-rated wet dream with your teacher from 3rd form at school). Yes, that’s right, you were floating in the air, flying with the birds, totally free and looking down on all those mere mortals glued to the ground there on earth…..sorry, too much coffee!
It was pretty easy getting me up there, The problem was getting me back down again (in one piece). Bonnie Doon MTB Park, Australia. photo : one of the boys.
Anyway, not to worry, getting air is easy. All you have to do is pedal fast at a big kicker. The hard part is landing on the other side still on your bike. HA!
While it seems that the kids today can just go riding and automatically launch huge gaps, us normal people have left it too late in life to achieve anything except a good golf swing….DO NOT FEAR, the air master is here(sorry, I just did that for the rhyming). Don’t freak out OK. You don’t need big balls. You don’t need to be young and stupid. Hey, I’m super intelligent as well as rich , mature and good looking, yet I learnt to jump because I thought it would help to score hot chicks. In fact nothing I’ve ever learnt has helped me in that department, but that’s another story.
There is only 2 things you need to achieve to get air.
1, To be able to stay centered/balanced on your bike in the air
2, To be able to “put” your wheels back down on the ground as you wish.
It's also very important to make sure there is someone to see it. Preferably a photographer.
The main problem we have is rotation once in the air. Our bodies are heavier than our bike so it‘s natural that they want to swap positions up in the sky. That means we have to leave the ground perfectly centered above the bike. The best way to do this is to cruise up to the jump super relaxed and it will come naturally. As you leave the ground you need to aim in the same direction as the trail surface is pointing, if you freak and try to point back down, you will over rotate forwards and hit front wheel first (and that’s a big no no). Imagine going swimming at the river and diving off a big bank. If you aim for the water you will rotate forward and land on your back. Jump high and out and gravity will bring you down in a graceful arc (hopefully!). The only problem here is that your front wheel will start to drop when it leaves the ground, so you need to bunnyhop off the ground (easiest) or manual until the rear leaves too (hardest).
This is why flat style jumps e.g straight wooden ramps are best to learn on. A curved kicker requires you to constantly change your center of balance.
Stay balanced...stay balanced.....stay balan...........ohhhhh shiiiiit...! rider : therodfather photo : Mark Dangerfield Silver Star Bike Park ,B.C.
As far as landing it goes, just extend your limbs and act like a coiled spring and absorb the impact. You need to practice landing your wheels on cue, both together or rear first by a hair. The best way to get started is by launching off curbs and landing your wheels on the road exactly how and where you wanted them. Then you can go to higher curbs and then lumps on the trails and then jumps in the park. Don’t over think it. Stay balanced and land as predicted and you just keep progressing higher and further. Sure, occasionally you’re gonna stuff it up. That’s why its good to practice with knee/elbow pads and a full face helmet. The added protection also gives you more confidence which allows you to relax a bit more and let you jump better. Seriously, go borrow some DH kit from your rad mates, it will help you heaps. And for you old folk? I never got both wheels off the ground together ‘till I was 30. And at 50 I have just started throwing in some whips and scrubs. It’s never too late. Anyone can do it. Come on, remember those dreams of flying…so awesome (try not to think too much of your 3rd form teacher ok?).
Rod “If I’m not pulling air, I’m pulling myself” Bardsley.