Bunny hopping is hands down one of the most important skills any mountain biker can develop. Not only is bunny hopping useful in its own right to clear gutters, logs, rocks or anything else on the trail, it’s also critical as a gateway skill in learning to jump and pre-jump correctly.
Those are key skills for any intermediate level trail and above – especially when you throw racing (or Strava if you are so inclined…) into the mix. There’s no doubt that clip in pedals make the process a whole lot easier, but relying on having your feet clipped in is certainly the wrong way to go about it. If you really want to learn how to bunny hop correctly and effectively, buy a cheap set of flat pedals to practice with as you learn.
This skill is also not something which is mastered in a day or two – give yourself months or even years to get comfortable and don’t get frustrated if you can’t get it straight away. It may seem impossible at first, but time and patience are the key ingredients to learning.
Here’s the fundamentals and also some tips to help master the bunny hop.
What goes up, must go down first
Bunny hopping with suspension is a much different beast to bunny hopping a rigid bike. To start off, keep your weight centred and pre-load your suspension by pushing down predominantly with your legs but also with your arms. This all happens in a split second and the bunny hop effectively starts from the point your suspension is compressed and begins to rebound back.
Lead with your front wheel
Leading with your front wheel gives you a whole lot more control and will also help with jumping and pre-jumping. As your suspension rebounds, begin to rise and pull up with your arms on your bars to bring the front wheel of the ground. You can repeat this step in order to get the timing right before you try to get your back wheel of the ground - which is much harder than the front.
Follow with the rear wheel
How do you get your rear wheel of the ground? Well, there are a couple of steps involved. The first is to lock your wrists and rotate the entire bike forward. If you can imagine rocking the bike forward using just your arms gripping the bars, this is what you are trying to achieve. At the same time, use your legs to lift the rear wheel. On flat pedals it means tilting your feet forward slightly which will give you some traction on your pedals to bring the rear wheel up. Do these both together and hopefully, you’ll get some air time.
Work on getting the rear wheel off the ground only
If you are having trouble getting your rear wheel off the ground, a really useful exercise is to work on riding along and lifting the rear wheel only. When I teach people to bunny hop, this is the first thing I’ll have someone do as it makes the transition in Step 3 much easier. The higher you can get your rear wheel off the ground the better and if you can do it with flat pedals you are a step ahead.
Control your landing
It’s actually quite easy to crash on your way down if you get off balance. For the most part, when beginning aim to land as softly as possible on two wheels and once you gain some confidence, try to land on your rear wheel first and then bring your front wheel down after in order to develop control of your bike in the air.
Work on your timing
This is a great tip to transition your bunny hopping to jumping and pre-jumping. Find a small ledge, rock or similar about 20-50mm in size on the ground. Once you can bunny hop, work on using the obstacle to give you a little extra boost. Your front wheel should hit the object and come up, followed by your rear wheel hitting the object and coming up as well. Try it at various speeds and with different landing styles. The timing is really useful when you are translating the bunny hop to a jump or pre-jump movement so you can get it perfect every time.
Exaggerate your landing
It’s important to over-exaggerate your landing as you come down. You want to land centred on your bike and soak up the impact predominantly with your legs. If there’s one tip I can’t stress enough for riding in general it’s to ride with your legs – and bunny hopping is no exception. Landing on your front wheel will change the bias significantly compared to landing rear wheel first, but play around with it until you get the feel. That way, when you are out on the trail and don’t get it quite right you’ll be able to pull it off, no matter how you land.
Words: Jared Rando Photos: Nick Waygood