Main topic: Top 5 reasons why it’s so hard to learn to bunny hop
Hey everyone! Welcome to Episode #4 of the Mountain Bike Skills Network podcast. My name is Griff Wigley, also known as the mountain bike geezer. I’m am the guy behind the Mountain Bike Skills Network blog and I’m the founder and host of the Mountain Bike Skills Network Community, currently a group on Facebook.
My intent is to have all three – the blog, the online community and this show — help recreational mountain bikers like you, have more fun while upping your skills. Why? So you can ride the stuff you want that challenges you. I think of it as a Goldilocks Zone. Not too scary or hard; not too easy or boring but juuuuuust right. That middle is where the fun is and one of the most reliable ways to stay in that Goldilocks Zone is to continually increase your skills.
You can learn more about the Mountain Bike Skills Network at mtbskills.net where you’ll also see links to my various social media accounts.
Today’s show is about the bunny hop, what some people refer to as the most difficult skill in mountain biking.
I learned to bunny hop recently and was surprised at how challenging it was just to get to the beginner level that I’m now at.
With help from members of the MTBSN community, I’ve put together what I think are the:
Top 5 reasons why it’s so hard to learn to bunny hop
When I rode Leb with Iowa’s Ken Barker in August, I showed him how I used a manual wheelie to get over the bridge rock and he promptly showed me that he could get over it clean with a pedal wheelie. I didn’t get a photo or video of it but it was burned into my brain, as I was curious whether I could do the same.
I did this week. It only took me 17 tries. Gah.
The problem for me was two-fold: 1) I mostly suck at doing pedaling wheelies (see Ken doing two long ones in my video of him at Ray’s) so I had a hard time keeping the wheelie straight; and 2) I couldn’t get the timing right for pressing down into the pedals and springing upward so that the rear wheel would ‘levitate’ prior to hitting the rock.
In my 90-second video, I only included 8 of my 17 failed attempts. It includes a slo-mo and two stills of the one successful ride.
I wanted to finish it up with a video of a manual wheelie over the rock from a rear view angle (earlier videos were front view here and side view here). I put the camera on a tripod in the middle of the bridge which caused me to slow down slightly as I rode by it. The lack of speed and lack of front wheel height on the manual was almost disastrous, as I nearly did a header right into the rock. Have a laugh:
I think this was because I placed the front wheel a little too high on the rock, almost clearing the front edge. I think it’s best if it bounces off the rock a bit about 3/4 of the way up because when the compressed forks rebound, the steeper angle of the bike gives you more clearance for the bottom bracket.
I poked around and found this old video called Going Up Obstacles (Getting up objects) featuring Hans Rey and pals in which they show how to avoid having the chain ring bash the rock. It’s a trials video but it has application here. I can see that I need to learn how to use my leg/foot to lift the rear wheel with that scooping motion. At the 2:20 mark:
Before your chain ring or your back wheel hits the object, you have to throw your weight forward a certain way over the handle bar and at the same time you lift with your feet pushing down, back and up and unweight the back wheel enough to lift it behind you and onto the object. An advanced technique you can learn to hop up high objects is to ram the front wheel into the top of the object. The wheel bounces upward, giving you added lift.
MORC member Clay Haglund reported on his attempt and Dave Tait’s method:
I manualed into it and as soon as my front tire hit the top of the rock, my bash ring "BASHED" hard into the face of the rock. Dave Tait showed me how the pro’s do it. He pedaled in with some good speed and within the last six inches of the wood bridge, he pulled off a bunny hop that cleared that two and a half foot gap and had his BACK tire landing on top of the rock…. AMAZING! His bike has got to be pushing 40# too as it’s heavier than mine which is 35#.
After holding my bike in position on that rock, I definitely think the 29" wheels are a big help with conquering this without a clean bunnyhop. With my front tire on top of the rock, my back tire was right at the base and bash guard was in contact with the face. I think I’d have better luck coming up slow and trying to trials hop it.
I told Clay that I thought the bashing could be avoided without having to do the full rear wheel leg/foot lift of a bunny hop, just unweighting so last night I went back to Lebanon Hills to see.
I started by attempting a more extreme angle to the Leb skills park rock that I’d mentioned in my earlier blog post as a good training rock. Ray Brown took the video:
I got over it clean but as you’ll hear in this video, not without bashing:
So I wasn’t confident that I could do it on the bridge rock without bashing. Here’s my attempt, first at normal speed, then a slo-mo version, then stop motion:
As you can see in the final frame, I was able to clear the rock without my bash ring making contact. Front wheel placement didn’t seem to be a big issue as I originally thought.
But you can also see that the rear wheel does make significant contact with the rock. I’m able to absorb it without too much bounce back but ideally, a well-executed bunny hop with full rear wheel leg/foot lift would be best. I need a lesson from Dave Tait.
Last night I reread Chapter 6, Wheelie and Hop Over Anything in the book Mastering Mountain Bike Skills by Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack. Some quotes:
… push explosively into your pedals and propel your body forward. After you push, lighten your feet to allow the pedals to come up.
… At the moment your weight presses into rear wheel, press explosively down into the pedals and spring upward. If you get light on your pedals… the rear wheel will levitate.
… The harder you push your pedals down, the harder the earth returns the force, and the higher you go. It’s just like hopping on your feet.
He uses the label "lift your rear wheel" in several places but nowhere does he define this as a scooping motion where your foot/leg actually lifts the wheel like Hans Rey described in the video I cited.
But look at the one titled Bunnyhop for Beginners which has no narrative, with text captions that appear to be in Japanese and/or Chinese. The slow motion sequences, especially the practice exercises starting at the 37-second mark (screen capture above), seem to show what Lee McCormack recommends: an explosive pushing down into the pedals and not a scooping/deliberate lifting up of the rear wheel. My inclination is to learn the pushing down technique first.