So what is bike control while jumping? Our third week of Academy’s this year was headlined with one technique that I have not spent much time coaching on in the past, one that could be the breakthrough you were also looking for.
If you have never done a session on jumping with me before, you might picture yourself man-handling a bike to do what you want it do, even if that means your body ends up in a compromised position. I can tell you right now that this is the worst thing you could do.
Perhaps you have heard me explain why being able to whip (even just a small amount) is so important for bike control, where the best jump is not when the bike stays perfectly straight but turns and leans a little to one side or the other on purpose so you can better control anything unexpected. This is still true, but there is another dynamic that is crucial to confidence in the air.
Alex has always known that he had a tendency to freeze in the air with his weight back. It worked for him to a degree as he does some serious jumps and has not messed up many of them, but it was definitely not ideal and was frustrating him no end. He needed to get comfortable jumping with the front higher than the rear so that he could get his head past the handlebars if desired, a skill that could greatly increase his potential.
We began the third day of camp with some wheelies on the start line. This was to help them get used to having the front high, and then controlling that height with their rear brake. There was the odd mishap but because we are only in first gear the only damage was a rearranged rear mudguard and a sore bottom, which is pretty much the worst case scenario.
Next we worked on a step-up with the aim to jump front high. It was a good chance to practice the use of their rear brake to help stop the front going too high, made possible after plenty of jumps where all they focussed on is pulling in the clutch while in the air. Alex learned that the bike wouldn’t suddenly send him into a nose dive like he had pictured. Pretty much all that happened was the front would stop its progression upwards and settle nicely.
However it was something we did with the wheels on the ground that really was the breakthrough.
We call it our Sandbox, the quarry where Francis Pirini and his son steal soil for use on the MX track. It is one of those places you can play for hours without getting bored, but we were here strictly on business. The goal was to work their way up to riding a near vertical bank safely by bending at the waist and almost kissing the front guard when the bike is at its steepest point. Get this skill dialed and it would open up a whole new world of possibilities while jumping.
Soon the entertainment began with the odd ghostie and lay-over. Get a little off line on the steepest bank and life got pretty intense. That was the worst case scenario though so they soon began to enjoy themselves, providing they could put their pride aside to deal with any embarrassment they may have felt. Pretty soon even Alex was nearly kissing the front guard and we were ready to take that back to the step up.
Being confident about letting the front wheel come up while jumping turned out to be exactly the ticket that Alex needed. We had been fighting his habit of rolling the throttle off near the top of every upramp with little progress, until we had this breakthrough. My mistake as coach came in not taking him to the bank earlier!