Immediately upon learning to jump, and sometimes before, riders become taken with the idea of creating some style in the air. While the temptation to get stylish can be strong, it’s important riders get the basics down first.
The first step in creating some style once you are jumping basic jumps is to learn to relax the upper body. Keep repeating the same jumps over and over with a focus on relaxation. Once you are feeling relaxed and having a consistent outcome, start creating a small turn of the bars starting at the shoulders. Since you are relaxed, you will find that the effort required is minimal. In addition to attempting to get stylish too soon, another common mistake is trying too hard. Attempting to use physicality to move the bike around can result in uneven outcomes, and more importantly for this lesson in vanity, doesn’t look good either! Remember that when we are airborne, we are temporarily nearly weightless, and as such movement of the bike and/or rider can be achieved with very little effort.
Riders often ask me why professional riders always throw ‘tricks’ while racing downhill. While they do want to look good on the bike, style in the case of the world's fastest riders actually comes from practical necessity. You might notice when watching videos, that top riders will often turn the bars in the opposite direction of an upcoming turn. This act of ‘counter directional steering’ actually sets the rider up for an upcoming turn by getting the bike to drop in the direction they are about to go. (See counter directional steering video). By accentuating this technique, a ‘table top’ can be achieved.
‘Whips’ are perhaps the most popular ‘trick’ at the moment. Whips also come from a practical root. When Bubba Stewart started ‘scrubbing’ jumps to stay low in motocross by turning the bike up the takeoff, he was able to smoke the competition by being able to approach jumps much more quickly than his competition, all while not over-jumping the landing since he could blow energy off to the side of the bike instead of underneath it. Soon enough, he and other riders started to add on to this technique by taking advantage of the physics of the motion and created the ‘whip’. When I teach riders to whip the bike, I actually call it a ‘scrub whip’ so that they understand where the trick comes from. Without turning the bike up the takeoff, it’s very hard to pull a whip back and it often looks forced. The action of turning the bike up the face of the jump and then letting it move out radically in the air, makes it easy to steer back and brings the wheels back in line with one another without physical effort. As far as when we might throw a whip versus a table top, whips are done more frequently when the terrain following the jump doesn’t turn immediately. Scrub whips allow us to stay low by releasing pressure in a lateral direction, but otherwise don’t help us set up for an upcoming turn like counter directional steering does.
The fact that we want to stay relaxed can also be shown by riders who do ‘no handers’ in the air. Obviously if they were physically in need of a lot of arm strength, they couldn’t let go of the bars without having an unfortunate incident.
So, go out and give it a try. Start small. Stay relaxed. Don’t force the movement – let it come. And create movement which is in line with the terrain you are riding.