Easier with speed: Once you size up a drop, be sure to go
far enough back up the trail to come into it with normal speed
and don’t hesitate. The quicker you leave the takeoff, the
easier it is to keep the bike level in the air.
Drops come in all shapes and sizes: sheer
rock faces, man-made wooden ramps,
rock gardens and grocery store loading
docks. Some riders encounter drops and other
technical terrain on a daily basis on their local
trails, while others only see such terrain on
their annual trip to the bike park. Regardless
of the size of the drop or how often you ride
such terrain, the fundamentals of handling drops remain the same.
KNOW YOUR BIKE
Bike parks can prove to be an interesting situation for
many riders. Every summer we witness riders getting in
over their heads on terrain they are not ready for. Foreign
trails and unfamiliar rental bikes, with more travel than the
rider has ever ridden before, can be a dangerous combination, but it doesn’t have to be that way. These bikes will
help a rider with basic skills take it to the next level. But
first, take our advice.
Don’t tackle the double-black-diamond run your first
time up the mountain, and don’t head to the biggest drop
the first day. Take a number of runs on smoother trails to
ensure that you are completely familiar with your equipment.
If you are going to attempt a drop on a familiar bike,
there are some adjustments to make before dropping off the
ledge. If your saddle is at a fixed height for optimum pedaling performance, you need to lower it at least 3 inches.
This lowers your center of gravity and makes moving your
weight rearward easier for tackling steep chutes or drops.
Additionally, you should have a good idea of the limits of
your bike. Work your way up from the smallest drops to
bigger ones. This will let you see how the added size of a
drop affects the bike more and more.
LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP
There is no shame in getting off your bike and previewing a section of trail before you ride down it. In fact, we
recommend it. The last thing you want to do is find out
that you are in too deep as you hit the takeoff. Professional
downhill racers regularly walk the entire racecourse before
they ever put rubber to the ground.
Check for a curved transition at the bottom of the drop.
The “tranny” from vertical to flat on the bottom should be
about triple the radius of your wheels to help you roll out
AIRING IT OUT
Approach the drop at normal trail speed; going too slow
can cause problems keeping the bike level on takeoff.
Rather than pulling back on the bike, extend your arms
forward and push the bike out in front of you as your
front wheel leaves the takeoff point. Remain in your
crouched position. Once in the air, reposition yourself
over the center of the bike and get ready to absorb the
impact with your arms and legs in the attack position.
Spot the landing and attempt to put both wheels on the
ground at the same time with your weight centered over
Rolling in: Not every drop requires the rider to air it out, though body position is just as crucial on these steep chutes.
There are other drops where it is not necessary or wise
to jump down them, though they can be just as, if not
more, intimidating. These steep chutes or rock faces
require a different approach but with the same fundamentals.
Just like with drops where you get airborne, approach
steep faces in the attack position. Have an idea of the best
entry point, best line through the section and best run-out
beforehand; approach the section slower than you would a
drop. Because you are not worried about
getting both wheels in the air quickly and
evenly, you can come into these sections
at almost a crawl in most cases. While
these steep faces can seem like the exact
opposite of a drop, because you want both
tires to be in contact with the trail, while
you are riding down a face, it is essentially a free fall.
In most cases, using brakes down these
steep chutes will cause problems. If you
are riding on wet rocks or roots, a locked-up tire is much more dangerous and less
controllable than a rolling one. Instead,
come in with controlled speed and let off
the brakes as you crest over the edge.
From your attack position, move the bike
forward underneath you and get your
weight over the back of the bike. Keep
your arms and legs bent to absorb the
drop, and keep looking toward your roll-out point with your fingers hovering over
the brakes, anticipating the acceleration
once back on level ground. As you transition off of the face, keep looking down the
trail. Maintain control of the bike as it
If it feels like you are diving over the
edge with your bike in slow motion, your
position is perfect. If you get too far over
the back, the bike will shoot out from
under you when you hit the transition.
Too far forward and you risk an endo
(going over the bars).
Should you panic once you roll over the
edge, be prepared to ride it out. Your rear
tire may have bounced and you might
believe that you are going to endo, but
keep a firm grip on the bars and see it
through. The transition will automatically
straighten out your bike. If you release
your grip on the bar or try to abandon
ship, you will pile into the earth headfirst.
LEARN FROM OTHERS
Watch riders coming through the drop,
especially if you are at a bike park. Stand
off to the side of the trail to survey the
feature—so you don’t become one yourself. This will give you the opportunity to
watch other riders hit the section and
help you make your line choices.
Start small: Most riders will encounter drops of this size before they ever see a 10-foot free-fall. Thankfully, once you have the technique dialed on the small stuff, it carries over to larger features. Just be sure to take it one step at a time.
WORK YOUR WAY UP
While these techniques will work on
large drops and faces, you definitely
shouldn’t start there. Look for small
examples of these on your local trails or
on intermediate trails at the bike park.
Master the fundamentals on these less
dangerous obstacles before moving on to
the bigger stuff. At the end of the day, if it
is not your job to ride bicycles, you don’t
need to take risks.