Launching off a jump and flying through the air is probably one of the most intoxicating aspects to riding a dirt bike but also the hardest to learn.
It's not for the faint of heart but for those who can master it, taking those jumps is what keeps them coming back for more.
There really is no tried-and-true method to the action of riding a dirt bike off a jump but as with any stunt, trick or maneuver a little bit of instruction goes a long way. If you're just starting out riding a dirt bike, come back later after you're completely comfortable on the bike and have some experience. What else you should know is practicing first on a bicycle doesn't cut it. A dirt bike produces so much more power you can't bridge the two.
Like anything worth mastering, small steps and practice are the means to the end. Don't expect to double a triple anytime soon and don't throw caution to the wind. You want to ride another day. Take it slow, one jump at a time. Depending on your proclivities, it could take you months just to get two wheels off the ground, and years to muster the courage necessary to really fly.
Work Your Way Up
Your first jump probably won't be an actual jump. A step-up is exactly what it sounds like, a step up in elevation on the track. A step-up is a perfect introduction to a jump because you can ride through them and get the feel of the bike as you go up and over without the sharp lip so common with a jump. Eventually, take a step-up fast enough and you'll get airborne.
A step-up is a great way to get started
In many respects, reverting to your childhood is a good start. Those five- and six-year old Motocrossers don't hurl themselves off large jumps and neither should you. A step-up could be that first jump for you but at least find a small jump to slowly increase your speed as you repeatedly ride over it until you get the front wheel off then both wheels off.
You'll also want to be in a comfortable environment where you're not competing for track time or crowded by other more accomplished riders. You need space and the opportunity to ride at your own pace. A private riding area is best but if one is not available check the local track for limited practice hour sessions.
Start with small jumps not one the size of LaRocco's Leap
Body positioning is crucial to the lead-up, the take-off and landing. The positioning is easy, maintaining it throughout is not.
- Stand, don't sit down
- Grip the bike with your knees
- Keep your knees bent
- Hold your elbows out
- Position your head and shoulders over the handlebars right above the forks
This is how you'll ride into and through the jump. Don't pull up on the bike as you reach the lip, let the momentum carry you up and over while you maintain the standing position.
Holding this position while practicing through a step-up or small jump without launching off it helps the muscle memory for the day you make the big jump. Sitting down can actually kick you off the bike in the event of a rough landing. You'll think it's safer and more controlled to sit, but the opposite is true.
What's more, leaning too far forward can cause you to flip over the bars if you don't land right or you're on the throttle. Leaning too far back can you send you off the back of the bike or bring about a case of whiskey throttle.
Perfectly executed jump
The Big Jump
On the day of your big jump choose a table top. This eliminates the worry of landing too short or over-jumping. A tabletop also serves as a good initial practice tool because it allows you to gradually increase speed and build confidence until you finally go fast enough to get airtime.
If you've been practicing the smaller jumps first you'll know to not let up on the throttle. It's a natural reaction to want to slow down but this is why you practice the jump slowly at first and work your way to a speed that gets you off the ground while you've mastered the habit of throttle control. As you approach the face of the jump keep going.
Once airborne, maintain your body position. This keeps the bike as flat as possible. Rolling the throttle once or twice lets you know that indeed you have two wheels off the ground. Upon landing, again maintain that body position or risk getting thrown off.
Do it Again
Now that you've got one honest to goodness dirt bike jump under your belt, try it again. Gradually you'll increase speed and the length of your jump. Once you are comfortable slaying a table top you can move on to the more technical jumps that require a bit of geometry - finding the right speed to jump a double without landing short or too long.
Eventually, you'll reach new heights
Take a Class
Finally, the best way to hone your skills and take away some of the fear factor is take a training class. The feedback from a pro, who can watch from the sidelines and point out what you're doing right and wrong, is the most effective way to get up to speed. Plus, a class sets aside the time and space needed to practice your jumps.
Whether you try it on your own or take a class find a jump you are comfortable with and don't have to worry about what's on the other side.
One more thing, after that first successful jump, enjoy the moment, but realize many other riders can do it 10 times better. Don't showboat and try a heel-clicker the next time around.
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