|Professional Tweaks, Tips & Reviews By "AJ" Picarello
|I hope you find my Tweaks and Tips section helpful. If there is something you want to know about, send me an email and I will try to add that to one of my upcoming articles.
When I say “drops” I’m talking about a 90 degree ledge you can’t roll down. At some point in the future I will discuss how to roll off steep terrain. A “drop off” requires some air time. Many people are uncomfortable in the air. Do not stress. Flying off a drop is actually easier than hitting a double jump. Sure you need some bike control, but regardless, style or no style, gravity will bring you down. The first step is to learn on small drops before you hit the Pro line. Start off gradually on 2’ drops. It’s unfortunate, but during the learning curve, your front tire will either drop abruptly or become lifted too high. A 2’ drop will hurt a lot less than a 15’. I don’t care what a Buddhist Monk might think. Crushing your boys repeatedly can become an annoyance. You need to gain confidence on smaller terrain and hone in on some skills.
The next very important step is to make sure the drop is built correctly. I’ve walked away from many a sketched out drop off. A properly built drop should have a fairly smooth and straight approach. The landing should be steep enough to not crush your body and bike. How steep do I mean? Depends on how high the drop. Watch the locals hit it first. If the impact if so great that their head hits the frames top tube, then stay away. That drop is an ankle breaker. A sure sign that a drop is built poorly is that audible metal to metal clank you hear on impact. Keep hitting a drop like that and you’re sure to crack your frame. Stay away from drops that land on an off camber. They may be safe (in dry conditions) once you have the technique down pat. Watch out for drops that land into single track. The landing should be wide and have room for error. I’ve hit some drops that are like threading a needle. They can be fun, but are not the one’s to learn on. The worst drops are the types that land on hiking trails, school yards or in a park setting. I disapprove of anyone building these stunts in poor locations. Go deep people.
Proper speed is the key to a successful drop. Too fast and you may overshoot the landing, too slow and the front wheel noses like an anchor. Determining proper speed is different with every drop off. I can’t help you in this department. All I can say is try and roll off the drop with just enough speed not to nose dive. An experienced rider can ride off a drop at any speed he wants. Slow speeds force the rider to lean his body way back behind the seat. The bikes front tire is the first thing to take flight. A rider must lean his weight back in order to prevent the front wheel from diving. The slower the speed, the further back you have to lean.
I notice beginners launching off drops. This is a big mistake, unless you’re forced to clear obstacles below and in front of the drop. Do not “bunny hop” off the edge. The drop is already high enough so stay low. Let the bike simply roll out and off the edge. Keep your body as low as you can before you take flight. When leaning back, your seat should almost hit you in the chest.
Once in the air, let the bike flow with the incline of the terrain. Once the rear wheel clears the drop, extend your body and touch both wheels down at the same time. Landing rear wheel first is very bad on a long travel mountain bike. Maybe you learned to land that way on a hard tail to flat bottom. It’s not the 80’s any more. It’s time to break that dirty little habit. In time, landing rear wheel first will stress out the frames head tube. You could “flair” a head tube in one weekend landing this way.
Let the suspension take up the initial impact then use your extended body to absorb the rest. Use all the travel you have in both the bike and your body. Properly absorbing the impact will extend the life of your bike and body. A smooth landing takes less effort and you can save your energy for the finish line sprint. It also looks impressive and your bike hardly makes a sound.
Done right, hitting a drop off the way that I explained can win you races. The fastest rider almost always looks like the guy that going the slowest. Racer boy’s bike is silent and his wheels are always on the ground. Ride low and put down power when ever possible. If not for the sake of winning, do it because it looks fantastic both in person and on video.
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