By Fred Matheny
You’re riding on a narrow road close to the edge because traffic is picking up. As you round a curve, you hear (and see in your mirror) a car approaching from the rear and also see a gaping pothole directly ahead on your line.
You can’t miss it on the left because the car is almost alongside. You can’t go right because the drop-off would catch your front wheel and cause a sure crash. Plowing into the pothole would pinch-flat your tires, maybe damage your rims and might leave you in a heap. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place!
The way out of this dilemma is to hold your line and “bunny hop” over the pothole. This may sound like a circus trick that’s possible only if you’re a bike-handling wizard with daredevil tendencies. But it’s actually a relatively easy skill to learn. It’s a useful one, too. It can save your wheels (and even your skin) by letting you fly your bike over all kinds of potential problems.
It’s the kind of riding “tool” that you might need only once in a blue moon, but the need usually arises instantaneously, so adding this very necessary skill to your arsenal is a worthwhile activity. And both reviewing – and practicing – the technique now and again will keep it fresh in your mind for when that gaping pothole comes out of nowhere.
Five Steps to Learning to Bunnyhop
Ride to your favorite grassy practice field. Use an old bike if you have one because you might land clumsily at first. No use in risking wheel damage to your good bike if you can help it. Wear your helmet and gloves, and take something soft to use as an obstacle. A rolled towel works well. You don’t need anything bigger because several inches of elevation will get you safely over most road hazards. Here’s the drill:
1. Ride toward the obstacle at about 10 mph (16 kph). The faster you go, the tougher it is to get the timing right, but the easier it is to get airborne and the farther you’ll fly.
2. As you approach the obstacle, stop pedaling, with crankarms horizontal. Crouch with your elbows and knees well bent and your butt slightly off the saddle. Be in a coiled, balanced position with your head up and weight on hands and feet. Have you played basketball? It’s the defensive stance. Tennis? Pretend you’re ready to receive a serve. Football? You’re a linebacker, primed for anything once the play begins. Be like a cat about to pounce.
3. Timing is everything, and practice is what develops it. You need to judge the right distance from the obstacle, based on your speed and the height and distance you need to be in the air. Spring upward, taking the pedals with you. Simultaneously pull up on the handlebar so the front wheel rises to the same height as the rear. Your brain must solve a number of calculus problems all at once, and this works best the less you think about the individual elements. Practice makes them automatic.
Perhaps the toughest part to master is pulling up equally with hands and feet. Pull too hard on the pedals and you’ll be airborne with the front wheel hanging down. You’ll be trying to land while doing a nose wheelie. That’s risky. But if you pull up too hard with your hands, the rear wheel will drag as you soar, touch down first and make your front wheel land with a thud. Again, not ideal for bike control.
Here’s a drill that will help: Ride along the grassy field at walking pace, coast for a second with pedals level, then hop both wheels a couple of inches off the ground simultaneously. Don’t try to jump anything. Land, keep rolling and do it again 15 meters later. Your wheels will let you know when they are hitting the ground in unison.
4. Land softly by using bent knees and elbows to absorb the shock. Strive for a feather-like touchdown that doesn’t shock your body or bang your wheels. Remember, you’re a pouncing cat. Land as gently as a tabby jumping off a table.
5. When you’re smooth on a grassy field and confident in this newfound skill, move to an empty parking lot with your rolled towel. On pavement, you’ll be able to work on faster approaches and longer jumps.
When out on the road during normal riding, jump judiciously. No matter how smoothly you land, jumping still takes a toll on equipment. Some riders pop over railroad tracks or potholes just for the fun of being airborne. But jumping is a skill to use in specific circumstances, not for cheap thrills.
During more than 30 years in cycling journalism, Fred Matheny has written hundreds of fitness & training articles for top bike magazines and websites. Many of his best eBooks and eArticles are on sale in the RBR eBookstore. As a rider, he has raced to medals in state and national championships, plus a senior world record in the Team Race Across America. As a coach, he has worked with hundreds of riders at PAC Tour Training Camps, Carpenter/Phinney Bike Camps, and Dirt Camp.