Drops come in all shapes and sizes. Rocks, roots, human built wood features and natural elevation changes all create drops ranging from the size of a curb to the size of a building. When ridden correctly, drops are Fun-with-a-capital-F. However, before you start sending yourself off the biggest drop you can find, it’s important to understand some basic concepts and get your drop technique dialed.
There are multiple techniques for riding a drop and with no standard mountain biking dictionary, you’ve likely heard these different drop styles called multiple different names: the squash, basic form, down/back, huck, whip, racer style, stomp n’ send, (pre)-load n’ explode. Phew, that’s a lot of names.
In this article we are going to focus specifically on technique that we call the “Down/Back Technique”. We’ve also heard this method referred to as a “Basic Drop” or “Manual Style”. The Down/Back Technique is an important foundational technique to have in your riding tool belt! With that, let’s get to dropping…
1. Scout It Out
Take note of the condition of the drop – this includes any rocks, roots or logs. How steep is it? What does the landing look like? What are the consequences of overshooting or undershoot the landing?
When you first start riding drops, you may want to get off your bike to investigate a drop before “sending it”. This will help you to gather important information about setting your speed, anything you need to prepare for in the landing area, etc. Start small, say 1-2 ft, and build up from there.
Roll up to the drop at the correct speed – which you will have already determined in step 1 after scouting out the drop. Knowing the correct speed for a drop takes time and (progressive) practice. If you are going too slow, your front wheel will dive as soon as it rolls off the edge and could toss you over the bars. Too fast and you might overshoot the landing. We don’t want either of those so be sure you approach at the right speed. If you aren’t sure on the speed, watch another rider first or maybe have a (reliable) buddy who has ridden the drop before “tow” you in to help you set the correct speed.
3. Down + Back
The next two movements, down and back, are done quickly in rapid succession. This explosion down and back will create an L shaped movement. The goal of this movement is to keep your front wheel level with the take off until the back wheel leaves the drop (ramp, rock, root). This will prevent your wheel (and you) from dropping down nose first (thanks gravity!).
First, drop DOWN into your ready position as your front wheel approached the edge of the drop. This means:
Center your weight over your pedals (think heavy feet) and keep your hands light. Relax your grip on the handlebars.
Bend your knees.
Keep your arms bent and relaxed.
Get your “trunk” low and centered.
Eyes up and looking ahead at the landing
Just as your front wheel reaches the edge, shoot your hips straight back, lightly hanging off the handlebars. Your arms should straighten and you should not be pulling back on the bars.
This down + back L shaped movement is similar to the movement used to initiate a manual (but you don’t need to be able to ride a manual to successfully hit a drop with this technique). Be sure to note that going diagonally back in one motion, rather than dropping straight down and then back in two distinct motions, will not have the same results!
If you are new to riding drops, before you hit the trail, we recommend practicing the down-back “manual” motion in a flat open area. You should be able to get your front wheel to lift off the ground by hanging back for a second. Get your body used to this movement and then take it to the drops
Re-center your weight as soon as the rear wheel leaves the drop. This will put you in a position that allows you to use your handlebars and arms to match your bike to the angle of the landing. Utilize the “suspension” in your arms to push the bike down to meet the landing.
If you don’t re-center and you land too far back on the bike, your front wheel will start to loose traction and you loose the ability to control the front of the bike.
The slower you ride the drop, the more explosive your down/back movement will need to be. When riding slower, it will take longer for your rear wheel to reach the edge of the drop, which means you will need to keep that front wheel up for slightly longer. A faster drop will require less of a shift back because the rear wheel will reach the end of the drop faster. You may find that doing drops at a higher speed can be easier, but that doesn’t mean all drops are meant to be ridden at high speed so take your time to walk through the steps above to find drop success!
5. Keep it Quiet and Smooth
Your landing should be quiet and smooth. Prepare your legs to soak up the landing (remember, your legs are another form of suspension on the bike – put them to work). Maintain a slight bend in the knees so you can take up the landing.
If you are landing on descending ground, you want to land front wheel first (OR, both wheels at the exact same time). On a descending landing, do you not want to land rear wheel first as you will likely get whiplash as you front wheels slams down.
Another thing to consider- keep the landing quiet! If you’ve ever watched an advanced rider hit a big drop – they make it look so smooth and easy AND they land quietly. No big thud. No jerky motions. No whiplash.
Here is a easy exercise you can do to help your body and mind understand what a “quiet” landing feels like. Without your bike, jump straight up and down and try to land as LOUD as possible. Then do that same thing again, this time trying to land as QUIETLY as possible. Can you hear (or see) the difference? What are you doing differently with your landing? On the “quiet” landing, you should be gently soaking up the jump with your legs. You want to do the same thing on a drop!
6. Roll Out
As you land, return to your ready position with your body centered and your eyes looking up and ahead. Quickly returning this position will set you up to safely tackle whatever obstacles come up next.
Thanks to Instructor Jeremiah “Scratch” Stone for showing us how it’s done in these photos!
I really enjoyed the Intermediate/Advanced clinic with Aaron in Palmer Park, Colorado Springs. Aaron made sure that every skill was...
Ninja Mountain Bike Skills
I really enjoyed the Intermediate/Advanced clinic with Aaron in Palmer Park, Colorado Springs. Aaron made sure that every skill was practiced thoroughly. He was paying attention to every move and detail and was very patient. My riding has definitely improved since than and I have been practicing the skills a lot on single track. The best advice I received - visualize yourself doing it! I definitely recommend this class to bikers of all levels. ~Yana Brown
I consider myself a strong intermediate MTB rider; I love highly technical downhill single track trails. A friend suggested I...
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I consider myself a strong intermediate MTB rider; I love highly technical downhill single track trails. A friend suggested I take a multi-day skills clinic to help get to the next level. After a brief search I found that Ninja Bike Skills 3 day skills clinic up in Big Bear CA. If you have never taken a class then the old adage "you don't know what you don't know" probably holds true; it did with me. While it the clinic started off simple, the skills taught build on one-another to ensure you have solid foundation basics needed to safely leverage the higher skill stuff taught at the back end of the class. Richard and Aaron brought two great perspectives as one is a XC/Edurance/Enduro rider and the other is dedicated to gravity downhill. The teaching style was simple and actionable. All the Ninja instructors are very knowledgeable and very passionate about MTB which is infectious and make the class fun. I would highly recommend to any level riders who have never had any instruction in MTB skills. Plus if you take the class at a place like Snow Summit Big Bear, you get to ride amazing trails!! ~Greg A.
I'm a road Triathlete that lucked into a XTERRA World Championship slot via the lottery last year. Being a road...
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I'm a road Triathlete that lucked into a XTERRA World Championship slot via the lottery last year. Being a road triathlete, I had very little experience and no technical skills on a mountain bike. I took the Ninja beginner and then intermediate classes almost back to back. Richard is a great teacher, and taught the sequential skills that matter most. He does a great job of "breaking things down" with the what and the why, and illustrates the information well with his demonstrations, all the while, delivering it with a sense of humor and enthusiasm. Richard's instruction helped me successfully get through a very technical course in Maui without major injury! Yea, thank you Richard!!. Whether a complete beginner or an advanced rider, I promise you can take a lot away from his classes.... and, let's be honest ...Who doesn't want to be a Ninja! ~ Ray S.
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I’ve been coaching road & track riding for years. Got into mtn bike riding because of the terrain near our...
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I’ve been coaching road & track riding for years. Got into mtn bike riding because of the terrain near our home AND my daughters like to ride in the dirt. Took classes through the high school league to be more acquainted with the fundamentals skills and acquire more knowledge of the NICA league rules. Coach La China and staff broke down the skills for our team riders in a fun and engaging process. Team Eastlake Cycling Team thank you for your time, energy and expertise to bring our riders to a new level of confidence. ~Ron G.
I took a Fundamental Skill clinic last weekend and learned so much! I've been riding for a few years and...
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I took a Fundamental Skill clinic last weekend and learned so much! I've been riding for a few years and felt stuck and was not improving at all. Aaron was a great instructor! Very patient and broke down everything step by step and we repeated the skills until we felt comfortable. I look forward to mastering the skills I learned and taking another clinic in the spring. ~Jody Hachenberger-Amend
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