Riding a mountain bike well is more than being the fastest rider to the end of the trail. The ability to lift and lower wheels develops bike handling skills, improves balance and gets the mind thinking about a bunch of creative and fun riding ideas.
Playing with mates and doing jibs builds confidence and control on two wheels. Jibbing is a generic term which comes from the world of snow sports and describes the act of performing tricks. On bikes, performing jibs or tricks begins with lifting the front wheel, rear wheel or both wheels together.
The Science Behind Lifting Wheels
Newton’s third law of motion states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This means that for wheels to lift and leave the ground, the bike and rider must first compress by pushing towards the ground.
How the bike is compressed will dictate which wheel will lift or which wheel will lift highest. For the best control of compressions, begin with weight in the centred, neutral position. From here it is quick and easy to adjust weight slightly forwards or backwards to achieve the chosen type of wheel lift.
Front Wheel Lift
From the neutral position, compress slightly towards the front of the bike using a little more hip hinge than leg compressions. This transfers weight slightly toward the front of the bike and pushes the fork through some of its travel. From here, use the rebound of the fork to help explode upwards as you unhinge and spring back to the neutral position. Grip the handlebars firmly with your hands to lift the front wheel as you go.
Pedalling Front Wheel Lift
Pedalling wheel lifts are a skill that is used lift the wheel over obstacles while climbing.
From a seated position, straighten your arms and shift your bum slightly towards the rear of the seat. Ride at a slow walking speed and have the bike in a gear that allows for efficient and rapid acceleration. With one foot positioned slightly behind 12 o’clock, engage the hub and drop the hammer, accelerating as quickly as possible. Allow this acceleration to lift the front wheel.
If the front wheel comes up too quickly, stop pedalling or use the rear brake to drop the wheel back to the ground. The feeling of accelerating to lift the front wheel is similar to that of sinking into a car seat under rapid acceleration.
Once you can perform a pedalling wheel lift, continue pedalling with the front wheel in the air and you will progress this skill into a wheelie. Pedal harder to lift the wheel, stop pedalling or brake to lower the wheel. For lateral balance, steering in the opposite direction to which you are falling will help correct loss of balance.
Rear Wheel Lift
From the neutral position, compress slightly towards the rear of the bike using a little more legs than hip hinge. This transfers weight slightly toward the rear of the bike and pushes the shock through some of its travel, for hardtail riders, this loads force onto the rear wheel. From here, explode upwards and spring back to the neutral position. Dual suspension riders can use the rebound of the shock to help this movement. To avoid jumping off the pedals, make sure you tuck your toes to grip onto the pedals and scoop the rear wheel up towards your bum.
Using the front brake to help lift the rear wheel significantly increases the likelihood of crashing, progress slowly and practice in a safe place.
Beginning at a slow walking speed, compress the bike as if preparing for a rear wheel lift. At the bottom of your compression, brace with your arms to prevent collapsing over the front of the bike as you brake firmly to stop the front wheel. As the brake stops the front wheel, perform the same scooping action that is used in a rear wheel lift.
Using the front brake to help lift the rear wheel allows for greater height of the rear wheel and additional creativity to develop skills like stoppies.
When confidence grows and you have trust in your front brake control, increasing entry speed and modulating front brake power will turn an endo into a stoppie. More front brake pressure will bring the rear wheel higher, releasing front brake pressure will allow the rear wheel to drop back to the ground. Rolling on the front wheel and controlling stoppies is a fun challenge but is one that further elevates the risk of crashing over the bars.
Level Lift (or English Bunny Hop)
Keeping weight centred, compress the bike straight down through the pedals and explode straight upwards. Any weight shift forwards or backwards will see pitching in the bike and your wheels will lift unevenly. For a strong compression and maximum height, imagine you have balloons between your pedals and feet and push down firmly as if you’d like to pop the balloons.
Essentially you're combing the front and rear wheel liftt.
Use a front wheel lift to get your wheel in the air. As the wheel is reaching its maximum height, push forward with your arms while tucking your toes and scooping the rear wheel up towards your bum to get the bike airborne. The higher the front wheel lifts before the rear wheel is scooped, the higher your bunny hop will be.
Knowing and understanding these six types of wheel lifts helps riders decide where and when they should be used. On the trail, being able to execute lifts with the front, rear or both wheels will be a massive help to finding flow over technical terrain.
Practicing these lifts in flat, open areas is a safe way to learn. As the skills develop, introduce sticks or small obstacles to hop over. As confidence grows, increase the height of obstacles and create challenges to see how high you can get.
If you’re feeling tricky, combining these lifts with rotation will introduce spins for nose pivots, nose bonks, whips or wheel lifts in and out of turns.
Jibs are great skills to practice while waiting for mates or just at home when there isn’t enough time for a proper ride. Practicing regularly and learning to move the bike freely and confidently will make your two wheels feel like an extension of the body, giving you the confidence and ability to roll away from the trickiest situations.