I crashed hard on my first attempt to ride the new 4-foot high skinny drop at Hillside MTB Park in Elk River, MN a month or so ago. I somehow had it in my head to not go too fast, that it was better to err on the slow side. And since I’m good at riding skinnies, riding it slow was not a problem, or so I thought. 22-second video:
Looking at the video, clearly visible in the slowmo segment, I not only approached the lip too slow but I didn’t use any ‘technique.’ My front wheel dropped immediately and OTB I went.
Fortunately, I was completely armored up: chest and spine protection, shoulder & elbow pads, hip and tailbone pads, knee and shin pads. Unfortunately, I was pretty shaky afterwards and decided to bail on my riding companions, L to R, Paul Hogan, Troy Sierakowski, and Bradley Cyr:
I sustained some cracked ribs on my right side, which have pretty much healed since with no complications.
Here’s a video of Hillside’s DirtWirx trail steward Rich Omdahl riding the skinny drop on the day it was installed this past summer:
My primary mistake was one of judgement. I have ridden a few intermediate-level drops, including this one recently at Lebanon Hills:
In retrospect, I didn’t take the time to carefully analyze the Hillside skinny drop and think about what was needed. I was fixated on not going too fast. ‘Technique’ didn’t enter my brain. I might have been too cocky.
The upside of a crash like this in which I get hurt but not severely is that I’m motivated to learn. I’m confident I can do this drop but I’m definitely not cocky now. I’m curious. What are the elements of drop techniques? What’s done for different types of drops? What drills and exercises can help develop drop skills and the confidence needed?
I found this Bike Magazine article on drops by Seb Kemp in which he describes the the ‘lunge’ technique:
“Get into a low athletic position: bend your arms and knees to load your suspension and to get ready to initiate your move. Lunge the bike forward off the drop: push the bike out in front of you by extending your arms and legs. Accelerate the bike out from underneath you by forcefully pushing it forwards. This should feel like you are allowing your hips to go back but really the bike should be moving forward faster underneath you, not you going backwards.”
This series of screengrabs from Rich Omdahl’s ride seems to show some of this ‘lunge’ motion. Note his extended arms in photo 3:
I found this UK Global Mountain Bike Network video on drops to be helpful primarily because it explains why a pedal wheelie is a generally a bad idea for any kind of drop:
Their recommendation to use a manual technique, however, should not be interpreted that you do a manual wheelie off the drop. It’s the ‘slide’ or ‘lunge’ motion of a manual that they recommend.
But the most helpful instructions (text and videos) come from RL Connection, the membership area of Ryan Leech’s mtb coaching site where he has two-part video series titled Lofting Drops:
For small to medium-sized drops (either to flat or to transition), he teaches that it’s enough to use a basic front wheel lift, unweighting the front wheel and using enough speed so that your rear wheel clears the edge of the drop. (A basic front wheel lift is not a pedal wheelie, nor is it a manual.)
For higher drops, he advises shifting your weight back (combination manual and front wheel lift) to ‘suspend’ the front wheel off the lip and then absorbing the rear wheel off the lip with your legs. This ‘absorb’ technique is best understood by watching his Part 2 video and noting 1) what his legs are doing before his front wheel goes off the lip, and 2) what his legs are doing after his rear wheel goes off the lip. It’s a subtle but distinct difference from the riders in the UK Global Mountain Bike Network video.
Absorb is the best way I can describe it, because it’s this leg motion that contributes to the smoothness of the drop and also the eventual angle of the bike in the air – there are varying degrees at which this absorption can happen and it can be adjusted on the fly as need be…
All this is academic until I actually get on a bike and start practicing and experimenting, of course. In a normal winter, I would have to wait till the spring thaw in April. But we’re having an ugly warm and snowless winter thus far, so it could be sooner.
Update January 8: I was notified yesterday that I won Pinkbike’s Fail of the Month for November for my skinny drops crash video. The announcement is visible at the bottom of the Fail of the Month for December. I guess this is good news. 😉