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The scenario: you're riding in a curb-adjacent, paint-only bike lane. You happen to look over your shoulder (or in your mirror) and see a vehicle approaching from behind, either fully in the bike lane, or close enough that they can't safely pass. Assume that veering to the inside of the approaching vehicle's path (away from the curb) is not an option, and that there is no time to slow and dismount onto the sidewalk.

Is there any technique which can be used here to quickly lift the bike both up and to the side, while traveling at speed, such that you could safely continue your ride on the raised sidewalk until the danger has passed?

Answers that do not require suspension would be ideal, and it would be especially helpful (though improbable) to find a technique that can also be used while carrying reasonably-weighted (~10 pounds) panniers on a rear rack.

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Question: Why are you giving way to a vehicle in your lane? –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 30 at 11:30
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@DanielRHicks Right of way laws only specify whose insurance ends up paying for damages and who ends up in trouble with the police. They say nothing about who will end up injured or killed when someone screws up. The laws of physics OTOH says the smaller vehicle and its passenger(s) will normally end up worse off in the event of a collision. –  Dan Neely Jul 30 at 13:18
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@DanielRHicks Legally don't know. Morally both of you. The car's owner for being in the bike lane where it doesn't belong, and you for failing to ride safely by not looking ahead for too long. –  Dan Neely Jul 30 at 15:40
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Drivers deliberately using their vehicles to assault cyclists is a thing that happens. surrey.police.uk/news/witness-appeals/all-witness-appeals/… It's unusual, and it's unlikely that being able to hop sideways onto a curb will help you, but if a driver is already breaking the law by driving in a bike lane, "giving way" to them may be the safest option. –  armb Jul 30 at 15:47
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But I've found, in 40 years of street/highway riding, that the safest thing to do is to ignore the traffic behind you, except when changing your position in the lane. If you're constantly looking back and constantly moving over for approaching traffic then traffic doesn't know what you're doing (you keep darting back and forth), and, worse yet, you set up the expectation that every cyclist will give way to an overtaking vehicle, making life more dangerous for the rest of us. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 30 at 15:50

7 Answers 7

up vote 21 down vote accepted

You're talking about a "bunny hop" and it can be done at speed on a loaded bike but it's high risk. You'd almost certainly be better off jumping off the bike and rolling. US Bike Trials call it a "side hop", but in anglonesia I've mostly heard it called a bunny hop.

Here's a photo of the 2006 Cycle Messenger World Champion doing more or less that at about 30kph, but wearing a backpack rather than panniers:

bunnyhop curb at speed

Note that at the world championships for people who ride loaded bikes fast all day about 3/4 of the competitors slowed down and used the pram ramp or just stepped up the curb (my photos are of the ones who took the more exciting approach, obviously). In this case they rode along the road, then had to go onto the footpath and turn very slightly onto a path, so slowing down to use the ramp definitely cost them time.

If you're expecting to do this, IMO you're better off learning to dive roll properly. Either through a martial art like aikido or ninjitsu, or through gymnastics. That skill will help you in a much wider range of situations than "if I have a couple of seconds to get organised I can bunny hop". Also, the most likely result of trying this is that you end up hitting the curb with the bike, then the pavement with your body. So rolling will be useful either way...

For me, it took a slightly disturbing number of crashes in my late youth before I was seriously injured, largely due to my ability to roll (loosely speaking, via martial arts training). And when I did eventually break my humerus it was because a roll failed. Even now, I've been riding everywhere for 30-odd years and still my major injuries have all occurred through both my own stupid fault and in effectively single vehicle accidents. The "hit by car" ones have all involved a bit of flying through the air, a roll then a lot of very politely explaining to the motorist that I would like them to give me their insurance details. Now. THANK YOU.

FWIW, I can do a hop like the one shown, on my commuter bike, with panniers, but only with careful preparation and a 90° approach. Jurgen's flying leap approach is not one that I'd try if there was any way to avoid it.

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I'd always assumed that a "bunny hop" implied a roughly 90-degree angle approach to the obstacle, though I guess what you describe is really the same technique with a sharp curb-ward steer beforehand? I could swear I'd read somewhere about some sort of lateral-level-hop that could be used here, though I can't find it and may have hallucinated it to begin with. I'm a bit scared to just try something like that without guidance, since it would be very easy to land with the wheels out-of-track, followed by a faceful of pavement. –  TinKorcim Jul 29 at 23:28
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@TinKorcim I suspect the most likely failure is your rear wheel not quite clearing the curb, so you'd fall sideways with and tangled up in the bike. Which is going to result in a lot of lost skin as you slide to a halt. Which is why I'd be jumping off the bike and rolling. –  Mσᶎ Jul 29 at 23:38
    
Well, my above comment was un-clearly referring to practice on flat ground, but yes, I can see that a curb would just love to grab the back wheel (or both for a level hop) and drop it back into the gutter while the front wheel and/or the rider's weight travel away (insta-crash). I've seen a lot of Aikido recommendations on this site and elsewhere, so I'll definitely look into that as an option, since I don't think my Tae Kwon Do background will help much here. :-) –  TinKorcim Jul 29 at 23:44
    
Anglonesia. Love it :-) –  andy256 Jul 30 at 4:12
    
I will add that I bunny hop curbs all the time and also commute with panniers. Bunny hopping with panniers? Too difficult and too high odds of failure. Add almost no time to prepare... now we are heading into super low odds of success. The odds do go up a bit with bigger tires as they can make up to some degrees your short comings. –  Rider_X Jul 30 at 16:32

Short answer: yes, there is a way to do it. I fully support Mσᶎ's answer and have more to say than will fit in comments.

Firstly, regarding the original premise.

You happen to look over your shoulder (or in your mirror) and see a vehicle approaching from behind, either fully in the bike lane, or close enough that they can't safely pass.

If I'm riding a bike in a bike lane, the only time I would even consider getting out of the way of a vehicle approaching from behind is for an emergency vehicle with lights and sirens. Everybody else just has to wait. They chose to drive in the bike lane, so that's the way it is.

The caveat is in the words consider and safely. When safety is stake, there is no time to consider. Just get out of way. Anyhow you can.

But regarding bunny hops (edit: talking here about road bikes, at speed; thanks to @JamesF for pointing out the difference)

  • They are a skill, and so can be learned.

  • They are a skill, and to be available on call they have to be practiced.

  • Your feet must be attached to the pedals. You can bet the messenger in Mσᶎ's answer is using SPD pedals.

  • If using drop bars, learn to bunny hop with your hands on the tops or hoods, and with both hands in the same position on each side.

  • On a road bike (almost) the only way of jumping is to get your body mass moving upward. The basic way of doing this is to crouch lower on the bike, then spring up. If you're holding on with your hands and your feet are attached then the bike will follow.

  • First thing to practice is landing straight. That really means being straight on take-off and staying straight for landing. The essential thing is that your front wheel is pointing in the direction of travel on landing.

  • It's now time to start jumping small obstacles, like twigs and small bumps / cracks in the pavement.

  • Second thing is to get equal elevation with both wheels. Since you need to have your head up, you cannot look down to check this. If your wheels are uneven you will know because one will land first. Usually it's the back one. As you gradually jump larger objects, you could also feel one wheel touch, again, it's usually the back one. This is caused by pulling up on the handlebars too much; concentrate on pulling the bike up with your legs. Just a little. In Mσᶎ's picture you can see the rider is at full upward extension and can now pull the back wheel higher.

  • Now it's time to work on height. This is mostly a matter of coordination and timing, rather than huge effort. Certainly it take more effort to jump higher, but concentrate on the coordination. Crouch and jump. Crouch and jump higher. Rhythm. You should be easily jumping 15cm (6in) high in a day or two. That's enough to get you over most obstacles, but not up many kerbs. You'll need at least 20cm (8in) for that.

  • And now aim for distance. Distance is a function of speed and time in the air. Time in the air is determined by height. By my math, if you can jump 15cm then you are in the air for about a quarter of a second. At 20kph (12mph), you are covering about 5.5 meters per second. So you can jump about 1.4m (56 inches). That's only about 40cm (16 inches) more than your bike's wheel base, but it's enough to jump small objects. For things like man-hole covers you need to get more air and/or go faster.

So that's how to do basic bunny hops. You need a moment to prepare (crouch, get hands in position) before you hop. So it's not something to do in an emergency, unless you happen to be already in position.

What you asked for was a hop sideways up the kerb. There are two ways to do this; the guy in the photo is riding at an angle to the kerb, and is just jumping in a straight line. Easy if you are super confident of your skills. Disaster if you catch your front wheel on the kerb. The other way is to jump sideways. You can learn to do that too, but this post is already getting too long. I saw a guy in the TDF do it once on a descent when he ran wide on a corner. One way to learn is to start by doing a track-stand and hopping sideways. See Jimirings' answer for that.

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One minor quibble about bunny hops: you don't need to be clipped in to do them. In fact, I found it much easier to get my bike in the air using flat pedals than SPDs. When you're clipped in, there is a temptation to pull up the back end of the bike first, when I'd argue (especially if you're trying to move up over an obstacle) you should really get the front wheel up before the back one. –  JamesF Jul 30 at 5:02
    
@JamesF Are you thinking of a bike with suspension or fat tires? And getting both wheels off the ground at the same time? –  andy256 Jul 30 at 5:09
    
@JamesF Meant in a polite, enquiring, keen to learn kind of way of course :-) –  andy256 Jul 30 at 5:10
    
@andy256 handlebar-only bunny hops are at least as easy as clipped in ones - look at BMX and trials riders. It just requires a bit of hand pressure up and forward to stick the bike to your feet. But add panniers and that gets (a lot) harder. Hopping sideways is a key skill for trials riding. –  Mσᶎ Jul 30 at 6:52
    
@Mσᶎ I think we need a common definition of a bunny hop. I certainly agree that handle-bar only hops can be done w/o being clipped. My defn of a bunny hop involves both wheels in the air. Our terminology index doesn't help. What is your definition? –  andy256 Jul 30 at 7:01

The "trick" you're looking for is a side hop. It's really a variation on a bunny hop.

Basically, you perform a standard bunny hop but when the handlebars and front wheel reach their zenith, you pull the front end over the obstacle while pushing them forward. The forward motion pulls the rear wheel up, as with a standard bunny hop. However, you additionally use your hips and legs to push the rear of the bike over the curb as well.

The video I linked to above gives a good example. The one quibble I have is that he says that it's easier to jump away the side of your forward facing foot. I find the opposite to be true. I find that my rear foot gives me more leverage to push the rear wheel over the obstacle. But really, I can do them both ways. I can just do them higher and farther in my preferred direction.

Side hops are typically done from a trackstand rather than in motion. This is because they are mostly used for trials and executing the trick from a standstill offers more precision and control. Practice from a standstill. Once you get relatively good at it, try doing it while rolling slowly. Then gradually increase speed.

When starting out, practice on flat ground that has some sort of marking on it, e.g., painted lines, different color bricks, chalk lines, whatever. From a trackstand, try to hop from a few inches to the side of the marking onto it. Once you can do that confidently, try hopping from the same starting position, but over the marking. Then try from farther away.

Once you've got that down, add some height in. Stairs are a good place to practice. Once you can hop onto a single stair, find a wide stairway and try to hop all the way to the top of it. If you have to put a foot down, make sure to do it on the higher step. You won't be able to reach the lower step and could tumble down the stairs.

At this point, you're ready to start trying to do it rolling. Go back to your flat ground with markings on it. You'll find that you can't side hop as high or far while rolling. At least, not initially. I can't explain why it's different, but it definitely is. You'll get a feel for it much more quickly though and soon you'll be ready to tackle curbs. Do so slowly at first. You'll probably catch your rear wheel and come to a skidding halt a few times. Once you get it, go faster and faster until it's second nature.

Practice each step in both directions. If you get good at going one direction first, it will be more frustrating to learn to go the other way.

Doing this with a backpack on is nothing. Doing it with a weighted rear end (i.e., panniers) is a whole different ball game. While it may be possible, it would certainly not be easy. You simply don't have the same leverage with the weight on the rear. I would also worry that the jarring of the panniers and rack would ultimately damage them. Racks are not designed to withstand a lot of lateral force. Pannier hooks are also not typically designed for impact forces. If you find yourself having to do this often, you might have to resign yourself to riding with a backpack.

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+1 for finding that side hop video, and for the incremental instructions. –  TinKorcim Jul 30 at 18:31

First how is the bike set up?

  • 25mm tires versus 32m (or bigger) is different.
  • Clip versus clip-less is confusing.
    Are you snapped in like a SPD?

There are a few hops

  • Straight hop
    Pretty much need to be snapped in then lower you body and jump and pull up on pedals and bars. This is great for hopping up curbs but you need to be pointed at the curb. And you need to have enough speed that both wheels clear the curb. In an emergency if you see them in the mirror you don't have time to point the whole bike into the curb. If you were really good you could hop up and to the side.
  • What I call a two stage bunny
    You hop the front wheel and then after the front wheel lands you hop the rear. Pull up on the bars to raise the front wheel and when you land lean forward and pull the rear. Easier if you are snapped in. Not snapped in I like pedals at like 4 and 10 to push into them to pull up the rear end. This is your most likely see them in the mirror scenario. Get the front wheel over - this will get your body over the curb. Hopefully hop the rear. Even if you don't hop the rear you bang the rear wheel and stay up or bang the rear and crash.
  • Real bunny
    Not what you would use in a I see them in mirror. You pull up the front with knees still bent and when you get the rear wheel under you hop. This is how you get distance / height. It is hard as if you push off too soon the nose dives. And if you hop too late you go out the back. Practice on a soft surface with a helmet.

This video describe the two stage bunny hop. BunnyLikePro But what he does at 15 seconds is a real bunny.

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The easy part being the initial front wheel clearance of the curb. If you can then turn your front wheel further into the sidewalk as you land it and unweight the back of the bike, (easier still if you are clipped in, as you can pull the back up with your legs), the effect is almost that of hopping the kerb at an less than 90 degree angle. Occasionally the back may not clear but the initial steer deeper into the sidewalk, reduces the likelihood of a straight dump to the floor.

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When I was younger I was able to do it by jumping up with the front wheel, and then letting the back wheel "slide" diagonally whilst going further in with the front wheel. This made the angle of approach increase and eventually it would climb up when about 45 degrees or so. I suppose that it is not good for the health of the tire/wheel, but it worked and did not feel that dangerous. (Sometimes it just lead to a stop, when not able to climb with the back wheel, since the friction was high). I also combined it with what @Blam calls the two stage bunny. So decreasing pressure on the back by tilting forward, and jumping with the back. (This was done with a bike without pedal clips)

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If you want to be safe from rear collision then you shouldn't mind a bit of lost time/speed or minor damage to your bike.

So you will want a turn onto the sidewalk if you have a second or 2 then veer away from the curb and then turn back to get an as big angle as possible for the curb. You can use the handlebars to pull your front-wheel up the curb and when it's the rear-wheel's turn push on the pedals to get it on the curb.

If you are in a lower gear then the pushing on the pedals will help more. If you have a decent load in a pannier then you should forget any type of hop up the curb and just let the tire and rim of the rear wheel take the hit to get you to safety.

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