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I am trying to learn some very small jumps and bunny-hops. It seems that upon landing from either, there are two options. I am talking here only about the moment of the impact with ground, and not about manoeuvring pre-jump or in the air.

  • Upon landing, one can push with the handlebars down. This seems to have the advantage of delegating the work of absorbing the impact to the forks, which is what they are made for (assume hardtail).

  • Alternatively, one can strive to stay centered on the bike, relaxing the hands, and absorbing most or all of the impact by the feet. This seems to be achieved by kicking downwards when the bike is just about to land.

IS any of those techniques the correct approach? Or am I completely off?

  • Created tag [tag]jumping[/tag], as this seems to be a large part of mtb and dj riding. Edit away if needed. – Vorac Apr 28 '15 at 18:03
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Your assumptions are wrong. Yes, riders do extend their hands and feet just before landing, but not to make the bike work more. They do that so they can make room for the inevitable hand and feet compression which will happen when contacting the ground. If you don't extend hands and feet then you only have:

  • 40cm absorbtion of hands and feet compression
  • 15cm absorbtion of fork and rear shock (on a 150mm travel bike)
  • 2cm absorbtion of tyre compression

anything else is pain on the body and bike.

If you do extend the hands and feet just before touching the ground then you have:

  • 80cm absorbtion of hands and feet compression
  • 15cm absorbtion of fork and rear shock (on a 150mm travel bike)
  • 2cm absorbtion of tyre compression

This video shows an extreme landing at 1000fps but it displays the extend-before-land technique very well:

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If you watch a lot of trials riding, you'll notice they actually land with considerable more force on their rear wheels using their legs as a shock and then (sometimes even gently) touching down their front wheel.

Front suspension was mainly created to maintain control on rough terrain. Trying to use your front suspension to absorb the impact of a jump requires that you put weight forward (or press down on the handlebars as you've pointed out). Doing so however, means you are unweighting the rear of the bike and making yourself more prone to go over the handle bars.

For most of us, the majority of our weight will be on the rear of the bike, and the majority of our strength as well. You're better off using your front suspension to maintain control in your landing than using it to absorb the shock of the landing.

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You want to stay centered. Don't push the bars down. But don't wait to kicking downwards when the bike is just about to land. Extend in air smoothly so you have room to absorb and get ready for landing.

On a hop you are trying to get air so you will be extended. If it a jump you are tying to absorb you will be compressed so you will extend in air. If you are not in the air very long it does not matter much - no kicking - smooth motions.

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While not specifically addressing your question, this post from Lee McCormack addresses body position with jumping. Between that post and others he's put forth, the answer is: heavy feet and light hands. i.e. don't absorb the jump with your hands/arms.

You use your arms and legs to adjust the bike to the landing (as the answer with the super-slow-mo video shows) - getting front and back wheels to land at about the same time. But you should use your legs to do the majority of the absorption (and rear suspension). Which makes sense - would you rather jump off a table and land on your feet/legs or land on your hands/arms? I suspect you'd answer with your feet/legs.

Also, look at BMX riders - fundamentally, their jumping is no different than MTB jumping, and the landing is all taken in by their legs. Similar with trials biking as Chris in AK writes.

With front suspension you have a little leeway - but don't become dependent on it.

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