How to land jumps: front wheel or rear wheel first?

Which wheel, where, and when?

Full video is here:

Every once in a while, someone will ask why I’m not landing front wheel first, or both wheels together, more often.  Well, there’s a reason why, but the more I thought about this, I realized it’d be a great tutorial!

This sender jump in Mexico allowed for a ton of distance and height. Since there’s no landing at all, I’m pushing down HARD to get the rear wheel to contact first, and I’m anticipating that the handlebars are going to shoot forwards with a lot of force upon impact.  I do this a lot- both big hucks to flat, and rear wheel heavy landings.  

There are three possible ways of landing a jump on your bike- front wheel first, rear wheel first, and both wheels together at the same time.  

Landing front wheel first, and initiating a BIG pump down that landing!

Now, landings come in all shapes and sizes.  And sometimes, there’s no landing at all!  

  Landing rear wheel first, helpful if the trajectory means Ill be landing somewhere flat, and not on the actual landing.
Landing two wheels at the same time.

The best technique to employ depends on a few factors.  The best technique on today’s Strava ride might not be the best technique on tomorrow’s recovery ride.  

Mountain bikers often say they prefer landing front wheel first.  I do this on occasion, but I make sure it’s when the landing has a nice, steep backside.  The “front wheel first” technique sets the bike naturally into the landing, can be very smooth, and sets you up great for a solid pump.

See how nice and steep that landing is? Ive pushed the bars forward while tucking my legs up under me, and once the rear wheel has landed, Im pumping by pushing down HARD with my legs.

If I’m landing flat, which means well past a jump’s landing, or if there is no downslope landing present, I’ll almost never land front wheel first. When you land front wheel first, it’s really hard to absorb that landing force smoothly.  While it does set you up nicely for a big pump, it’s crucial that there’s a nice, downslope present.  

This jump has a nice steep landing, so Im nosing into it while smiling. Now you can see that I have the rear end whipped out a little- thats because the jump is so short I can scrub a little distance by squiggling the bike.

Both wheels together: when there isn’t much excess down force to dissipate, a simultaneous front/rear wheel landing can be great.  If you’re riding a very well built jump, where the angle of the landing matches the angle of trajectory, then this is a solid move.  You won’t be able to get as much bonus ‘pump’ out of this as with a front wheel first landing, but for such well built features, you won’t be needing to pump them extra hard, as they’ll naturally work for the assumed correct trail speed.  If there is no landing present, then both wheels at the same time is a softer way to land than front wheel first.  However, it’s relying on the bike’s few inches of suspension to cushion everything.  140mm of travel isn’t much to rely on when you’re up in the sky!

This jump is really well sized for my trail speed, so I don’t need to do anything fancy in order to match my wheels to the ground.  Nice work Manual Mike!
This landing is also well positioned after this drop, so Im simply matching the angle of my wheels to the angle of the landing.

Rear wheel first is my go-to move when I’m way higher than I should be, as that usually means I’ll be landing well past the landing.  Or it could be that I’m boosting a small jump higher than the builder intended, so the available landing will be too flat.  

Landing rear wheel first, helpful if the trajectory means Ill be landing somewhere flat, and not on the actual landing.

I grew up riding BMX, and we did not have suspension to cushion our landings.  Instead, we’d land rear wheel first with legs extended, then absorb part of the landing energy with our knees.  Then as the front wheel smacks down, it’s a lot less force to the arms.  

This drop just got a brand new landing thanks to the Bellingham Youth Trail Corps- GREAT work kids!!! Im still dropping the rear wheel, as the impact will still be more than my old bones want to handle!

You don’t need to be a master at manualing to land rear wheel first.  It’s simply a matter of pulling back on the bars and extending the legs.  Of course, you can over do it, and loop out.  Looping out sucks, but from my experiences, it’s less sucky than endoing.  

I love the wheel tap.  In the video, you can see that I landed a tad too early, but was somehow able to manual for a couple feet rather than truly bonk.  Once my shoulder fully heals up, I’ll be back to doing these proper!
Heres the wheel tap in the wild! This jump in Chuckanut used to have a natural landing.  Now that’s all been washed away, so the landing is literally a root drop.  The solution? Well, if you’re smart, it’s to go around it.  But if you’re hyperactive, then the wheel tap comes to the rescue!

Now one final technique I employ is the wheel tap.  This is a super advanced move, as it requires correct timing and terrain reading, and has minimal room for error.  If you’re landing on a square edge drop, you can intentionally tap the top of it with your rear wheel.  This will dissipate a lot of that initial energy, and the secondary impact is WAY less.  Whats great about this move is that it means you don’t have to jump that extra bike length, as there are certainly situations where that would be too much energy, speed, and force, to safely control. 

The wheel tap- don’t try this at home, kids!

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