Mountain Bike Skills
Drop in with Wade Simmons
The “Godfather of Freeride” uses his technical skills to negotiate big drops
,” but that title really doesn’t do justice to the 38-year-old rider’s technical skills. Yes, he was one of the pioneers who introduced North Shore-style ladders-and-bridges to the masses in the mid-’90s and he won the inaugural 2001 edition of the Red Bull Rampage
. But as anyone who saw the video
of Simmons and Thomas Vanderham riding full-suspension cross-country bikes around the North Shore earlier this year knows, the guy doesn’t depend on huge-travel machines to flow through crazy terrain. Which is why he’s uniquely qualified to advise riders how to tackle big drops—he knows that a boatload of squishy travel helps, but it’s no substitute for well-honed skills. Here’s his advice on hitting big drops.
Worried about that drop? There’s a good reason. “There will always be a mental barrier,” Simmons says, “It's called self-preservation!” He suggests preparing mentally by honing your skills on progressively larger drops, moving to a larger hit only after you’re consistently accomplishing everything that he outlines below.
Know Your Speed.
“Speed is the most important aspect of a drop,” Simmons says. “The faster you go, the less effort you need. Think about jumping over a creek, for instance: If you’re running, you can breeze over it, but if you’re standing still, you need to give a big leap.” That said, you don’t want to go too fast, either. If you’re overshooting the landing or coming up short, you should practice judging your speed before moving on to anything bigger.
Compress, Extend, Compress.
Picture helping your bike into the air. As you near the edge of a drop, slightly compress your suspension (“lower your body into the bike like you’re going to spring from a standing jump,” Simmons says) while keeping your head forward over bars. At the edge, quickly spring up to give the bike a lift—how much depends on your speed and the size of the jump. While crouched, slide your butt toward the rear wheel, extending your arms and pulling back on the bars.
This is the tricky part. As you get more air time, you need to know how to control the position of the bike as you’re dropping. The goal is to make sure your wheels match the landing. In mid-air, move forward or back on the bike, and roll your wrists to bring the front wheel up or down. Extend your legs before you land, and absorb the impact with your arms and legs—you should again be centered on the bike.
Touching Down. As you practice larger drops, Simmons recommends focusing on getting both wheels to land at the same time. But as your skills progress, this tactic changes. “Landing with your front wheel first is the smoothest way to go,” Simmons says. But he says this takes a lot of experience to land smoothly. No matter how you land, don’t hit the brakes until you’ve touched down and are in complete control.
Wade Simmons drops in over a glacier in Argentina’s Andes Mountains. (Margus Riga)