Jumping and lifting the tires off the ground is one of the unique aspects of mountain biking. And arguably one of the most thrilling things to do on a bike. Just as there are many ways to ride on a mountain bike, there are quite a few types of jumps to get you and your bike up in the air. Some types of jumps are more common than others.
Some are safer, some are scarier. Some are optional while others are mandatory. And some are simply easier to build.
So, one jump is not the same as the next one. They differ quite a lot depending on their design, location, and how take-off and landing relate to each other. Knowing which jump is which, how to ride it, and spotting the landing is critical to reducing risk in mountain biking, especially downhill. Know your jumps before committing.
Table or Tabletop
Tabletop jumps are ideal for practicing jumping as clearing (making it all the way over to the landing) is not mandatory and halfway landings on top of the table are possible.
They are the most common type of jumps. Not because they’re the easiest to build, but because they are one of the safest. So bike parks and trail centers take the time and extra dirt to build them.
Double jumps consist only of a take-off and a landing. While they are usually optional and can be ridden as two rollers, clearing them is more difficult. They require more skill and precision as coming up short has more consequences.
They are easier to build with less work and material and are often found on advanced trails or hand-built tracks. Since two rollers can also be ridden as a double jump, they are a very common feature on pump tracks.
Particularly large doubles tend to go into the realm of gap jumps.
Gap jumps are entirely mandatory as there is a gap between take-off and landing that generally can’t be rolled over. Coming up short has even more consequences than on double jumps as the distance for falling down can be quite far.
As a track feature, there is usually an optional detour past. So, while jumping is optional, making it is mandatory.
More generally, gapping can also mean to jump over a particular trail feature like roots and rocks to not hit it and keep momentum.
A popular variant of a gap jump is the roadgap where usually a gravel road is being gapped. Often the take-off is located above the landing to make it easier to jump large distances, similar to a step-down.
On drop jumps the trajectory is at least as much vertically as horizontally. They are ridden much slower than gap jumps, even for the same total distance traveled because they drop downwards rather than gap forwards.
Drops also have steeper landings because forward momentum is lower, but downward momentum is quickly built by gravity. So the body position is far more forward and down-facing to allow both wheels to land approximately at the same time, preferably front-wheel first like on any other jump.
Particular types of drops include boner logs, which are narrow drop ramps, pointing at an angle upwards. Drops from man-made wooden boardwalks and from natural rock slabs are the most common.
The farther horizontally a drop is in relation to the vertical distance, the more it’s considered a gap rather than a drop.
Step-downs are a more mellow form of gaps and drops. Think of them as doubles with the landing below the take-off. They can be rolled, but jumping halfway and casing the landing is not advised.
Usually finding the correct speed is a little difficult because you pick up speed in the air. But going long is often possible because the landings are long and steep. Step-downs are the inverse of drops (more horizontal distance than vertical) and thus jumped at faster speeds with not as much weight forward.
Step-up jumps are doubles with the landing higher than the lip. Most can be rolled and casing is not as consequential.
They may look intimidating because you can see the big size of the landing when riding towards it but are actually among the safest types of jumps there are. The reason is that the landing is close to the apex of the jump trajectory when the rider is at the slowest speed.
This means landings are very mellow and at slow speeds so mistakes are low-risk. This is why step-ups are the preferred type for trick jumps, airbag jumps and practicing jumping.
Hip jumps have a landing, that is in a different direction than the jump lip. They can’t be jumped straight, so the take-off has to be ridden at an angle too to compensate for the direction change. The greater the angle, the higher you generally jump. Or the harder you turn on the jump lip.
At most, a hip jump can have a landing perpendicular to the take-off. Generally, they have an angle between 0° and 90°. They are great for practicing whipping and other maneuvers where the bike goes sideways since you land sideways anyway and don’t need to worry about bringing the bike back.
Whale-Tail, On-Off or Lilypad
On-offs are basically a step-up to a raised platform straight into a step-down from there. They usually can’t be rolled and stopping mid-way is impossible. So it takes commitment, skill and risk to jump an on-off.
Lilypads are a relatively rare jump feature as they are difficult to build right and ride. The landing has to be very precise in order to jump off again immediately. Most found in bike parks are relatively small with mellow knuckles that allow casing.
Triple jumps are the evolution to double jumps. Generally, they are entirely optional and not even obvious most of the time. Triple refers to three obstacles being involved, the middle one being jumped over.
While triples are a staple in motocross and supercross, in mountain biking tripling refers to going extra long on a double jump or gapping over a trail feature, making it a triple. Sometimes doubles have an extra roller right after, that offers a small downslope for landing.
Transfer jumps are another optional, not obvious type of jump. Transfering is when features not designed to be jumped (like berms), are creatively used as take-offs and landings.
So, transfers are even more obscure than triples, often going off-track or connecting sections of trail not intended to be. One of the more common transfers is hopping from one berm to another one or making a hip jump landing out of other obstacles.
Ramp jumps are very specific jumps where the take-off is a wooden or metal ramp. Ramp jumps can be doubles, gaps, or step-ups. The landing is usually dirt, soft mulch, or an airbag. The radius is smaller, meaning the trajectory is more upward than regular jumps.
The benefit of having a ramp instead of a dirt lip is that will not change or deteriorate over time and can be ridden in any weather. It provides a consistent experience, which is important for practicing jumping or certain tricks.
Here are some of my favorite resources for mountain bikers:
- How to read MTB tires.
- Best car bike rack manufacturers.
- Bike rack security guide.
- Best action cams for mountain biking.
To see all of my current gear (including action cameras) and up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you.