We’re back and the racing has been abundant. I picked up a win in Toronto two weeks ago and a podium last weekend at the USGP in New Jersey. Now the biggest races of the year loom on the horizon and I’m looking forward to them all: the USGP Finals in Portland and the national championship weekend in Kansas City. But, as a change of pace, this diary isn’t going to be about racing.
People have been asking me about hopping barriers, or as some in Europe say; “rabbit hopping the planks.” Either way, we’re all talking about the same thing, getting a ‘cross bike over the barriers in one piece without killing yourself. First off, I must say this to protect myself from litigation: Barrier hopping is a calculated risk and you will crash.
There are a lot of things to consider before hand, you don’t want to crash in front of your kids, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, competitors etc. So practice. Start slow and low like the Beastie Boys song. If you can remember that, you’ll be rockin’. Even when you do practice, you’re still going to eat it, so check your pedal tension, wear your helmet and don’t kill yourself!
Jumpin’ barriers goes way back for me. I knew barrier hopping was great and a big advantage when I was 16 years old racing in Wetzikon, Switzerland, at my first ever event overseas. It was the week before the world champs in Tabor, Czech Republic, and I jumped a single plank at the bottom of this huge muddy hill during the warm up and rode past a lot of my unknown foreign competitors who were running with their bikes on their shoulders or by their sides. I went back to get ready for the race, excited about my advantage over the others. Shortly after starting the race I realized the barrier was gone, it had disappeared. Everyone was riding the hill, no barrier to be found. From that point on, however, I knew I had to try and perfect the bunny hop. It was going to be an advantage to me if I could!
Over the years I’ve had my fair share of lessons and crashes in barrier hopping. I crashed hard as a junior during the national championships in Maryland and ended up breaking my bike and getting fourth outside the lead group. I had a fellow competitor intentionally hit his rear wheel off the barrier in front of me and mess me up during a race, which resulted in a big crash. Then, just last year, I crashed so hard at the Boulder Reservoir I popped out a rib that hasn’t made its way back in yet and I’m reminded of it every time I twist to put a seat belt on.
Going through my techniques, I’ll try to touch on a couple big points. I called up my friend and neighbor Matt White, who is a pretty talented hopper himself, and we got some good media together. I’ll post some videos on my Web site, jpows.com, later this week of Matt and I hopping along, so you can compare our techniques.
Going with the slow and low theme, I think it’s best to start out with ONE barrier at 10 cm and give it a go. You’ll know immediately if you can do it. Don’t over think it, just set it up and go. There is no correct way to hold the bars. Hoods, tops, it’s all the same, whatever you’re more comfortable with is what you should go with. So after you conquer the little guy, gradually move up in small increments to 40cm (which is UCI legal height).
Once you’re killin’ this, I mean, jumpin’ it with style, crossin’ it up as you go over … put the second one out there for yourself but instead of having to go “all in” I suggest keeping the barriers spaced far apart — don’t use the 4-meter UCI rule for this part of the learning process. This way you can do the “bail out” if you have to, which you will! Plus you have to remember how cracked you’re going to be after eight laps, so if you can’t do this eight times in a row, keeping them spaced apart would be the next gradual step.
Once you’re comfy hitting two in a row spaced far apart you’re pretty close to ready for the big time.
Some of the things that influence if I jump over the barriers are tire pressure, pre- and post-barrier terrain, speed, and racing traffic.
Starting with tires: if they are too soft you’ll probably roll them, either when you pump your arms to get your front wheel off the ground or when you slam that wheel back down on the ground after you make it over. If the tire feels like the bead will pop off the rim or the tubular is kinda funky, it’s going to be lights out. So practice with that in mind and start out over 35PSI and go down from there as you master the skills.
Terrain is also important to scout out. You don’t want to be hopping into some hole on the back side of the second barrier. Nor do you want to hit a big piece of lumpy grass and go over the bars, You might want to make note that the right side of the barriers is nicer grass to hit, or even think about going diagonally through them. Either way, definitely scout the lay of the land in your warm up.
I wouldn’t jump the barriers that were faster to run nor would I jump them in a race with 20 people around unless you are really comfortable. Competitors can mess you up, even if it’s not intentional. They can trip themselves, tangle you in their web and that’s not fun. (It may be funny to watch later on youtube, but it’s gonna hurt, most likely.)
Lastly, speed during the hopping is important to gauge as well. With all this practice you’ll get a hang of it, but don’t overcook it! There is a fine line. If you go too fast you won’t have enough room to set up for the second barrier and you’ll hit the barrier straight up.
Matt and I have pretty different techniques, Matt’s style has him rarely hitting his wheels on the plank, using his tops instead of the hoods and he seems to go faster than I do (which also means cutting it closer).
I almost always touch my wheels to the barrier, I hang onto my hoods and I tend to go a little slower to stay in control.
On occasion we both tap wheels. Personally, as long as you’re over the barrier and you don’t dent the rim or flat the tire, you’re golden. Practice makes perfect, go get ‘em and check my site for some videos this week! Good luck.