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Jumping a big gap for the first time

Gary Semics



I have found through my years of teaching that one of the most common questions is how do I jump that big jump (double, triple, tabletop, step up, step down or even far into a whoop section) the first time? How do I know how fast and hard to hit it? It’s not just doubles and triples or other type jumps with gaps in them that can be intimidating, although tabletops are generally safer I’ve seen plenty of them that are also dangerous with sharp, steep landings. Many riders and their parents say they or their young one can jump a regular table top easy enough but when there’s a double or triple the same distance they are afraid to jump. Well, this is a good subject because when jumping a big gap for the first time or anytime for that matter you better know exactly what you’re doing or your season could be over real quick with a serious injury. Coming up short or even going too long is caused by misinterpreting the distance. It’s such an awful feeling being up there in the air and having all that time to think about how bad this is going to hurt as you see you are coming up too short or going too long. At this point all you can do is take the impact the best you can and hope for the best. In order to take a hard impact make sure to take a breath and leave the amount of air in your lungs so you have the most strength. Like when you’re lifting weights and you’re going to do a heavy squat, you know how you will breath and hold that breath while you begin your squat. This same technique will give you a better change of coming away uninjured from a hard landing.

The quick answer to the previous question about how to know how to jump that big gap the first time is that it takes a lot of practice, experience and confidence. When I was training Kevin Windham’s at his house back in 1998 I asked him how he knows how to jump a big jump like that the first time. I asked him this because after he had ridden his very difficult and demanding $30,000.00 Supercross track in his back yard he would jump jumps from one section of the track over to another section of the track. You may have seen him doing this recently on TV during the Supercross night shows. He would be hitting these huge jumps at an angle and jumping 780 and 90 foot gaps from one straight away to another straight away. Some of the landings were pretty peeked and he was clearing them perfectly by a foot or two every time. Well, guess what his answer to the question was? He said he just knew. He said he had been doing it so long that he could land within a foot the first time. Let’s take a look at how Kevin and anyone who has become really good at jumping big gaps has managed to do it time and time again.


Clearing a big jump for the first time is all about calculation. You have to calculate how fast and hard you need to hit the take off in order to hit your landing target. But before you start throwing caution to the wind and launching yourself skyward you have to be an excellent jumper. You have to have total control and confidence when hitting the takeoff jump that you can fly your machine with perfect balance, timing and control. You have to be able to control the angle of the bike (how high or low the front end is). The entire time you are jumping (on the takeoff, while in flight and on the landing) you have to automatically maintain the center of balance with your body movements.

Of course you should start out with smaller safe jumps and as you gain control, experience and confidence you can move up to bigger and bigger jumps. In order to hit your target landing target exactly your approach speed has to be somewhat in the ballpark. A good way to know your approach speed is by what gear you’re in. There are 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th gear jumps. Beside the gear you have to know and feel how far into the power you are; like how fast the engine is revving for that gear. The other big factor in controlling your distance is what you do with the power (clutch and throttle). This relates to whether you give it more power or back off on the power through the compression and rebound part of the jump. And lastly there are your body movements upon compressing into the jump and rebounding out of the takeoff part of the jump. All these things combined will determine your height and distance.

Quick jumping reference regarding clutch and/or throttle for correct distance;

  1. Have the correct approach speed, be in the right gear.
  2. Be at the right RPMs in that gear.
  3. Control the clutch and/or throttle through the compression and rebound part of the jump.
  4. Control your body movements through the compression and rebound part of the jump.

The gear you’re in and the amount your engine is revving should be in a place that the engine can make more power. You don’t want to be completely tapped out in a gear. Nether do you want to be so low in the RPMs that the engine doesn’t have any throttle response. I mean what the heck; at this point throttle response is half of your control, why would you want to eliminate it? Most all the time on a short approach the clutch and throttle are used together in order to deliver the exact amount of power to the rear wheel upon compression and rebound. That’s how important this part of the control is in keeping you alive. Of course less throttle gives you less height and distance and more throttle gives you more height and distance. This effect is multiplied because giving more power to the rear wheel as it is compressing into the jump will greatly cause the rear suspension to compress more and therefore rebound more. This will give you a catapulting effect for more air time. This means that if you’re coming into a jump too slow you can use this technique to get more distance. Of course, on the other hand if you’re coming into a jump too fast letting off the throttle will give you less distance.

Remember, the clutch and/or throttle and your body movements is what gives you control off a jump. They always work together and affect one another. This means if you let off the throttle as you hit the jump you’re going to have to move your body back more as you rebound. If you power through the take off part of the jump you can stay more in a forward position. This is because the power will help keep the front end up as you leave the jump.

Besides keeping the front end high or low there is another important technique regarding the body movement part of your control that will bring you down to earth right on target. And that technique is whether you help the compression and rebound with your body or absorb the compression and rebound with your body. When you want more distance you need to help the compression and rebound with your body weight. Remember, how powering through the compression and rebound will give you more height and distance because it compresses the rear suspension more and therefore causes it to rebound harder, giving you a catapulting effect. Well, when you add jumping into the footpegs with your body weight to that horse power you will greatly multiply this effect for more airtime. Just make sure you do it from the footpegs, not the handlebars. You want to maintain a low center of gravity in the center of the bike. Do not push down or pull up on the handlebars. Do it all from your legs through the footpegs. You may have to pull back on the handlebars as you leave the jump in order to keep the front end from dropping but do not push down or pull up on them. The compression and rebound from the footpegs will take care of that.

The opposite of this effect is to absorb the compression and rebound with your body travel. Jeremy McGrath himself taught me exactly how to do this back in 1996 when he was waxing up the 250 Supercross Series. This technique will decrease your jumping height and distance. When your approach speed is too high, stand up tall on the footpegs and take the compression part of the jump as you remain standing fairly tall. Then as the bike begins to rebound flex in your knees and elbow letting the bike come up under you. This will greatly reduce the rebound effect and give you less height and distance. This happens fast so your timing has to be quick. You kind of go limp in a split second there on rebound.

Quick jumping reference regarding body movement for correct distance;

You either want to help the compression and rebound with your body movement (weight) or absorb the compression and rebound with your body travel.

Hitting your landing target would be easy if all jumps had the same surface and angle but there are about as many different kinds of jumps in motocross and supercross as there are riders on the planet. Following is a list of some of the different types of jumps; long faced hard packed smooth jumps, short steep jumps, soft rutted jumps, jumps with lips at the top, bumpy jumps, rounded jumps with takeoffs in the middle, jumps with about a 45 degree angle at the bottom (like it goes from flat to the jump angle, there’s no progression to it). Then there are all the different kinds of landings and different kinds of approaches into the jumps. This is why even after you become a good jumper it still takes a lot of experience, riding on different tracks in different conditions, so you’re ready when you come up to a new big jump.

Just like anything in motocross it takes a lot of quality practice over a long period of time to get really good at safely jumping big jumps. You have to practice it enough for the clutch and/or throttle control and body movement to become an automatic reflex reaction. You have to feel what is happening so well that you can feel it in the same millisecond that it’s happening and react to it just as fast. In short; you gotta love it.

For more Free Riding Tips, MX Technique DVD previews, DVD Streaming and to order online visit; www.gsmxs.com

Desire - "Nothing stops the man who desires to achieve. Every obstacle is simply a course to develop his achievement muscle. It's a strengthening of his powers of accomplishment".

(Napoleon Hill)

Keeping an attitude of gratitude,

Gary Semics

Professional Motocross Trainer

If you like this riding tip, it's just the tip of the iceberg.  Get all the riding techniques and practice methods that will elevate your riding skills For REAL from our Motocross Techniques/Training DVDs or one of our three Instant Access Video On Demand Subscriptions.


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