How to hop a barrier on your bike
Along with dismounting, remounting, riding sand and running, bunnyhopping barriers is now a must-have skill for cyclocross. But every race is different and while hopping can provide a big advantage, it can also bring about disaster. Here’s advice from three Stages pro’s who get it right: Tobin Ortenblad of Santa Cruz Bicycles /Donkey Label Racing, Anthony Clark of Squid Bikes and Maxx Chance of Full Cycle Cross.
How do you evaluate a barrier or a set of barriers when first pre-riding a course?
CHANCE: It is important to look at the entrance and exit of the set of barriers and the distance between the two. I always like to at least try to hop them in pre-ride, as it is helpful to test out the speed of a set of barriers. Usually I like to hop barriers when they are medium to high speed, otherwise, it can be much faster to run.
CLARK: What I look for first is how smooth the ground is. At Jinglecross it was really rough and it could throw you off. Next is how they’re spaced…every set of barriers is spaced differently and some are just too close. I try to hop them when I pre-ride the course, if I can do them easily 3-4 times in a row, I’ll hop them in the race.
How do you use barrier hopping tactically?
ORTENBLAD: Tactically speaking, barriers are a great opportunity to recover while others are running and a great opportunity to attack while competitors are remounting.
CHANCE: I like to hop not just to save energy but to get a mental edge on the competitors. When you hop the barriers and they cant, it definitely says something.
CLARK: Even if you’re not hopping, go into the barriers first. It’s good to do especially on the last lap. If you’re hopping you can get a good 5-second gap and it’s very hard to close a gap coming through. Try to go into the barriers first and screw everybody else up even if you’re running.
Does hopping the barriers save energy in a race, or burn more?
ORTENBLAD: Barriers are almost always a good opportunity to recover. You’re not taxing your upper body too much in a cx race so your arms/core are always pretty fresh to exert a hop effort while your legs might be gassed from all the racing you’ve done up to that point.
CLARK: It saves so much energy! Running is exhausting.
CHANCE: Yeah, it saves energy because you don't have to dismount then sprint then get back on the bike. Everyone who runs knows it takes a bunch of energy
Describe a barrier last season that terrified you.
CHANCE: The barriers at Devou Park. Mostly because I dislocated my shoulder there last year... They were in a part of the course with a fast entrance and a medium speed exit with a turn in the middle of the barriers, not the easiest. I landed in a soft spot too heavy on my front wheel and flipped over the bars.
CLARK: The barriers in Gloucester last year were bad….with uneven, off-camber ground. I crashed and busted a helmet.
ORTENBLAD: The 2017 World Champs in Bieles, Luxembourg had some massive barriers, having never hopped them in practice, I was so gassed during the first lap I made the split decision to just hop rather than getting off the bike and running. It was super muddy and icey so the takeoff and landing were cruicial. I stuck them both, so the risk paid off.
How much do you practice this particular skill?
CHANCE: I like to practice hopping even small things at least once a week, I rarely practice on full-size barriers.
CLARK: I practice at least once a week when I’m doing off-road work with Stephen Hyde or Jeremy Powers. We have a set of trails with two really big logs that are spaced out the same. They’re big enough to catch your chainring if you’re not careful.
ORTENBLAD: You don't need to practice hopping barriers as much as you do hopping random things. I do a lot of trail riding in Santa Cruz on my cx bike which presents plenty of obstacles and challenges. I think doing that keeps my skills sharp and when it comes to racing and now I don’t really think twice about it.
What factors might cause you to run instead of hop?
ORTENBLAD: Factors that would cause me to run instead of hop would be a bad take off and or landing zone. You need hard even ground to get a good hop off of, an uneven take off might send you off in a weird direction. Similar problems happen with an uneven landing.
CHANCE: How fast you can hop, the entrance to the barriers, the exit speed of the barriers, if you are with a big group or solo, how tired you are. The pay off of running vs hopping.
CLARK: If it’s off-camber or super bumpy, or they’re really close together or at weird angles. Tobin and Powers can hop barriers in any shape or form. I take less risk because I’m faster at running.
What’s the ONE piece of advice you’d give to a noob looking to master this skill?
ORTENBLAD: Start on a small homemade barrier thats easy to knock over. Don’t do two at once, master one then add the next after that.
CHANCE: Practice a ton. And it doesn't have to be on barriers. Just practice hopping.
CLARK: Practice slow, and add speed as you go. There’s a perfect speed for every set of barriers depending on the course and the spacing.