Ever since the birth of BMX racing and freestyling in the 1970s, cyclists have been pushing the discipline forward in a hundred different directions.
One key development has been the merging of BMX racing, mountain biking, and four-cross racing.
The result? Dirt jumping.
We’ll be focusing on these key points:
- What Is Dirt Jumping?
- 6 Key Features Of A Dirt Jumper Bike
- Dirt Jumping Vs BMXing: What’s The Difference?
- Types Of Dirt Jump
- Get Off The Beaten Track
Ready to get up to speed with everything you need to know about the dirt jumper bike?
Let’s dive in!
What Is Dirt Jumping?
The clue’s in the name with dirt jumping. It’s all about becoming airborne by riding bikes over jumps made of dirt or soil.
When in the air, dirt jump riders will usually attempt mid-air tricks and skills, much like BMX racing. The similarities don’t end there, either.
Dirt jumping evolved alongside BMX racing and therefore contains lots of parallels.
Crucially, Dirt Jumping is not all about completing courses in the fastest possible time. The primary goal is to perform tricks with as much style as possible.
Expression and creativity is the name of the game. In dirt jumping competitions, competitors are awarded points based on the style, difficulty, and execution of their tricks.
A few different types of bike can be used for this type of riding. BMX bikes are a popular option, as are mountain bikes.
However, your best bet is a form of specialized mountain bike known simply as a “dirt jumper”.
6 Key Features Of A Dirt Jumper Bike
Considering the roots of dirt jumping, it’s no surprise that the bikes used by riders have a lot in common with mountain bikes. But there are some key distinctions:
#1. Rigid Design
A dirt jump bike has a robust, rigid design. The wheels and frame on dirt jumpers are much sturdier than cross-country mountain bikes, because they’re built for absorbing the shocks of high jumps and tricks.
#2. Unique Geometry
Dirt jumper bikes are built with a unique geometry that’s designed to go from ground to air and back again with smoothness, safety, and efficiency.
#3. Low Stand-Over Height
The tall handlebars and low stand-over height of your typical dirt jumper are there in order to prevent the seat from hindering the rider while they’re performing tricks and stunts.
#4. Longer Top Tube
Jump bike frames usually have a longer top tube that slopes downwards toward the back wheel.
For regular adults, dirt jump bikes almost always have 26” wheels, with 20” or 24” generally being seen as too small and incapable of taking hard landings well. 29” wheels are too large for you to do anything in the air or on the berms.
#5. Disc Brakes
When dirt jumping burst onto the scene, most riders just used one rear rim brake. After a short while, it became clear that these types of brakes weren’t the best option — after getting wet, they become useless.
Therefore, a typical modern dirt jumper bike will usually use disc brakes. They’re easier for bike maintenance, but most importantly have superior braking ability.
Compared with BMX wheels, dirt jumpers tend to have much more tread, although they don’t always have as much as regular mountain bikes.
You might have noticed a bit of a pattern emerging. Generally speaking, dirt jumper bikes are somewhere between BMX bikes and mountain bikes in terms of spec.
Dirt Jumping Vs BMXing: What’s The Difference?
Dirt jumping evolved alongside BMX racing from the outset. The similarities are clear; both dirt jumping and BMX racing involve riders jumping off mounds of dirt.
The key difference is that in dirt jumping, the jumps are usually much larger and designed to lift the rider higher into the air.
The design of a dirt jump bike is essentially a cross between a hardtail mountain bike and a BMX bike. They’re designed for performing aerial acrobatics, high jumps with kicks and tricks, and racing around pump tracks or flying through the air across skate parks.
Some of the key differences that allow dirt jump bikes to perform their job properly include:
- Taller handlebars for better heights and more control while jumping and performing tricks.
- Unique geometry for better riding speeds and landings.
- Better suited to rough terrain, dirt trails, and rocky ground, while BMXs are better for skate park riding.
- Less lightweight than BMX bikes but still very durable.
Types Of Dirt Jump
Building and shaping dirt jumps is a key part of the discipline. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a serious dirt jump rider that doesn’t build their own jumps too.
Helping to build, shape, water, and look after jumps also often works as a form of payment for most dirt parks.
So what kind of jumps tend to make up these parks?
Double jumps are the most common form of dirt jump. They consist of two parts: a take-off and a landing, with a gap in between.
These types of jumps are also sometimes known as “gap” jumps. Generally, they’re split into two camps:
- “Step-ups” – the up ramp is lower than the down rap.
- “Step-downs” – the down ramp is lower than the up ramp.
Step-ups are designed to slow the rider down and always land higher than the takeoff, while step-downs are built to increase speed, making performing tricks more difficult.
If you’re new to the sport, you’ll likely come across a lot of “tabletop” jumps.
Tabletops are fairly similar to double jumps, the key difference being that tabletop jumps have a strip of earth between the take-off and the landing.
This makes them ideal for new riders because when a rider comes up short they can still easily ride out of it. This flat “table” on the top is what gives these types of jumps their name.
The key thing to note about ski jumps is that they consist of just a take-off with no specific landing ramp. They’re longer and flatter than other jumps and are generally situated on downhill slopes, where the slope of the hill serves as a landing.
Due to the lack of a landing ramp, these jumps are commonly used on corners or long straights to give people plenty of airtime without the worry of aiming for a landing.
Ski jumps aren’t too common on dirt jump parks, but if you’re biking on a downhill track it’s pretty likely that you’ll come across them.
Another common element of most dirt jump tracks, rollers are small tabletop jumps that give you extra speed by “pumping”. You’ll usually find these at the beginning of a trail or between jumps to help you pick up speed.
Rollers come in three different sizes: the basic pump roller, the high-speed roller, and the oversize roller.
There are a few other types of dirt jumps, including whoops, rhythms, and spines, but these are the core types of jumps you’re likely to see at your local park or dirt trail.
Get Off The Beaten Track
Any keen dirt jumper will tell you that nothing beats the thrill of performing high jumps and tricks on a quality dirt track.
For anyone keen on finding a happy middle ground between the intensity and speed of BMX racing and the equally exciting but more stable, less tricks-based progress of dirt mountain biking, the dirt jump bike could be perfect for you.
But if picking up a dirt jump bike and getting down a local trail doesn’t sound totally up your street, there are tons of other ways that cycling can take you into the great outdoors.
Mountain biking, gravel biking, BMXing, and dirt jumping; these forms of cycling all allow you to get outside your comfort zone, explore somewhere new, and spend some time outside.
Get off the beaten track and reap the amazing rewards that biking can offer.