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All photos Brent Carter.

Born to Run was on the radio when I was a kid. Am I too old to start jumping a mountain bike?

My wife and I have always tried to share as many pastimes as possible. I love bikes and enjoy being in the woods. She loves the woods and enjoys riding bikes. Mountain biking seemed like a great way to excite both of our passions.

But I was 54 and she was… a little younger. Were we too old to start?

Fortunately for us, the bike shop didn’t ask for an ID, and no one at the trailhead asked us if we would prefer an adult tricycle and a nice paved trail. So off we went.

It’s now 18 months later and I can tell you the answer is emphatically no. We are not too old.

If you are new to the sport or considering giving it a try you will be pleased to know that there are trails for all skill levels. You can literally ride a bike on a smooth dirt path through the woods, roll over roots and rocks as you go up and down reasonable hills, or pitch yourself through an amazing variety of terrain including the smoothest terrain of all… air.

It really is up to you and you can progress as much or as little as you prefer to find your sweet spot.

Jumping my mountain bike

Just a few weeks after we started this new adventure we decided to make the 90 minute drive up to Santos to see what a Bronze Level Trail Center has to offer. It was there we encountered THE GAME CHANGER: progressive jump lines.

A progressive jump line is an area with a few jumps, typically from three to six designed so landing one jump sets you up for the next one. One line will have small, beginner jumps, the next slightly bigger, steeper and or longer jumps, and so on. It lets riders build confidence and skills on the smaller line before moving up. It was here my wife found something else she loves — getting air on a bike.

Not being one to discourage any new interest, I quickly did a little study on ramp design and built a 12-inch high jump with a 4-foot table and a landing ramp. I mean like literally, the next day. When an opportunity like this comes up you do not wait around to see if it will pass. Statistically speaking I have half as many todays left as a 34-year-old, so I can’t waste any of them. We set it up in the grass (please start on grass or dirt) on the fairway down the street, and the learning began.

The earliest sessions involved systematic desensitization. That is just a fancy way of saying we rode over the 12-inch table jump repeatedly, increasing our speed but staying on the ground. The idea is to get used to riding toward a jump at speed and not tensing up.

Pretty soon though, the front wheel was leaving the ground. It was a little freaky feeling at first, but with more repetition you begin to think of that as normal which allows you to relax.

Guess what happens next? You sail through the air just like the guys in the video and start working on perfecting your tail whip. Uh, no.

What can and often does happen next is you start trying too hard, over thinking it, pulling up with your arms, landing crooked.

Once we realized we needed to learn a little technique we turned to the web, read some articles, watched some videos and tried to apply some of what we learned.

The key concept is to understand what it means to ride with light hands and heavy feet. Keeping your weight centered over the bottom bracket will keep you a lot safer than doing otherwise. This applies to many more situations than jumping by the way. I think mountain bikes should come with a sticker on the top tube that says this.

Armed with this information we kept on practicing. Soon we were both happily casing the jump and celebrating the 3 inches of air we could see under our back tires.

Casing, by the way, is when you don’t clear the whole flat part in the center and land on it instead of on the sloped down landing section of the ramp. This center section, called the table, is there specifically so you can land on it with the only ill effects being a bumpy landing and a bruised ego if your friends (or wife) are watching. Not that she would ever mock me.

You should know by now I’m a big fan of repetition. We would set the ramp up two or three times a week and hit it until we started making the same mistake, usually launching or landing crooked. This was a sure sign of fatigue. Most nights this would mean 50 or more passes for each of us. The benefit of all this repetition is the development of muscle memory (I am a true believer) and the fact that, when you do something over and over it becomes less intimidating. Jumping is one activity where it pays to be relaxed and confident.

I can tell you now, if you are willing to put in a little time and effort this level of jump proficiency is within reach of most people who can ride a bike off road. Yes, even if you are old enough to remember when Fly Like an Eagle was released. Even a little air is a ton of fun.

We are both riding what are considered beginner-level, full suspension trail or all-mountain bikes, so you don’t need any amazing gear to get started.

Our ramp design has progressed along with our skills.

These days, my homemade portable jump line consists of an 18-inch table jump, 12-inch-high table jump, and a 12-inch kicker for hucking to flat. We set the kicker up several times a week just for the guaranteed grins. Did I mention we love to jump?

Beyond the ramps, jumping can add a new dimension to your local trail. You will never look at a root or rock the same way again!

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# Comments

  • Richard Shoop

    Great article! It gives me hope that I’m not too old to push my limits. I hope you’ll write more articles chronicling you and your wife’s progress as mountain bikers.

    • Brent Carter

      Richard,

      Thanks for the kind words. No one can deny sone effects of age but as Dane says below desire and fitness can hold back the clock and even reverse it. Jumping is a learnable skill. Learning helps extend our relative youth. I hope to add more installments soon.

  • ride_today

    This is encouraging to all of us riders out there in their mid 50’s. How about posting the plans you created for the portable jump ramp(s)?

    • Brent Carter

      Keep pushing yourself, ignore the calendar.
      Let me see what I can do about making a set of plans available. So far they are in my head.

  • Michael Clark

    You’re awesome! I’m similar age and enjoy jumping but need to work on drops. Would be fun to practice more jumping. Do you have links to the portable jumps you built?

    • Brent Carter

      No links yet but plans or actual ramps may become available if there is sufficient interest. The ramp when broken down takes up very little space. Set up or takedown require about a minute each. Anyplace becomes a potential practice area.

    • homerlex

      I’d like ramp plans too. 51 and want to be a jumper.

    • mattreba

      Great article. Also interested in the ramp plans. Is this a CNC router project?

  • Dane Clay

    I’m 62 and still ride very aggressively. Still jumping big and hitting ride parks. I also like technical and the steeper the better. There are no bounds if your fit and have the desire!

    • Brent Carter

      Dane keep setting the bar high. My first ever organized bike ride was a half century in my early 20’s. They guy I ended up sharing turns drafting had legs like steel cables. We averaged just over 18mph for the 50 miler. When I asked someone about him later they told me he was 80 and did about 200 miles a week. I’ve never forgotten him and use him to push myself when I feel lazy.

    • Dane Clay

      And always ride with younger riders! I have an average of 10 years and younger riders I ride with regularly. So very fortunate.

  • mongwolf

    A good jumper and even better writer. Wow, very well written piece Brent.

    • Brent Carter

      So much for jumping this weekend. With my head this big I won’t be able to put a helmet on, let alone get it off the ground. You made my day!

  • Brian Gerow

    This piece is fantastic, Brent! Thank you for sharing y’allz genuine stoke for mountain biking. I will echo a desire for the plans to your jump build. Those things look sweet!

    • Brent Carter

      Brian,

      I owe you a debt of gratitude. Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll be in touch.

  • Oldandrolling

    Good piece. I have several ramps that I have built and use them often. Oh yea, I am 61

    • Brent Carter

      I think you should drop the Old and stick with the Androlling! Keep sending it! Thanks for taking the time to read the article.

  • Manwell

    You’re never too old to break your neck.
    Best to think about it before it happens.

    • bcarter1234

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I’m guessing if it happens it will likely be a result of my not thinking.

  • rmap01

    Love the article Brent. I love pushing myself to achieve new goals; jumping a MTB included. At 52, I consider myself the best version of me yet but it is not as good as future versions of me will be!

    • bcarter1234

      Thank you. Yours is a great attitude. One of the most pleasant surprises about starting to ride mountain bikes has been the great diversity of riders we meet on the trail. From families with young children to men and women and women, many of whom are senior even to me.

  • Peter826

    I’m 59yrs young and still love getting out on my MTB. Really keen to learn to do decent jumps and dropoffs. The young guys make it look easy. I asked a young guy once for some tips and he said “I just do it…”. I suspect as we get older, and our bodies aren’t so resilient, that we tend to overthink things and tense up.

    • bcarter1234

      I’m miss the days when I could “just do it”. We healed quickly if we got hurt at all. We didn’t have bills to pay or even a job to go to. These and many other factors can often cause us to tense up, exactly the opposite of what you want when jumping. Try starting small even very small, and do lots of reps to build your comfort, skills and confidence. Once you reach a level you are happy with or one you can’t relax into you’ve found a limit that works for you. It may be higher than you think. Now I can jump within my current limit as a form of mental relaxation.

    • bcarter1234

      Thank you for reading. I hope to draw the plans up over the holidays and try to make them available.

    • bcarter1234

      Thanks for taking the time to read and share your thought. I wasn’t even sure if people still listened to music on the radio.

  • elkhan

    Big respect, glad to hear stories like this. Thank’s for sharing.

    • bcarter1234

      Thank you. I see inspiring people around me every day. Keeps me moving forward.

  • arnold.neave

    Nice write up Brent, love the ramp design. I’m 56 year old that refuses to slow down and tell myself that if I stop riding I will die. I too would love your Ramp plans if you make them available to us old guys.

    • bcarter1234

      Moving is such a privilege, moving on a bike more so. I’m trying to set the plans down on paper in some format. There is a little skill required to cut them but it should be doable with just a power jig saw.

  • iamreff

    Good for you. I’m 50 and been riding for 20+ years but I still shy away from jumps. I also would be interested in learning more about your ramps. My son is 14 and just joined the local high school mountain biking team. I’d like to build some jumps in the yard for us BOTH to learn.
    Keep at it brotha!

    • bcarter1234

      It’s great that you are out there with your son. My dad used to pit for me when I drove race cars. Those are some of my most cherished memories. I hope to make the plans available so check back.

  • ja747453

    I’m in the same situation as “iamreff”; 50year old, 20 years of riding. I can only imagine how more fun riding would be if I could hit some of the jumps the group of guys that I currently ride with hit. It would definitely be more addictive and rewarding. You give a lot of us (older riders) hope; we just have to really want to learn and put the time and effort. Thanks for sharing your journey!!

    Joe.

    • bcarter1234

      I hope to write soon about applying skills you learn from the small ramp on the trail. Jumping even small jumps just adds another dimension to the ride. It really is more about fitness, practice and mental attitude than age.

    • Michael Clark

      Practicing at my local pump track not only helped my jumping but improved my ability to ride all technical pays off the tail. I highly recommend it

    • bcarter1234

      Michael,
      Stealing my thunder. 😉 I’m working on an article about the pump track.

  • barcald

    Love the article.
    I thought I was nuts building drops and small jumps just off the trails near my home. Nobody knows I’m doing it I go out on my own ( not smart ) but if I tell my wife or neighbors they’ll tell me to knock it off I’m to old for that! I have purchased a full face helmet and protective gear and I intend too try some downhill in 2019 at the nearby ski resort. Sixty three years old on the outside but twenty three on the inside I HATE GETTING OLD!
    I’ll see you fellow Nuts in the hospital, enjoy life it’s getting shorter.

    Brian

    • bcarter1234

      My neighbors have long since given up on wondering if I’m crazy, now they just smile and ask what I’m up to this time. Work your way up, just pushing your comfort level a little at a time. Life is getting shorter for us all but that just means each day is worth more, don’t waste it.

  • axxman

    I am 50, but this article mirrors my story in many ways, Santos is even my home trail. 3 years ago I had bought a hybrid bike thinking I was too old and there was nowhere to ride in my area. I stumbled across Santos and some youtube videos, within 6 months I had a Full suspension Trail bike and road the hybrid for training. Planing a trip to Iceland this summer. Cheers.

    • bcarter1234

      We are so fortunate to have Santos. The work that goes into that place is very impressive. The progressive jump lines near Vortex are where we cut our teeth on a “real” jump line and where we still go to grow.

  • Black-Man

    I am 59, started when I was 50. I don’t do downhill. After breaking a finger I don’t even go super fast – though as you learn – I broke my finger going too slow. I don’t do jumps. I don’t even understand the enjoyment of doing a jump. Being on the trail is enjoyment enough. One must understand his or her limitations.

    • bcarter1234

      Everyone should ride a bike as they see fit. Some days we go out to get a workout, some days we go out to session an area to improve our technique, other days we just ride bikes in the woods. I have to admit though, since I’ve started to learn to jump it is rare I don’t find some excuse to get a little air. Once you learn to launch and land it becomes quite habit forming.

    • Black-Man

      The other thing… I’m not buying a $3k Santa Cruz full suspension bike. I have a hard tail and again… at our age one bad jump and its all over.

    • bcarter1234

      The Santa Cruz 5010 in the top photo was a demo bike from an awesome shop in Boulder. I didn’t realize until I got back to Florida that I had spent a week on not a $3000 Santa Cruz but a $10,000 Santa Cruz! As you can see in the jump photo lower down my own bike is a much more modest unit. Some of the best jumpers I watch in awe are on bikes that cost well under $1000. Ride the way you enjoy, whatever provides the most fun is my favorite way to ride.

  • 882bart

    bc: I think it is great that you take the time to respond to virtually (exactly?) every commentor. As a 70 year old mtn biker with a Pivot Mach 5.7 there is one big problem with it—-ME of course, no excuses for any subpar performance. I did ride dirt bikes for 40 years as an adult and raced them for over 25 (trail riding, enduros, hare scrambles, motocross, and ice racing but I was NOBODY, just loved it) and the skills used there translated totally to Mtn bikes. I even switch the brakes on my and all my extended famiy’s bikes to R is front because of the idea of muscle memory. In 3 years of ownership I have ridden this Mach at least 4500 miles of singletrack in AZ, MI, NM, TX, TN, AR and Ontario. I can still shred pretty well if I do say so myself (buttressed by lots of kudos from younger riders) and have this bit of advice. If you just keep doing it, you can keep doing it.

    • rmap01

      Well said!

    • bcarter1234

      I appreciate that people take the time to read and share their experiences. Since starting to ride mountain bikes I have a new level of respect for those who race(d) motorcycles. I love your advice and certainly intend to follow it.

  • fsherfy

    I’ll be 70 next year and still jump occasionally, usually smaller, on a hardtail.
    Still 19 from the neck up! ????

  • bcarter1234

    Smaller or larger, hardtail or full squish, once you are floating in mid air those elements don’t matter. Hold on to the good parts of your inner 9 year old.

  • Dane Clay

    There is absolutely no reason not to have the skills and are reasonably fit. I find myself to be a more polished rider now in my 60’s and have complete confidence for jumping, sending and extreme technical. And absolutely ride with those much younger then you exclusively to keep the fire burning!

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