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1 jump is all you need, just ask Emil Johansson and Martin Söderström
Professional slopestyle mountain bikers Emil Johansson and Martin Söderström look back at what jumps they had growing up and how little you actually need in order to become a great rider.
You don't actually need the biggest or best jumps in order to become great at jumping on a mountain bike or a BMX, whether on man-made kickers or on the dirt. In fact, all you need is one jump and it doesn't even have to be big.
While it's easy to get sucked into the idea that you need airbags, foam pits and a huge jump park in order to learn, all it takes is one tiny jump, lots of repetition and a huge chunk of motivation.
You don't even need a jump to learn tricks
Today there are plenty of amazing facilities for jumping – just take a look at The Dome Adrenaline Zone in Gävle, Sweden, La Poma in Barcelona, Spain, or A-line in Canada's Whistler Bike Park. They're all dream destinations for anyone who likes jumps and while you might be able to go there for a holiday or two, not many people are lucky enough to have these types of facilities on their doorstep.
It's more likely they have a couple of dirt jumps down the road, a local skatepark or, maybe, like in the case of Johansson, you learned your first tricks by jumping out of a ditch onto a cycle path next to your house.
"There was this ditch next to a cycle path at home. Someone had built a tiny little take-off in it so that you could jump out of the ditch onto the cycle path and I did it so many times," he recalls. "I mean, it wasn't even a jump really, but it's where I learnt my first No-hander and 360."
A small jump could take you all the way to Crankworx
Johansson now has bigger jumps to ride nearer his home in Sweden, as well as the Dome Adrenaline Zone a couple of hours away, but they didn't always exist and his main practice spot was a small-ish dirt jump at his local indoor BMX hall.
This spot could in some ways be described as the backbone of his career – it's on this jump that he spent the better part of his three years in high school practicing tricks. Tricks that he would then take to the much bigger courses at Crankworx Slopestyle contests: "When I went to high school and had no car, this was the only jump we had to practice on. I must have been in there almost every day hitting it over and over again.”
I must have been in there almost every day hitting it over and over again
Even when his career took off and better facilities opened up, Johansson still used this small jump as a practice spot: "Before flying out to Crankworx in New Zealand in 2019, I put my last hours of practice on that jump."
You've got to learn the basics
This small mulch dirt jump in Falun is one that Martin Söderström also knows very well. It's where he's currently teaching students from the local high school and is the closest indoor spot where he can ride during winter. But he doesn't mind because just like Johansson, he's a firm believer that practicing one jump over and over is the best way to progress your skills.
Nowadays, a lot of people skip the basics of riding because they have so many amazing places to ride
"Nowadays, a lot of people skip the basics of riding because they have so many amazing places to ride. They don’t really take the time to learn the fundamentals: like how to bunny hop, manual or corner properly," Söderström says. "They're so important for your overall bike control and are such good skills to transfer on to the trails. The best thing is that all you really need in order to learn them is a flat space like a car park or gravel area, so anyone can do it at any time of the year."
Become more creative
Söderström knows what he is talking about. Growing up there weren't many spots around for him to ride and practice. In fact, slopestyle in its present form didn't even exist at the time. It was more about dirt jumps and street riding.
"You really had to use your imagination and get creative. You’d go find natural lips and rocks in the forest to jump off," he recalls. "We spent hours upon hours jumping down stairs in town and if you heard about someone dumping some dirt somewhere in the neighbourhood, you'd go quickly head over and try and shape it into somewhat of a jump."
With a huge career behind him, Söderström has become an icon in the world of mountain bikes and it's fair to say that he's come a long way from learning to jump on small lumps in the woods.
Repetition is key
Both Söderström and Johansson agree that whilst big jump lines and parks are amazing fun, sticking to one jump can be better for progressing your skills.
"A lot of people underestimate the quality you can get out of one single jump," says Johansson. "There are no shortcuts and secrets: it's about consistency, repetition and putting in the hours. And it takes time to learn the basics: so many people want to learn how to backflip before they know how to jump straight. I normally set myself a goal with my sessions, for example, 'today I want to lean trick X'. Then, that's what I'll do for the rest of the day."
If anything, Johansson and Söderström show that you don’t need the best facilities to become a great rider. It's more about what you make of what you have.
Martin Söderström and Emil Johansson
See Martin Söderström and Emil Johansson put their style and excellency in focus at Järvsö, Sweden.
“Just look at Sweden. Apart from a couple of newly opened places we don't have the biggest or best mountains or riding spots, but we still have a great scene and some very talented riders," says Johansson. "It's easy to think that you need all these fancy spots and that the grass is greener on the other side, but it's really about how much motivation you have and how many hours you put in."
So go out and find a small jump, curb or even just a flat piece of ground and start practicing. You're going to thank yourself next time you hit the trails.