Riding home from my Sunday ride, on my 43rd mile of the day, I got boxed in on the side of the road – pretty gassed after a decent day on the bike, I had a car coming towards me in the far lane and I could hear one coming up behind me… I had lowered my head for just a second and I brought it up when I heard the car behind me… there it was – a 2′ x 2′ x 5″ deep pothole in my path. At more than 20 mph with the wind at my back, I had maybe a second to react and there was no going around it without becoming a pizza.
Now, there’s no doubt this was just a few seconds worth of a lapse in judgment – when I checked the road before I lowered my head, I thought I was clear for at least the 100 feet I’d have my head down for. I was on an exceptionally smooth patch of road that was resurfaced just two years ago. I messed up, but when I’m looking at the mouth of a chasm that will have me stopping my bike with my face, it really doesn’t matter.
From a seated position, hands in the drops, in one swift move, I pulled up evenly on the bar and with my feet at the same time and executed a perfect bunny hop over the pothole.
Without that move my spring would have been spent in a hospital, recovering from broken bones and a mushed face – possibly worse. Instead, I simply got a nice wakeup and the chance to learn from my mistake.
A bunny hop at 20 mph, on 23 mm wide tires, with a total surface contact area of maybe 15 mm, might seem a little daunting, but it’s not. With the proper balance and a little “hop”, I can clear a pretty decent distance, easily. I don’t recall why I started hopping my road bikes, it just seemed like a wise thing to have in the quiver in case I needed it. Oh how right I was. Two years ago I started practicing until I could clear a manhole cover at speed without killing my wheels or me. This means coming down lightly after the hop.
Now to be sure, I’m not a heavy fellow – currently 170 pounds give or take, and I’m riding on aluminum rims (I don’t know how carbon would handle a hop). I can hop my 27 pound mountain bike just the same, but I can get some pretty good air with my 16 pound Venge. Just a few clarifications because this is an inherently dangerous little trick – come down the wrong way, on the back side of a pot hole or too heavy and you’re pooched. On the other hand, for me, the risk is and was worth it. You’ll have to use your own judgment and consider the risks.
Now, if you’re using platform pedals the act of bunny hopping is a lot more difficult, though possible. Road cyclists, however, are fortunate in that we wear shoes that clip into our pedals because this makes a bunny hop child’s play. Now, I have to interject one fair warning – make sure your pedals and cleats are in good working order before trying this for the first time because I’ve had my SPD cleats pull out on me a time or ten (no, I never crashed because of this, not even close – and I’ve never had my Look Keo’s pull out). That said, at speed with your feet clipped in, all that is necessary is to “hop”, but do so evenly lifting with your arms and feet so that the bike stays straight and flat. I coil my legs first, pedals perpendicular to the ground and then pull up with my legs and arms at the same time.
I started out small, hopping cracks in the pavement at first and that as I grew more comfortable with the process I eventually graduated to manhole covers and potholes. I have done train tracks a few times but I have a tough time making it all the way to the other side and jumping that far means I’m coming down with some force. One misplaced wheel and I have a pretty good chance at popping a tire or planting my wheel incorrectly on the tracks, either of which could be catastrophic so I generally don’t mess with that too much.
Finally, this post mostly concerns solo training. While you wouldn’t want to crash yourself, you’ve gotta keep an eye out for the cyclists behind you. Simply stated, you aren’t allowed momentary lapses of judgment in a bunch.