Are there diminishing returns from ongoing pump track use?

This is one of the best questions in a long time. That’s why it got buried in my email.

Hi Lee,

Great website!

If I want to keep developing my bike kung-fu, is it important to keep on riding pump tracks or dirt jumps? Or once you can pump, is there a point where it becomes more important to just get out and ride regardless of whether it’s pump or trail?

Obviously learning to pump will make you a better rider, however, I feel like I have the basics down. To give you a sense of where my pump skills are at, I can pump through berms, manual between rollers (but I can’t continuously manual across several rollers) and I can jump the smaller roller gaps. I must appear somewhat competent on the pumptrack as novice riders at the tracks ask me for tips on how to ride better at the pump track. I’m definitely no Mark Weir or Lee McCormack and I know I could continue to improve on the pump track, but are these ongoing improvements going to continue to make a big difference to my DH or XC riding? Or is there a point of diminishing returns?

The reason for this questions is I can access pump tracks at the local bike parks; however, if I am going to drive to a bike park I would prefer to take my 6 inch all-mountain machine or possibly buy a slightly bigger freeride/park specific bike (e.g. sx trail II). The pump-track and dirt jump scene is very small where I live in Melbourne and I don’t live near bmx tracks. I could lobby the local council to build pump or jumps, however, I would prefer to focus my energies on DH or all-mountain specific trails. On the flip-side, I enjoy competing and seeing improvements and I don’t want to neglect pump track specific training if it is still highly important at this point in my riding.

For me, this question also has implications for my bike quiver as I currently have a dj bike which is getting neglected. For bike storage reasons, I need to sell it or get motivated for pump/jump and start using it again.

Thanks, Ben from Melbourne, Australia


Thanks for the awesome question. Sorry it’s taken five months to respond; the best questions get red flagged then buried.

Short answer:

Yes. You can over-pump it.

Fresh tracks on a brand new track: Moments like these are sweet, but there’s more to mountain biking.

Medium answer:

If you want to ride pump track, ride pump track. If you want to rip trails, rip trails. Heck, if you want to ride road, ride road.

Riding is fun, and it’s all good.

Longer answer:

Pump tracking teaches your body what to do in gnar, but it sure helps if your brain is used to gnar.

As one of the core skills, pump improves many aspects of your riding. But pump is only one branch of the skills tree. (Yes, I made a crazy tree diagram that shows how all bike skills relate with each other. I use it in my teaching.)

You can get very good at ripping dirt jumps and pump tracks, but if real terrain is your thing you need to learn how to ride real terrain. In addition to pump, ripping real terrain requires: vision, line choice, flat turns, pedaling, drops, etc. and etc. — and let’s not forget your ability to manage speed. At some point, the only way to get better at ripping trail is to rip trail.

Besides: If you’re riding any terrain, I sure hope you’re pumping and jumping. This kind of pump is more varied — more real — and it sure is good for your kung fu. Plus it’s fun.

So, yes, you can overdo the pump track. Pump is an awesome skill, but it’s one of many. If you want to ride better/faster in the real world, it’s important to develop all aspects of your riding.

As for me:

I have very limited free time and shoulder stability. I often teach and practice various skills, including pump, but I spend very little time pinning real trails. I’ve become pretty smooth and consistent, but I’m not used to reading trail at speed. As a result, I’m not as aggressive or fast as I’d like to be.

If my schedule and body permitted, I would gladly trade some pump sessions for trail rides. But I am not complaining: Pump track is an excellent way to stay strong and sharp, and I go fast enough to get the job done.

Riding is fun, and it’s all good.


Know more. Have more fun!

Join the leelikesbikes mailing list:

13 replies
  1. Dane says:

    There are some great points in here, but one that I feel has been missed and that is the impact of pumping on your fitness. A magazine recently discussed this and how pumping is great for your overall fitness, if you can pump already, try doing it quicker and quicker or over longer periods as this will help your cardio.

  2. leelikesbikes says:

    Great point. Pump tracking is probably the best overall MTB conditioning you can do. Add some time on the trainer or road, and you’re ready to rip.

  3. chance says:

    totally agree, we just finished the 3rd pump track here in Eagan Mn, sort of a replica of the Sea Otter, from 2010 i believe it was and like 4 laps and you are blown up and I have people come over to ride the tracks of varying difficulty and they always say how much more physically demanding it was then they thought it would be. They usually leave with shaky legs! I love it. At least once a week training on the pump tracks and jumps! Thanks Lee for your great instruction in Pump Track Nation!

  4. John K. says:

    This is an interesting post. I’m having so much fun on my new pump track that I’m not riding the trails as much as I used to. The result is that I have definitely lost some skills and confidence for trail features like drops and skinnies.

    So, I’m trying to visualize a way to incorporate them into my pump track! I think it would be really cool to mix a bunch of trail features into a single pump track. Imagine pumping your way up to the lip of a drop, down to a tabletop, more pumping, ride a short uphill skinny line, etc… Sort of a PumpTrack2.0

  5. chance says:

    John k. That is such a great Idea! more like a really flowy short track! Probably need to make it a bit longer then a normal pump track but I could totally see this working! Keep us posted if you do it!

  6. John K. says:

    Lee you only burned 291 calories on a 5 mile ride? Now that’s efficiency!

    Your backyard pumptrack looks amazing. The fact you put one in on a sidehill is what inspired me to do the same.

Comments are closed.