Learning to pump: Should I lock my suspension?

Yes, at least in the beginning. Read on:

Hi Lee,

I can’t believe I only found your website a few days ago even though I’ve had your book for a year. Laugh at me all you want, being a Type AA, I am actually reading through your entire archive from 2002.

Anyway, let me get the question. I’m learning to pump. (BTW, that video of you pumping on flat surface was just BEAUTIFUL!) I got the impression that from reading Pumping with suspension that pump track bikes are rigid. Well, I only have one bike, for now, and it is a 4″ travel bike. However, the suspension does have lock out both in the front and the bike. So, should I lock them out? I’m practicing pumping, j-hoping, track stand, you name it. Would you suggest changing the suspension setting all the time for each specific drill?

Well, I’m sure you get tons of questions every day and you sounded like a very busy man, so I’ll understand if I don’t hear back. But I really hope I do hear back from you.

Okay, back to my catching up task on leelikesbikes.com…

Best Regards,
– Mei, the mudworm

Rocking the P.3, my favorite all-around pump/jump bike.

Hi Mei,

Thanks for writing.

I’ve done a whole lot of pumping since “Pumping with suspension” was written in 2006. In that time I’ve learned a ton, and I’ve taught hundreds of riders to rock the pump.


1) You don’t have adequate range of motion. Despite how you might feel, your butt never gets far from your saddle.

2) Your movements aren’t fluid. One hard thing about being Type AA is you desperately want to excel at something, but you’re too self critical to relax and let fly. Within that small cockpit, you are tense, and your movements are notchy.

3) Your movements aren’t powerful. You have no idea what it means to move your bike with real force and speed. Few mountain bikers do.

This is all normal and OK. We can work with it.


1) Open up your range of motion.

2) Learn to use it fluidly.

3) Learn to use it powerfully.

Bike setup
A stiff little dirt jumper or BMX bike would be ideal (Intense BMX base models are only about $300), but your 4-inch rail bike can work just fine. I’ve done a lot of pumping on my 120mm Stumpjumper, and that bike rips.

You can pump the heck out of a suspended trail bike. It just takes range, fluidity and power. My Mighty 2008 Stumpjumper Pro Carbon is supple on trail bumps and stiff on the pump track. Sweet.

In order of ease and importance:

1) Seat. Lower it. This gives you room to move up and down, and to learn to move back and forth.

2) Suspension. I’m torn on this one. While I think it’s a bad idea to mess with your suspension — your body adapts to the timing of the springs — I think you’ll learn the motion and timing faster if you lock it out.

So: Do your dedicated pump practice with the suspension locked out. Once you get that semi-wired, and in all other conditions, open it up.

Remember: Your ultimate goal is to rip trail with the grace and power of a playing porpoise. That means learning to pump through — and with — your suspension.

3) Stem. Shorten it. This will also expand your usable range of motion.

Also read:

Video: pumping a figure eight

Pumping with suspension

The second edition of Mastering Mountain Bike Skills, due out this spring, has an entire chapter on pump.

The soon-to-be book Pro BMX Skills has even more detail on core pumping technique. As a matter of fact, PBS contains the most detailed analysis of pumping ever published.

Like I said, I’ve learned a lot in the past few years.

Have fun out there,

— Lee

Know more. Have more fun!

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