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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8 replies
  1. Mei, the mudworm says:

    Um, that’s freaky. How do you know me so well — all those assumptions are so true! And man, are you blunt! But I like that. As for the bike setup: seat, check; stem, check; and okay, I’ll lock out the suspension when I learn to pump. I’ll stick to my bike (’05 Stumpjumper) though since I’m learning these skills just so I can become a better trail rider. Plus, I feel too old for BMXing. Oops, did I just say that out aloud? I just told my hubby on the phone that I HAVE TO learn pumping now that Lee has made it public. Ha!

    Hey, thanks for the speedy response. You rock!

  2. leelikesbikes says:

    >> Um, that’s freaky. How do you know me so well — all those >> assumptions are so true!


    I’ve coached a lot of people — from old beginners to young pros — and I pay careful attention to their movements and moods.

    There are a few universal patterns, and then there are the Extra Special Type A patterns (of which I am painfully aware!).

    You’re never too old to learn BMX, but you DO get too old to have time to simultaneously learn multiple riding styles.

    1) Master the basic skills. 2) Learn to wring out that Stumpy. 3) Relax and pin it!

  3. Mei, the mudworm says:

    Lee, I have a follow up question. You say few riders know “what it means to move your bike with real force and speed.” But do you believe everyone is capable of doing it once he/she gets the technique right? Or could it be that some people are just not strong enough to pull it off? I know, I know, you have James Wilson’s programs all over your sidebar, so everyone can get stronger, but now that I think about it, I have never ever seen a video anywhere of a lady doing an impressive j-hop or pumping a figure-eight or a flat surface like you did. That’s kinda depressing. What’s your take? (If anyone has such a video, please post up. You have no idea how inspiring that will be for some people!)

  4. Simcik says:

    I think Judy would take offense to that statement! https://www.leelikesbikes.com/reconnecting-with-and-on-the-pump-track.html#more-1005

    I know a handful of women who shred pump tracks (Bobbi Watt (even pregnant could embarass some men if she so chose), Lisa Myklak, Tammy Donahugh)

    They rip on the pump track.

    Technique is the most important thing for learning to pump. As your technique becomes more smooth and consistent, you become more deliberate in your motion and power almost seems to build itself on the pumptrack. Keep at it!

  5. Mei, the mudworm says:

    I didn’t mean to offend anyone and I truly believe that there are hardcore ladies out there shredding the trails and pumptracks. I was just making an observation that all the instructional videos for skills that require explosive power I’ve seen so far were of guys. So, thanks for help me fend off those negative self-defeating thoughts!

  6. Tea Party says:

    Ha! Thanks Nick! 🙂 Lee, that video brought some good feelings….wow, I miss those days! I think it’s still okay for me to ride a pump track (about 6 mon. pregnant and all)?!

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