Approach the obstacle with an amount of speed equal to the object’s height divide by the speed of light. Compress your bike’s front end, by beginning to do a push up on your handlebars. Spring the front end by pulling backwards with your whole upper body, not just your arms, while extending your both legs into the pedals. As the front end rises to the height of the object, push forward again on the bars while sucking the bike up under you with your legs, feet tilted forward, gripping the pedals.
If you got the timing right, you bunny hopped the obstacle. If you got the timing wrong, you now have sand and possibly blood in your mouth. Return to step one and repeat with better timing.
In the summer of 1986 Hugo Sanchez was briefly the king of Mexico. Star striker for the national team in a World Cup year in which his country was also the host nation. I lived in Mexico City that summer with some friends. I was 15 and in love with soccer, a thing I had in common with every other human in the country that summer. My young mind knew nothing like the Azteca Stadium with 118,000 people singing the Mexican national anthem at the top of their lungs.
Take the first few steps above, the speed, the front-end compression, but when you pull back on the bars, press down with your strong foot. You should be seated, your left hand on the brake lever. As your front wheel rises to what feels like its apex (just before you would naturally tip over backwards), give the rear brake a small squeeze as you push down on the other pedal. You are now riding a wheelie, balancing the pushing of pedals against the squeezing of brake, which, if yanked, will put the front wheel on the ground again.
During the tournament’s three-week run, there was a Coca-Cola commercial on Mexican television that featured Hugo Sanchez. In it, he juggled a ball freestyle, culminating in a move where he caught it behind his knee, held it there ever so briefly, and then flicked it out with his opposite heel. This glorious and yet completely useless bit of trickery was accompanied by an explosion of carbonated brown fluid, a drink we all, as a result, desperately wanted. We, and kids across Mexico, spent the rest of the summer trying to learn that trick. I never succeeded, and I never saw any of my friends get close.
Ride forward at a modest speed. Grab your front brake hard as you steer hard to one side. Lean forward and twist your body to the opposite side, using your feet to swivel the rear of the bike around to 180 degrees from your original direction. As you land the rear wheel, lift the handlebars and unweight the rear end again to settle into a vertical position.
Flash forward 35 plus years, and my kids have an array of freestyle soccer moves they can pull off on a whim, the sorts of things I could only dream of when I was their age. How do they do it? Are they just more talented than I am (likely), or do they live in an age when anything you want to learn has been mastered and distilled for you in a YouTube how-to video?
Hugo Sanchez was the king of Mexico that summer (ardent fútbol fans will protest that the brightest light of that tournament was Diego Armando Maradona, which is correct…but Maradona was God. Sanchez walked the Earth with the rest of us). If he had shown all us kids how to do the trick, broken it down step-by-step, so that we could each have matched him, then the magic wouldn’t have worked. We’d each have demanded our turn sitting on the throne.
I have watched hundreds of how-to videos, and I have learned a few things. There is nothing, NOTHING, in my experience that exceeds the joy of setting your mind on a particular move, a specific trick, and then achieving it through hours of practice. Does the how-to video cheapen that experience?
Yes. Yes, it does.
But a t-shirt. Buy a t-shirt. Buy a t-shirt. Buy a t-shirt. Buy a t-shirt. Buy a t-shirt. Buy a t-shirt.