I’ve always done a lot of bike riding with the kids. I also lead by example, and try to get out on my bike daily. My daughter is a fantastic mountain biker, who especially enjoys crushing the uphill sections of a trail. My son is a bit more into the technical side of mountain biking and loves “getting air” over the tiniest of rises. He even makes it into the air while riding over slightly uneven sidewalk slabs.
Last year he wanted to make a jump. I’ve always done my best riding on the ground, and didn’t really know much about jumps, or using them to launch myself into the air. Naturally, wood was where we started. I had some 5/8″ spruce plywood lying around, along with a few 2x4s, so we guessed on what would be appropriate jump dimensions and got to work.
Rough work is relaxing work
I often work to tolerances of 1/64″ or tighter when making custom furniture, so working to within 1/2″ or so is enjoyable for me. This also made it easier for my nine-year-old son to help out. The piece of plywood I had was 4′ long, so the length of our jump was set. I figured 2′ wide would give us some stability, and more than enough width to steer our bikes along.
The height was a whole other story, though. Not having much experience in the air, I wasn’t sure how high was safe for both my son and (especially) myself. I didn’t want to build something that would become boring within a few jumps. I also didn’t want to end up in the hospital. I figured 16″ was a happy medium.
We ripped the top to size, then cut one rectangular piece for the sides to length and width. At that point we marked a line corner to corner and used a circular saw to give us two long triangles to give us our height. They got attached under the top with the help of some lengths of 2×4 material.
In the furniture world good joinery usually means not only strong and lasting, but often beautiful. That’s not the case when building bike jumps. Beauty isn’t a part of the formula. Butt joints, reinforced with 2-1/2″ long exterior screws, are solid, and they’ll look just fine when approaching the jump at 30 km/h on two wheels. Exterior glue was used to further reinforce the joints.
Things were starting to come together nicely. My son was getting excited, and I was starting to think 16″ was too high. I was also thinking I might be too old to learn new bike tricks. We cut the end panel to size and secured it in place with 2x4s, glue and screws. We made sure the main structural 2x4s stretched across the underside of the top to provide support when a rider hit the jump. I even had the forethought to place the first 2×4 close to the start of the ramp so it could rest on the ground and add strength to the thin part of the wedge.
Ready for flight
The finished jump was relatively lightweight, yet solid as a rock. Short of driving the car over it, I was sure this thing was going to last many years. Our driveway is sloped, and there’s a small amount of city-owned grass right across the road. We put the jump across the street on the grass and went to the top of the driveway. To be honest, this is the exact moment I realized this jump was higher than I wanted. This was also no time for second-guessing our dimensions. We hit the jump at an angle during our first few runs and went off the side, just to get accustomed to the height. We eventually got the courage to go off the end of the jump and it was a blast.
Very quickly my son was landing jumps no problem, though he was getting less and less cautious. About 15 jumps in he almost crashed, but this brought him right back to the reality of what could happen if he didn’t focus.
Community woodworking project
Although it was just the two of us who built this ramp, before long I noticed kids would come out of their houses when we set the jump up. I have no idea how they knew when it was out. Some sort of kid sixth-sense, I guess. Soon we had about six kids doing laps over the jump, with varying levels of confidence. Even I felt like a kid again, and it was impossible to wipe the smile off my face.
Jumps are cool. The only thing cooler is adding a few more wooden mountain biking obstacles to your driveway and front lawn and inviting the local kids over. We screwed a few 4×4 posts together, then added a short section of a tree branch to the top of it for added challenge. We put a short 2×6 offcut under the center of a 7′ long 2×6 to act as a bike teeter-totter for slowly riding along. If you decide to do this, be sure to locate the offcut slightly off-center, as you want the leading end to always fall back to the ground. I had to cut 2″ of material off one end of the long 2×6 because it was balancing with both ends in the air. My accurate furniture-making ways were coming back to haunt me, sadly.
There are lots of other things kids can ride over, both wooden and otherwise. We even brought a winter tire out of the garage for a good challenge. The bigger the bike tire, the larger the obstacle you can ride over. A 2×4 flat on the ground might be enough of an obstacle for a five-year-old on 16″ wheels.
If your kids like riding bikes, I think it’s a parent’s job to give them something fun, yet not too challenging, to ride over. That’s where our skills as woodworkers and DIYers will come into play nicely. Start small, grow their confidence and don’t be afraid to challenge your kids (or yourself) on two wheels.
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