Everyday Cyclist: Backyard Pump Tracks Rule

A pump track is a dirt bicycle track designed so that the rider can roll through the entire track without pedaling. A good pump track has no level sections of dirt. The track is constantly changing: you pass over a bump, into a dip, around a berm, and into another dip, where it may pop over another bump and then into a 180 degree turn. The “pump” part is that you must push your bike into the dips and corners to maintain and build speed. And even though you don’t pedal, the pumping requires a lot of aerobic output. The track is a loop, so riders can roll around the track as long as they have the lungs for it.

There are different styles of pump tracks. Some are designed for optimizing speed or jumping. Other tracks may be optimized for improving cornering. In all cases, there’s no doubt that pump tracks build bike-handling skill. And all pump tracks can be fun for just about any rider.

OTM talked to Pat Sprute, who built a small track in the second lot on his property. Pat’s track is a great track for everyone to try: his after work “sessions” are popular with the obvious bikey crowd, but kids as young as 2 ? have ridden the track. Everyone leaves with smiles.

OTM: Why did you build a pump track in your yard?

We have a large side yard and for quite a while (as in a number of years), I’ve had this fantasy about how cool it would be to have a small, banked-turn mountain bike track in that space. It was never anything more than a fantasy, until a friend of mine asked if I’d ever heard of a “pump track”. From the minute I first saw one on YouTube, it was all I could think about. The fantasy begged to become reality, and I was all in.

OTM: How much work — how many man hours are in it? How much dirt?

Labor: I didn’t keep track and I’d rather not know. A lot. But it was a labor of obsession, so it was cool. If you’re needing a planning number, make it 40 hours. And then double it.

Dirt: Well, I immediately started eyeballing potential sources. It got pretty intense. There were some high spots in my yard that never stood a chance. Once I’d exhausted my onsite sources, I had 10 more yards hauled in. It came in a really big dump truck, complete with backup beeper. I could still use more, though. When I’m out and about, seeing a nice pile of dirt always jacks my heart rate up by about 10 beats a minute.

OTM: How did you settle on a design?

I bought this rad e-book called “Pump Track Nation” from a guy named Lee McCormack, who’s like the undisputed pump track guru. Best ten bucks I’ve ever spent. Then I went online and watched way too much video. Then I was fortunate enough to be invited to look at an existing local track. At about that point, my confidence kicked in and I knew exactly what I wanted to build.

OTM: Any advice for someone thinking of building one?

Definitely. It will be twice as much work as you think it will be, and four times as much fun. Oh, and make sure you have a good plan. I think there are a lot of good-intentioned tracks that never get finished, which is a shame. The build process will burn you out if you’re not realistic.

OTM: Would you do it again? Any regrets? Would you do it differently?

No regrets whatsoever about doing it. And surprisingly, I’m pretty happy with how it came out, considering it was a first attempt. There are quite a number of friends and acquaintances who have jumped on the track for the first time and bailed out after a few laps, gasping for breath, grinning from ear to ear. That’s extremely satisfying to see, so I must have done something right.

OTM: What’s the long term plan for your track?

At one time, I was all about lobbying my wife for more yard space, so I could grow the track. But it takes a ton of time and effort to maintain a track, and I think it’s about the right size now in that respect. So I’m happy with the basic form, but what turns out to be pretty amazing is how much fun it is to tweak it – seemingly subtle changes to a bump or berm can affect the entire flow of the track. In the long term, I know I will definitely get to the point where it’s more work than it’s worth, but I hope that’s a ways down the road. I keep a list of people that I want to invite over and watch experience this “pump track business” for the first time, so that’s kind of my motivation in the short term.

OTM: Other stuff? What should people know about pump tracks?

It’ll build your balance and line-picking skills. Madly. And also, that you’re gonna crash. It’s unavoidable if you want to challenge yourself, which you cannot not do. So you’ll be better and more sore. And all smiley. Guaranteed.
John Speare grew up and lives in Spokane. He rides his bike everywhere. Check out his blog at http://cyclingspokane.blogspot.com.

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