Bike parks are having a moment.
There are more than 1,000 bike parks and pump tracks across the United States alone with new ones popping up all the time. In fact, there’s a good chance there’s a community or ski area bike park within an hour’s drive from where you live.
Twenty, thirty years ago, not so much. The bike park boom can be traced to a handful of vectors. At first, skate “parks” were few and far between — mostly they were privately owned or illegally poached (think abandoned swimming pools in 1970s’ drought-ridden California). Eventually, municipalities got in on the game and a nice trend developed where each community one upped the next with expanded skate parks open to all. This paved the way for similar city-owned spaces dedicated to bikes. As riding spaces both public and private improved, the riders improved. From backyard quarter pipes and north shore features with staggering amounts of lumber to the mind bending scale of vacant-lot dirt jumps, riders kept making bigger features and hitting them.
Arguably the first “bike park” was Mammoth Mountain in California which hosted the Kamikaze Downhill in 1985, the brainchild of longtime Mammoth employee Bill Cockroft. Around the same time they added a bike specific lift serve accessed downhill trail for regular riders called Downtown. (Kamikaze is more fall line bomb and while not technical it also isn’t what modern riders would call a “trail”) Vail and Whistler and other resorts follow suit in the late 80s and early 90’s. At first this mostly meant bombing fenced off ski runs or access roads — not exactly A-LINE, but still pretty damn fun. Throughout the late 90s through the 2000s, more ski areas followed suit and offered summer bike access. Following the lead of DH race trailbuilders, they included rock gardens, drops and technical terrain, and eventually built jumps and wooden features. Towns also started building places to ride with a wide array of offerings from vacant-lot jumps to sprawling campuses like Boulder’s Valmont Bike Park featuring slopestyle, dirt jumps, dual slalom and multiple pump tracks.
Why the boom now? First and foremost, bike parks are ridiculously fun. Park riding also has a low barrier to entry (lift serve less so). A decent used dirt jumper can be had for around $500, a 20″ even less; add a helmet and it’s game on. And the arc from first foray onto the park’s pump track to hitting the XL jump line is very customizable. Some folks inch along while some backflip in year one, but everybody inhabits the same space and feels largely the same stoke. A mom and her three-year-old probably can’t knock out an IMBA epic together, but they can easily share a session on the pump track. That brings us to the best quality of a bike park — the park part — where people from all different backgrounds and abilities can come together and shred.
If you value your nearest bike park, please help keep it around by volunteering some of your time — even professionally maintained parks need help with special events and competitions. Most rely solely on individuals willing to spend time digging. If you don’t dig digging, you can still help out by coordinating volunteer days, donating in-kind services, picking up trash, fundraising or simply opening your wallet. Building and maintaining even the most grassroots park requires some cash outlay and every little bit helps, so give what you can. Don’t have a bike park in your area yet? Start one. Here’s a great article on how from MTBR.