Update: July 31, 2013
So my son Miguel and I have been driving out to far away pump tracks and dirt jump parks to feed our new found interest in this kind of riding. It seems like we learn something new every day and we're able to use these skills on the trail. It's such a revelation when you can view the hidden berms and undulations on your local singletrack and pump your way down the trail, finding speed and traction without pedaling. It feels safer as well as we are just more comfortable on the bike because of the constant learning on the pump track.
"What if we had one of these in our backyard?", we wondered. "No, mom would never allow it. Not in a million years." But then, one day, mom brought it up. "I think you two should build a pump track." she said. "You two will be happier and safer. You can have half the yard." Can I get a hellya? It turns out, Miguel was talking to mom a lot and quietly convinced her that it was a good idea.
So before she could change her mind, I quickly sprang in to action. I could either build it myself, lose many weekends and screw it up for a year. Or I could call my friend Alex at Action Sports Construction and have it done in two days. Of course I chose the latter, instant gratification solution.
Q&A with the builder, Alex Fowler
Mtbr: Can you give us more details on cost?
Alex: Tractor & Equipment rental: Always reserve a "Tracked Skid Steer" anything with wheels can be used to place dirt, but not pack and shape it. Equipment is typically between $250-$350 per day. There is normally a pick up and delivery fee of $100 each way.
Dirt: Dirt is either the most expensive part of building a pump track. Or free! Fill dirt can be bought at any landscape supply store for $15-$20 per cubic yard. Or if you want to go on the higher end of things purchase Screened Fill dirt for $20-$30 a yard. Most backyard tracks use between 40-80 cubic yards, so it can really add up quick. If your project schedule and the build site allows, you can search craigslist for home owners (typically after they have installed a Pool) giving away fill dirt. Also try calling local contractors or even better the truck drivers themselves about projects which are hauling dirt in the area you are building. You may be just the person they are looking for to haul dirt too and you may be pleasantly surprised.
Mtbr: You always recommend four foot wide tracks and big berms. Why?
Alex: four wide track / big berms?: I stick to a four foot wide rule (unless client advises me other wise) because I want my client to have a safe experience with their track. The narrower a feature is the easier it is to lose control and have your front tire wash out or roll of the side, the last thing iI want to see is a client falling on their track. Riding on the side of a feature/roller is the #1 cause of erosion and a wider surface helps avoid that. A wider riding surface is also easier to build in a sound manner. The equipment I/we use is big and heavy which is needed for proper compaction of the dirt, if a surface is too narrow the equipment cannot be operated properly thus it will erode faster and need more maintenance down the road.
Mtbr: How much space is needed?
Alex: Pump tracks can fit anywhere! The smallest track I have ever built professionally was roughly 15" x 25". And regarding the 2 days work aspect. I don't charge by the day. I charge by how much dirt is used on the job. But you can get a lot done in a very short amount of time, the bigger the job, the bigger the equipment. So the size of the job is not that important. I just use bigger machines.
Having a pump track in the backyard is a blessing indeed. Instead of my son going out to the dirt jump track, he is at home having friends over. And both of us ride much better and safer on the trail since everyday, we are practicing and learning useful skills.
Pump track construction performed by:
Continue reading for more information and examples of backyard pump tracks
Update: April 10
Dan Milner of EpicTVadventure paid a visit to to Mark Weir's backyard pump trump track to get a primer on how to ride pump tracks with style and authority. Well, maybe getting around without a pedal stroke is a lofty enough goal for us mere mortals.
Dan hails from the UK and is one of the greatest bike photographers in the world. He travels the world for images, adventure and now video.
Photo by Alex Fowler
A few years ago, my friends Mark Weir and Lee McCormack started raving about pump tracks. They talked about how much fun these tracks were and how they helped their mountain bike skills. A pump track is different from a BMX track or a dirt jump track as it is designed with undulations and berms to keep speed without pedaling. "Bah, that's just for pro downhillers," I dismissed. What they like has little relevance to me since I am more of a singlespeeder and XC rider.
But as I traveled around to ride, I got exposed to more styles of riding and a whole different level of riding. In my press events, designated photographers would tend to gravitate towards the riders who flowed through the trails with style and confidence. These folks looked very active on the bike and seemed to pump their way through the trail. Several times, I found myself in places like Bend, OR and BC, Canada which had a ton of public pump tracks maintained by the city. And as I spent more time riding with my 12-year old son, we spent a lot of time at a local dirt jump park and I was slowly introduced to the magic of bike parks and pump tracks.
Then my buddy who is a local cyclocross racer invited me to his tiny backyard for a pump track party. I said, "Wait a minute. You're an XC dude. And your backyard is too small and..." He handed me a beer and told me to take a few laps. My son and I took turns as we laughed out loud and thus began our fascination with the backyard pump track.
The first time you do a couple of laps without a pedal stroke and really commit to a berm is quite magical. We get the kids, the wives taking turns on the track and it all starts to come together.
I then started paying attention to my circle of friends and discovered that quite a few have pump tracks already in their backyard and many more are thinking about it. In the SF Bay Area where cities and trail councils are restrictive with access to fun trails, this concept starts to hit home. And with families and busy working schedules, the convenience, accessibility and safety of a backyard track make a lot of sense.
We then discovered that one of our good friends has a real back yard and a significant pump track. There is even an enclosed trampoline nearby and a Gazebo that doubles as a DJ booth and launching pad.
So that's just a few locals getting started. Read on and see what some of the pros can do.
So now that we're curious, I got back to my buddies, Lee and Mark and asked for more insight and examples. These guys who don't even like email sent a rapid-fire set of samples, videos and tips. It's obvious that I've struck a chord as they've dedicated a good chunk of their lives digging and spreading the good word about pump tracks.
Lee McCormack is one of the godfathers of pump tracks and some might say that he wrote the book on it. Actually he did write one and we are digesting it right now. But here he is in action.
The book Lee wrote is here, Pump Track Nation and we will dig in to in a follow-on article.
So then we contacted Mark Weir as we think of him as the ambassador of pump tracks since he's been extolling the virtues of pump tracks for many years. And since he's such a high profile and insanely fast rider, many have listened.
Mark has become an internet sensation with his pump track videos not just because of the air he gets but also because of the raucous sound his tires make when railing a pump track berm. That sound is a sign that you're doing something right according to Mark.
Here is Ryan Finney on Mark's track riding like a boss. Ryan used to race pro downhill and would slay the world's best downhillers at the Sea Otter Classic events. Ryan is retired now and can be found wheelin and rc racing with Mark these days.
So what this all have to do with mountain biking? Riding a pump track well will absolutely make you a better mountain biker. You will learn to corner, weight and unweight a bike and become a much more active and dynamic biker. Some of the concepts are explained here.
And here you can see Brian Lopes get creative with space as he doesn't have a huge chunk of land but he has a bit of unused space in corridors and in between landscaping.
Brian Lopes Describes the Track
I think the track is unique because it covers my friends front and back yard, attaching the two by going down the side of the house. It is also unique because you go around a nice sculpture and putting green, and the entire course is landscaped. I designed most of the track and my friend Chris Schulz made it. It was a process that took a couple months to fully complete and get dialed in. It started with just the front yard, then we decided to extend it to the back.
Next week we will explore more creative landscaping ideas as we delve into the process of getting a high SAF (Spouse Acceptance Factor). Pump tracks are cool and all but we don't want it to break up your marriage if you rip up your lawn without the necessary approvals.
Finally, we will leave you with a couple guys who took some leaf-strewn dirt in the woods of New Hampshire and turned it into a work of art. From a lump of coal, they extracted a diamond using a wheelbarrow, a shovel and a whole lot of muscle.
We talked to one of the builders, Phil Kmetz and he shared some of their experience. They're part of a website called The Mountain Bike Life where they live the dream of biking and write about it almost every day.
Mtbr: How did this project come about and what surprised you the most?
Phil Kmetz: The biggest surprise was how well it came together. The ground was really uneven and tree infested, so conceptualizing a pump track built in that area was rather challenging.
One of the big advantages we found of building a pump track in the woods is that it doesn't bake in the sun and become dry and dusty. The tree cover keeps the direct sun off it which helps keep the dirt moist which is very important. If you ever go to a BMX track during a race, you'll see them watering the course fairly often. Also the shade makes the riding more enjoyable.
Another thing that I learned is that sometimes, for no seemingly no reason, a pot hole would develop. This was much more noticeable when the course was dry. The reason the pot holes were forming was the root system below was too close, and even with 6 inches of dirt on top, would give ever so slightly and start go crumble. To counter act that, I would dig out the pot hole, and even a little wider, and remove the organic matter below and fill it in with rocks and good dirt.
The thing that amazed me the most was how much positive interest there was. Since this was built off the side of a road, it started to draw some attention from passersby. For the most part it was all positive, and we were even able to convince a few non-riders to give the course a try. However, there was one neighbor who for some reason, just didn't like it and tried to recruit every neighbor to get the track shut down (even though it was on my friends private property). Luckily, getting on the good side the other neighbors played to our advantage and the "angry" neighbor was not able to gain any traction.
Next week, we will write a whole lot more about how design and build a pump track or get a contractor to do it for you. And more important, we will discuss how to convince your spouse or town/city to get a pump track built.
If you have more ideas and examples, please leave in the comments below.
Some of our resources are:
Mark Weir of WTB and Bikeskills
Lee McCormack of Leelikesbikes.com
Alex Fowler of Action Sports Construction
Mark Davidson and the "Pump Track Pandemonium" on April 13-14 in Santa Cruz, CA
Phil Kmetz & Rivers Mitchell of The Mountain Bike Life blog