The Mountain Bike Life

A little over a year ago, one of my close friends approached me about turning part of his yard into a pump track. The piece of land was a heavily wooded, the idea of fitting a pump track there seemed completely absurd, and almost impossible. Without much hesitation I decided to take on the challenge anyway. One of the things we could not do, was dig for dirt, like you might for a set of dirt jumps. The only good dirt was hidden beneath 6 inches of roots and decayed organic matter and there was very much of it. Luckily, his piece of land was right off the side of the road and we were able to create enough space for a dump truck load of dirt, which would come in very handy. Before any building could begin I needed to see what exactly I was working with.

The first process of building the pumptrack was to remove any dead wood off the ground, and thin out any trees that were visibly dead. Once that process was over the prospect of putting a pump track in the plot of land seemed more doable, but still far out.

With the dead trees gone, it was much easier to visualize lines to get a sense of the general layout of the course before the raking began. After the footprint was raked, a number of things became clear. There were a lot of roots, stumps and decent sized rocks. Those became what I call “limiting factors” for designing the course.

Now it was time to get some dirt. One of the neighbors down the road, was a part time landscaper, and delivered a few full loads of 1/2 inch screened hard-pack dirt at a reasonable cost . Hard pack, is a type of dirt often used in the north eastern states for driveways. It’s easy to work with and packs better than any dirt I’ve come across.

With the dirt here it was time to get to work. Bobcats, and machinery were out of question. Shovels and wheelbarrows were the tools of choice. The first step to this process was to lay down 3-4 inches dirt 4 feet wide on the whole footprint of course. With the footprint outlined it was much easier to get a feel for what was realistically possible.

One of the hardest aspects of designing this course were the limiting factors. If a rock or stump could not be moved, the course footprint would have to altered or the rock would have to become part of feature (e.g roller, jump etc). These limiting factors created a lot of headache when trying to properly space jumps and rollers. However, after a bit of work the general course started to come together.

Photo Credit: Stacey W.

After two hard weeks of work the basic inner loop was completed, and now it was time to start thinking of cross over and secondary line choices. The cross over lines were easily the most challenging aspect of the build. In parts of the course 5 lines intersect/merge, and figuring out how to make all five lines flow well forwards and backwards required a lot of brainstorming and experimentation.

Over the course of the project, many friends came out to lend a hand. Halfway through the project, (about when the video was filmed) I even recruited a co-builder who was a BMX buddy who I had lost contact with. The help I received while building was invaluable, and helped keep me motivated.

To me, building a pump track was one of the most rewarding things I’ve had a chance to do. The pump track really helped bring friends together. It’s a great place for riders of all skill sets to ride with each other with out feeling out of place. There’s no other feeling like seeing people having fun on something you built. It has really helped bring the local biking community together.

I will leave you with a few tips, if you are considering building a pump track yourself:

  • More dirt = more better
  • Don’t get caught up with plans. Let your creativity run wild
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment, thinking boldly pays off
  • Don’t be afraid to admit that a feature which you spent all day working on sucks.
  • Figure out why something sucks and what you need to change it.
  • Camber! Slightly elevating the outside of the features directly before and after a berm (even in relatively straight lines) really helps the flow. Think of a Nascar track.
  • Build things longer, and more gradual than you think. A jump that appears 3-4 feet long is probably closer to 6-8feet, and has a 14-16 foot long base
  • Lips don’t need to be that steep. A 45 degree sloped lip is going to be way too steep for a 1 foot tall roller.
  • A berms contour should not resemble pentagons.
  • Think of berms are the negative space between jumps turned sideways, rather than a “turn”.
  • Bigger wheels require larger spacing between features.
  • Do not use organic matter ever. It’s spongy, and won’t pack.
  • Don’t even use organic matter as “filler” and put dirt over it, such as burying logs.
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