The Emergence of Bike Parks
Santos Skills Area, Ocala, Florida
Central Park Advanced Skills Course, Forsyth County, Georgia.
Pace Bike Park at Dalby Forest, England Photo by Russell Burton
In just 20 years, mountain bikes have progressed from clunkers to hardtails to huckers, and our most heralded places to ride have changed from Marin to Moab to Whistler.
So what's next? By our guess, bike parks are the hot ticket. Also known as bike skills parks, freeride parks or challenge parks, these playgrounds are popping up all over, and riders are loving them.
IMBA counts more than 30 purpose-built public bike skills parks in the U.S. and Canada, and many more in the U.K., Australia and beyond. Most have been built within the past two years. And this figure doesn't include the hundreds of ski areas who've been offering mountain biking since the 80's, nor privately owned bike parks such as the innovative Ray's Indoor Park, in Cleveland (OH).
So, what's a bike park? While there doesn't seem to be a set recipe, the ingredients usually include a variety of natural obstacles such as rocks and logs, imaginatively constructed features like teeters and ladder bridges and dirt jumps - all collected in a small setting. Picture a skateboard park or snowboard park, but designed specifically for mountain bikes.
Sport-specific parks are nothing new. Ski resorts have embraced skiing and snowboarding terrain parks for more than a decade and many ski areas offer multiple parks scattered around the mountain; mega-resort Vail offers five. Skateboarders rip on more than 1,000 skate parks in the U.S. The newest kid on the block is white-water parks for paddlers -- more than three dozen in the U.S. at last count.
The emergence of bike parks is fueled by both riders and public land managers. Riders seek more challenging terrain, jumps, constructed obstacles, and a place to hone their skills. Managers want to reign in unauthorized trailbuilding and provide new recreation options in a central, easily managed location.
While these parks come in different shapes and sizes, they share the common thread of helping make technically challenging mountain biking more readily available to the public - especially kids. They usually accommodate a wide range of abilities, with opportunities for skill building and progressively difficult challenges. Riders return to these parks again and again to session the obstacles and improve their riding.
Bike parks do much more than mimic terrain found in nature. They also offer unique obstacles that stretch the imagination. They're not a replacement for traditional trails. Rather, they serve as an additional outlet for riders, one that's technically oriented, convenient, controlled - and a whole lot of fun.