Pump Track Generation

Santa Cruz pump tracks are breeding a bunch of skilled and friendly young riders.

by Dave Robinson
Santa Cruz is famous in the surfing community not only for it’s quality surf and talented pros but also for its fierce localism. Our surf spots seem to spawn not only talent but, too often, also hostility.

Santa Cruz is also breeding a new generation of stars, those that thrive on the world-class trails and bike parks around the county. In stark contrast to our surf spots, this is an environment where you will be embraced as a newbie and welcomed into the fold. And our youthful ambassadors and future stars of the sport are turning laps right now on a small dirt oval alongside Highway 1 on the Westside.

If you’ve driven north on highway one in the last two years and looked across at the old Wrigley Gum factory you’ve probably noticed a new chain link fence enclosing a tiny park littered with small dirt lumps and small kids. This inauspicious location is the Westside Pump Park, the newest City of Santa Cruz Park. It is also the incubator for the latest generation of super-talented bike riders in Santa Cruz County, following in the footsteps of the Aptos Post Office Jumps superstars.

If you’ve read any of my other posts or are familiar with the trail-building efforts of Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz, then you already understand the mechanics and purpose of a pump park. It is a really efficient use of space that helps one develop bike-handling skills by encouraging the efficient use of your body to propel a bicycle around a loop without pedaling. If you’ve spent time at any of the three public pump tracks in the area you’ll notice they are most popular with kids under 20, with heaps under 10 and some as young as 18 months. You’re probably also amazed at the skill and stamina of anyone who rides there often.

Our pump track class record is 205 laps in a three hour session, by a 12-year old no less! More inspiring, though, is the camaraderie that you observe in this environment.

This could be because of a couple of different reasons. The design of the track causes riders to gather on the same dirt mound and so encourages discussion, everything from technique and gear to some of life’s bigger challenges. Pump tracks are easy to ride so they encourage participation by a wide range of ages and abilities. Pump tracks encourage sharing because an average lap only takes 30 to 60 seconds, so it is easy to get your lap in and then watch the next rider while you catch your breath.

There is a lot of sharing going on. You’ll often see total strangers swapping bikes in the course of a session. Pump tracks are non-competitive, because normally only one rider at a time is on the track so there is no racing or passing. Pump track bikes are very basic, anything with two wheels will work, and a good bike can be had for about $250, so there are fewer socio-economic disparities than you might see elsewhere. Crashes are common but significant injuries are rare because there are few if any opportunities to leave the ground on a pump track. When someone does crash they’ll usually find their feet quickly, dust themselves off, and take a bow. No ego required. And everyone is looking out for each other, I love watching a dusty kid picking up his friend and congratulating him on a good crash.

Building a Better Population

Pump Tracks have rapidly become woven into the the social fabric of the Santa Cruz cycling community in a few short years. As a result we have seen the emergence of a stronger, more capable class of rider emerging onto our trails, with superior trail ethics. Out on the trail we are seeing younger riders with more stamina exhibiting superior trail etiquette.

The skills and strength that one develops on the track cross over all categories and uses of bicycles. Commuters to school or work will find improved awareness. This is good for the broader community, because stronger individuals riding greater distances mean reduced traffic and fossil fuel consumption.

The pump track asks nothing more of you than a few minutes of your time and an open mind. In return they’ll grant you better mental and physical fitness and a slew of new friends.

What is keeping you from getting yourself out to your local pump track and seeing the magic at work for yourself? There is an open invitation for you to try one the simplest, most welcoming sports outdoors. Join the Pump Track Generation!

Dave Robinson is membership coordinator of Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz, co-founder of The Ride Guides, and the force behind Inspired Stewardship, a project that seeks to build environmental stewardship through recreation.

Follow this link to check out the Ride Guides’ pump track clinics.

Here’s a list of Santa Cruz County bike parks.