We give the Mountain pulpit to Pete Webber, Special Projects Manager for the International Mountain Bicycling Association.
With a mighty yell, three boys wrench a stubborn fencepost from the ground and toss it into a rusty shopping cart, along with barbed wire, old tires, andother junk. The teenagers follow a stream of workers clearing trash and debris from a sprawling vacant plot. No, they aren't juvenile delinquents working community service hours. Their baggy shorts and flat-brimmed caps brand them as mountain bike riders. Working alongside other bikers, they've volunteered to clear the way for a future city park. Not just any park, but a bike park—complete with trails and terrain shaped specifically for mountain biking.
The scene is the future Valmont Bike Park in Boulder, Colorado, where cyclists have partnered with city officials to develop a new style of recreationfacility. Like skateboarders of the 1980s, mountain bikers are rallying to build parks that meet the unique demands of their growing sport. And they're doing it with the same spirit of volunteerism and civic partnership that have been mountain biking's greatest assets for more than 20 years.
When I started my career at IMBA a decade ago, we were all about keeping backcountry trails open for mountain biking. But as our sport has gone more mainstream, and riders like myself have started families, our perspective has evolved. We've learned that mountain biking near home, on urban trails easily accessed without a car, is just as important as far-flung epic singletrack.
But what's an urban bike park? There's no set recipe, but the ingredients often include a variety of trails and natural obstacles such as rocks and logs, along with imaginatively constructed features like balance beams and wall-rides. Other common bike park elements include pump tracks and dirt jumps, all collected in a compact setting. While these parks come in different shapes and sizes, they all make biking more readily available to the public—especially to kids who might not have access to biking trails located outside town. Riders return to these parks again and again to session the obstacles and improve their riding. To date, more than 50 parks have been constructed in the U.S. and Canada.
It would be nice for IMBA to take credit for all this, but it's the community-based mountain bike clubs that have fueled the emergence of bike parks. These hard-working groups, under the umbrella of IMBA, have created an amazing legacy of stewardship. With a love for outdoor recreation and public lands, and an obsession for well-crafted singletrack, bike clubs have emerged as valuable partners to financially strapped local parks departments.
In Boulder, the cycling community is plotting all sorts of good stuff at the Valmont Bike Park. Kid's clinics, a high school racing league, new-school jump jams, and national-level cyclocross races are just a few of the items on the agenda. The goal—beyond the great riding—is to bring mountain biking to the people, hooking up a new generation of riders with memorably cool experiences. Ask the three kids loading their shopping cart with debris—they'll tell you they can't wait to ride their new bike park.
Please visit imba.com for more information. From the Summer 2010 issue. Subscribe today, get the magazine at the iTunes store, or find Mountain at Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, Gander Mountain, and other natural foods and outdoor stores.