I can safely say that Boulder’s Valmont Bike Park has improved my family’s life. When I bring my kids to the bike park, something changes. All the grumbling about using the iPad or cleaning rooms or even just getting along like civilized human beings disappears once they get out on the track and rolling over the whoop-dee-doos. My normally non-competitive daughter takes off and demands that I time her on laps. My son negotiates drops I never would have imagined him riding. Oh, and yes, I enjoy it, too. It brings out the kid in me, and it gives me a chance to get out there and simply enjoy being on the bike with the people I love most (plus, we can let our dog run it out in the dog park).
It’s hard to describe the joys of the bike park to people who have not been there. I have pitched it to New York editors as the biggest new attraction in Colorado (well, along with our craft beer scene and legal weed), but it just doesn’t seem to sink in that this place would attract all ages, all types. But it does. Spend an afternoon at Valmont and you will see birthday parties, kids on Striders hitting the pump track, pros and wanna-bes launching ridiculous air and tricks, ‘cross riders grunting through laps, teenagers getting their angst out on tricky problems and middle-aged dudes like me honing their technical singletrack skills.
Valmont is not an oddity. The bike park is on the rise throughout the country. The International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) has published a beautiful new book that details how communities can build parks, large and small. A group from Chicago recently came to Valmont to meet with IMBA and plan a new, similar park called Big Marsh back in their city. There are popular private parks like Kentucky’s Mega Cavern, which was built in an old mine.
But the biggest news when it comes to bike parks is the opening of the Ruby Hill Bike Park in downtown Denver this year. This 80-acre masterpiece will rival Valmont in the beautiful variety of its terrain and features. Best of all, it may put people out enjoying bikes, who, unlike those of us lucky enough to live in Boulder or other mountain-sport-centric towns, have never had the chance to live in a community where mountain biking is an everyday part of growing up and life.
The rise of the bike park represents a new page in the evolution of mountain biking as a sport. Bike parks are part of the community, but they are far easier to use for a wider range of people than golf courses or tennis courts. There are no trail user conflicts here like there are when it comes to singletrack. If mountain biking is going to grow as a sport it needs to reach a wider, more diverse base. Bike parks in urban areas like Denver and Chicago can do that (especially since many of these parks are exploring the idea of loaner programs, so that you can ride even if you don’t own a bike). And when it comes down to it, you do not need to own a $5,000 carbon bike to enjoy the park. A cheap beater may be the best choice.
Biking has always been about just getting out and having fun, and that is exactly what the bike park offers. When I get out there with my kids, it takes me back to those days when I lived on my Huffy, when we jumped curbs in suburban New Jersey and rode those old beaters on trails into the woods long before anyone had ever heard of mountain bikes. We found stupid things to jump over—sometimes we crashed and sometimes we found eternal moments of glory.
And that, to me, is the real secret behind the rise of bike parks. They are not new at all. They are just a way for the community to create a place where kids and adults who still feel like kids can get out and do what we have done all along—have fun, embrace gravity and speed, and forget the complexities of life. I hope to see you at the park.