If you’ve not been keeping your ear to the ground in cycling circles, you might’ve missed off-road biking‘s new kid on the block: pump tracks.
If you’re not familiar with cycling’s fast-growing discipline, you’re probably wondering: What is a pump track?
Fear not – we’re here to give you the lowdown on all things pump track!
To get you up to speed, we’ll be covering:
- What Is A Pump Track?
- Why Ride A Pump Track?
- What Makes A Good Pump Track Bike?
- How To Ride A Pump Track
Ready to get pumping?
Let’s get to it!
What Is A Pump Track?
A pump track is a looped circuit of banked corners and smooth rollers – plus any other features riders might want to throw in.
Unlike a conventional off-roading circuit, they’re designed so that riders are completely powered by their own momentum, with no pedaling or pushing required.
Pump tracks can trace their roots back to the early hardpack BMX trails of the late 1970s and ’80s. However, it was the explosion in the popularity of skateboarding – and the boom in skatepark-building – that planted the seeds for the creation of pump tracks.
As more and more skateboarders hit the parks, they were followed by a growing army of BMX riders. However, most skatepark features were only suitable for advanced riders, and BMX injuries became commonplace as riders faced a choice between throwing themselves in at the deep end or being stuck on the flats, with little middle ground.
At the same time, downhill riders were looking for novel ways to develop their skills. After a few experimental trails in the backyards of Aussie trail riders, the first modern pump track in the US was built in 2004 by downhill pro Steve Wentz in Boulder, Colorado.
Since then, pump tracks have exploded in popularity. They range from tiny backyard tracks filling a space as small as 40 m2, all the way to colossal public tracks covering up to 8000 m2.
Early pump tracks were typically made of dirt. Dirt tracks had several advantages: they were cheap, easy to shape and re-shape, and were more similar to the surfaces downhill riders were practicing for.
However, they also required regular maintenance. As pump tracks grew in popularity, asphalt tracks began to appear, which were more expensive but more durable. They’re also faster, as the smooth asphalt provides less resistance than bumpy, loose dirt, and have opened up pump track riding to skateboards, in-line skaters, and even specialized wheelchairs!
If you want to find a pump track near you, check out the database at PumpTrack.com!
Why Ride A Pump Track?
Whether you’re an absolute beginner or a seasoned pro, pump track riding is a fantastic way to build bike skills.
Pump track cycling is especially well-suited to mountain bikers. Pump tracks help you develop your bike handling, as you become attuned to loading and unloading the bike, cornering ability, jumping, and the skill of building and maintaining momentum.
That said, all cyclists can benefit from developing their bike handling skillsets, whether you’re a road specialist, a gravel grinder, or a maverick BMX trickster.
Bike skills are all about repetition and muscle memory, which makes pump tracks the ideal place to improve. Their looped circuits mean you can ride for hours and hours without interruption, while the relatively low speeds and elevations mean injuries are less likely and less severe – though we’d always urge you to ride with caution and wear a helmet!
Besides bike skills, a pump track session will also give you a serious full-body workout. Despite the lack of pedaling, maintaining momentum through a pump track requires hard graft.
And most importantly of all, pump track riding is great fun!
What Makes A Good Pump Track Bike?
If you’re just getting started with pump track riding, the best bike for you is probably one you already own!
Don’t let the feeling that you need to invest in some expensive new gear put you off. Pump tracks are ideal for mountain bikes and BMXs, and accessible to most hybrids as long as you’re not pushing too hard.
Some pump fanatics even take on pump tracks with road bikes – though we’d advise against it unless you’re a very confident rider, as the high center of gravity and aggressive geometry make road bikes much less stable than off-roaders!
If you catch the pump track bike and want to take it more seriously, we’d suggest getting yourself a dirt jumper bike. Dirt jumper bikes are – as the name suggests – made specifically with dirt jump trails in mind, which means they’re also ideally suited to pump tracks.
They typically feature no rear suspension and just a little front suspension – enough to save your wrists on landing a jump, but still stiff enough not to soak up that all-important momentum.
Because they don’t feature the complex suspension of a high-end mountain bike and the drivetrain is of limited importance, dirt jump bikes also tend to be on the cheaper end of the off-road bike spectrum.
Despite the benefits of a dirt jumper bike, if you’re using a pump track specifically to boost your mountain bike skills, it’s a good idea to use your regular mountain bike to build familiarity and muscle memory with your go-to weapon of choice.
BMXs are also a staple of pump tracks, and their minimal weight, lack of suspension, and playful nature make them a joy to whip around the bumps and bends.
How To Set Up A Pump Track Bike
Whatever type of bike you’re taking down to the pump track, there are a few setup principles we’d always recommend following to get the most out of your machine:
- Lock The Rear Suspension – if you’re riding a full-suspension mountain bike, locking the rear suspension will stop it from absorbing your momentum and improve acceleration.
- Drop The Seat – lowering the seat as far as it will go gives you more maneuverability on the bike and improves control. Don’t remove the saddle entirely though – an exposed seat post is dangerous on a hard landing!
- Pump The Tires – this reduces rolling drag, making you faster. We’d advise going up to the maximum recommended PSI – but not beyond it.
How To Ride A Pump Track
#1. Build Confidence Riding Out The Saddle
The first and most important skill you’ll need for pump track riding isn’t the pumping motion itself; it’s getting confident with riding standing up.
You’ll spend just about all of your time on a pump track standing out of the saddle, so it’s a vital riding position to get nailed.
If you’re an experienced cyclist you should have no problems here, but for beginners and kids it’s worth taking some time to get comfortable with riding standing up on the pedals on flat ground before you hit the pump track.
#2. Nail the “Pump”
Getting the pump right is what allows you to build and carry speed around the track without pedalling.
As you approach the roller, get ready by standing out the saddle and adopting a relaxed position, leaning forward slightly. Aim to have your feet level on the pedals, with your weight distributed evenly.
As you begin to rise up the front of the roller, shift your weight back slightly to unload the front of the bike.
When you hit the summit of the roller, gently move your weight forward towards the center of the bike, then push down and through through the drop on the other side with your arms and legs as you roll down the back.
It’s this push downwards that generates speed.
It might sound a little complicated, but it’s more of a natural movement than you’d think. You’ll develop a feel for it very quickly, and then it’s easy to sense when you nail the pump and when you don’t quite get it right.
As with all things biking: practice makes perfect!
#3. Blast the “Berms”
A “berm” is the mountain biking term for a banked corner. Pump tracks are packed with them.
Once you master berms, rather than being obstacles they become another feature like rollers that you can pump and gain speed through!
As you approach the berm, push your outside pedal down and focus your weight through that foot. This helps keep traction on the inside edges of the tires as you rip around the corner.
As you ride through the berm, keep your eyes and head up and look through the exit of the corner. This helps with balance and helps you hold a good position on the berm, while keeping you aware of potential dangers ahead such as rocks or other riders.
It’s easy to catch yourself staring down at the front wheel when you first start tackling berms, but this risks overbalancing or flying over the top of the banking!
Your speed dictates where your line through the berm should be. While you’re learning and going slowly, you’ll naturally be lower on the berm to as you don’t have the speed to stay upright further up on the banking.
Once you up the pace, the sweet spot is between halfway and two-thirds up the berm. This is the line that will slingshot you out the end of the corner, and also helps avoid any rocks or debris that slip to the bottom of the berm.
Keep your knees and elbows loose to absorb bumps and adjust your weight quickly.
With that, you’re ready to get out and hit the pump track for yourself!
As you get more advanced, you can add new skills to your pump track riding such as jumps and manuals to shake things up and hurtle round even faster.
Whether you’re getting into pump track cycling purely for the fun of it or with the goal of boosting your mountain biking skills – get out and enjoy yourself!