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On The Pedals

The Daily Grind

Over The Bars

Pump Tracks
By MBT Contributors

Pumping Religion

Last Sunday morning I sat, past ten, putting off packing the car up for a days biking. Usually getting out in the woods has me keyed up. Today, after Thursday night’s soaking I can’t be bothered with the two-hour drive to meet up with the lads. Just one day, I dream of opening the back door and with some sort of magic: the ski lift up to the B run at Whistler reveals itself. Abracadabra! The North glacier run into Corcheval appears at the bottom of the garden within ten minutes of leaving my breakfast. Even to the nearest mountains, most of us usually have at least an hours travel ahead to get every weld excited on your MTB. To feel the disc grab and the pads burn empty. Fill the car; get in the car, out of the car, bla-bla the car. Driven to get all 5 inches front and rear working to keep your soul alive. I used to long to live in the Lake District or in that white cottage on the Fort William tree line; we Mountain bikers have to journey to enjoy our sport… Or do we?

Is loading up the car with the change of clothes and hoping the bike rack holds four 35lb full sus bikes over?

Yes, well not every day, but Wednesday nights and every other free evening, if your like me and bitten by my mates pump track. The 10-meter by 10-meter venue of fantastically sculpted dirt is my new heaven.

I had seen some photo shoots of ‘pump tracks’ and brushed them away as a 1984 BMX course on steroids. 10 year olds making 5 feet of air off nothing more than a pebble makes me turn the page in envy and fear, the fear of more broken bones keeps me mostly attached to the earth. Then I got the offer to come to Glyn O’Brian’s new pad. The Kona/Sombrio team rider is settling down after 10 years on the world downhill circuit, but not hanging up his wheels: - the multiple Irish DH champion just returned in August from the World Masters championship in the Alps with a Silver Down Hill medal; Losing the gold by just 0.36 of a second.

Un deterred he showed me behind his new house, past the bar-b-q area with the built in wall ride, past the motocross bikes… Lurking just behind a fresh pile of weeds is an aggressive and smile inducing yellow path, sleeking its way like a broken skate bowl.

Pump track: (n) (pumb-p tra-k) is a short, off road course of smooth rollers (humps) and bermed corners; where the movement of the rider propels the bike rather than conventional pedalling.

NO pedalling! (It is the next revolution) and such a feckin work out! Along the same format when your on a swing in a park, the movement of your weight and pulling on the chains enables you to swing higher :on the pump track pulling on the bars and lowering yourself into the back of the humps. Gains you speed, and speed = happy bikers.

I was nervous staring down into the launch point. It wasn’t the 5 foot well rounded decent into the belly of the track, it was the fact that Glyn and the local shop owner, Conor (two experienced lads)

Would be over critical at my performance. Some guidance about leaning back on the rises and lean forward and pushing down on the flip side. And away I go. And I binned it. Too busy concentrating on what I was going to do 2 seconds away; I fell head over arse. Thankfully embarrassment sprang me back up and within twenty minutes I learned to push with my hips and lunge the bike forward on the minor descents, in time- pumping with the arms. Leaning the bike until the tyres dig with pleasure and my ear is level with the ground. The sharp bowl turns barely a bike length in with and the buzz of nailing the best river crossing. This is your own personal World Cup! Getting all your bike skills exercised and tested and improved in the comfort of your own back yard (or a mate, or a mate’s yard!)A PUMP TRACK, if built properly, will allow you to enjoy continuous riding, without pedaling.!This fact allows you to concentrate on bike handling. thus improve it.

Bike: hard tail with ridged or short travel front shocks. Jump bike would be ideal and follows the ethos of instant craic without too much time or money invested. BMX would do, but homing your skills on what your used to, a 26” will lend skills learnt to DH, XC or the trail. Anything, even your mum’s shopper will lift you on a high. But a long travel Full sus, the soft springs eats up the bumps and soaks up the energy: -so no speed. Dry well rounded tyres, low profile. Mud grips would fold on the tight corners. Brakes and gears not necessary: The pump track purists in the US have started putting stunts pegs on in place of chain sets! Bars wide and high. Seat off or down.

It takes a while to loses the desire to pedal. But even half an hour into the tight turns most experienced bikers can get the most out of the track.

Glyn took over and within 3 breaths of a fly wing he was completely horizontal and managed 4 feet of clear orbit on a jump he only could ascend. It is great steam and the next day the body feels sore; muscles stretched that bike riding never taxes. But it is the adrenalin rush as I experienced a G, pulling my head back into the half circle berm, just 5 seconds after launch. Everyone gotta try this.

Technique: I have been riding my mountain bike for 15 years and after the first few years I definitely fell into a rut in skill development. I can ride most courses and take in all but the biggest drop offs. But like most of us never thought to analyse how and why we lean into a corner move back on lift off. If we thought about the more, we could improve the future. Here on your new pump bike is a feckin skills academy. Guaranteed to improve your ability. Only after 2 hours in 2 visits did I realise that you need to lean forward into a berm to give your front wheel more traction and maintain speed. The past I have kept my weight thru the bottom bracket and had countless wash outs.

This is not only great craic but will improve your race bike handling. In the past I would have looked at a log as an obstacle, now I have discovered how to use the terrain to the advantage, pumping off the log now gains me speed on the trail. This is where the future is. A place where we can as individuals hone our skills and work on being better bikers and smile the big happy.

How to: With all MTing head up: look ahead. We mentally pre-ride everything we see with experience and then relive the simulation with our body half a second: later. On the approach to a roller you gently precompress pedals then on the riser lift arms and legs (gains potential energy).

Pump it up, pump it down.

After the summit instantly with the arms push down and away. Dividing the body up we also lunge forward with the hips. The ‘pump’ comes from the action of the arms. When you hit a series of rollers at speed the arms seem to just push in an out, and effectively it is this motion that transforms the bike into forward, smile inducing motion. Start easy and watch the speed build on it’s own. Attack the corners, the more you lean the less speed lost. Pump again on exit.

Sounds like a lot to take in, but in practice you only have to think about your actions and weight position for the first visit, after that it’s like riding a bike. You never forget!

Building you own:
TO BUILD A PUMP TRACK (in a day) YOU WILL NEED: (Well you could, feasibly do most of it in a day, but the refinement needed to make it flow, takes lots of dry evenings)

  • Around 20 square meters (lorry load) of dirt excavated or delivered.
  • 10 good fit biker friends/family
  • 8 hours of labour (That’s right, only 8)
  • 30 sandwiches and 4 bags of oven chips
  • 2 cases of beer
  • 4 bottles of Pepsi (buy one get 1 free)
  • 2 cases of water
  • 3 wheelbarrows
  • 8 shovels

The benefit of this new element of our sport is accessibility and ease of construction. Anyone with a corner of yard to spare can make a pump track with a shovel and a lump of conviction, I have even seen one that is a dusty border around their parent’s lawn; keeping all happy. It is important to make a plan to use the most of available land. Loads of people before us have tried so let them have the disappointments. Stick to a few general rules and no hassle. Measure and draw out the area available. Flat is best, but if your land is off camber, just more digging. You’re aiming for a track width of about 1 meter (3ft). Each of the sides should include 2 or 3 rollers before a change of direction. The sharper the turn the higher the berm required to cope with the transition. The rollers should be smooth, equally spaced for rhythm.

Initial tracks were square shaped with bermed corners. This evolved into an x shape through the centre for multiple course routes.

Given the limitations of bike size denoted the height and length of the mounds. With bikes less than 2m long, the mound should have at least a 2.5m footprint from start until it the next one begins. Heights from trough to peak of a roller should be between 50- 70cm for maximum speed. Up to 1m is possible (but hard to keep speed above 70cm). Aim for a rounded profile and same gradient on both sides to enable the track to be run each way. The next kicker should begin immediately as the enemy of the pump track is flat ground. Your track should be always going up, down or switching direction. The berms should be built up gradually from flat to vertical with a smallest ridable diameter of 3 meters and ideally 4.5m meters will give you 3G and a 70 degree lean where you exit in the opposite direction you came in.

The designs shown below are some examples. And just that, take it as a guide and build to suit the land available. What is helpful is an elevated launch to gain initial speed for beginners. And banking on each corner must be at least the height of the mound peak; this ratio seems to work to control the speed gained…And like 1980’s jeans: the tighter the better. O’Brian’s track is very extreme with the rollers over a meter in height; you have to fight to complete 3 laps… but such a charge. So up to you.
Step 1: Mark the ground with spray paint. With your scaled up design.
Step 2: Draw boxes for the outline of each roller.
Step 3: Start to pile up dirt. (Remember if your roller design is 60 cm tall, at least 80 cm of dirt will be required before it is sculpted down to shape.)
Step 4: Get digging and banging with the back of the shovel. (Tip: your biking gloves will save the blisters)

Soil can be hard packed, but like all trail substances the darker the soil type the more sececpipal to wet. And you will use this pump track a lot so it is worth investing some time into. Clay is best and can be brushed to perfection once the overall profile is set. Work on it, because you will never be so popular again when it you open up the back garden to a world of speed.

The easiest way thought to build a pump track is to dig a hollow and pack the dirt exhumed to be the rollers. But as drainage is usually a problem, other people’s mud baths have proven to build up, rather than dig down. Regardless. Fast fun could be just outside the kitchen window. Get diggin.

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