In The Flow
If you were to visit Snyderville Basin Recreation District in Park City, Utah, you would find a bike-skills park, flow trail, pump track, and slopestyle trail, all unsupervised, wide-open, and available for your enjoyment. Just grab a bike, take your turn in line, and enjoy the ride. If you fall, get up, dust yourself off, and continue. Learn your limits. Push your limits. And, increase your skill.
But, if you were to travel back in time, say 10 years, you would discover a different environment. One slightly more, shall I say, cautious?
“We built a bike-skills park 9 years ago—it was the first thing,” says Bob Radke, Trails Department Manager for Snyderville. “Our board
Elevated arches are wide enough to be safe, but narrow enough for the rider to pay close attention. Photo Courtesy Of Brian Finestone
direction (at the time) was ‘Don’t spend too much time or money on it. It’s an experiment.’”
This was a compromise Radke was happy to make. “It was my dream,” he says, “because it’s what I like to do. I like the free-ride stuff.”
Radke had a hunch that if he built it, the bike-skills park would become popular and well-loved.
“I really wanted to have success with the project to show that it’s a viable component of our trail system, and something we should have,” he explains. “At first, most riders were afraid of even the smallest jump or smallest drop in the trail. So, I built everything small. We have berm turns, and it’s kind of flowy.”
The bike-skills park, which cost less than $3,000, was met with much enthusiasm by the community, and the board quickly learned it wasn’t any more dangerous than the other amenities it offered. Five years later, intermediate runs—Halle’s Trail (slopestyle), Aidan’s Trail (flow), a skills track, and a pump track that opened in the area—were in use, with even more “expert” expansion to follow.
Meanwhile, In Canada
About the same time that Radke was introducing the bike-skills park, Lorne Russell, Supervisor of Operations for Parks, Trails & Lost Lake Cross Country in Whistler, British Columbia, was pushing the envelope as well.
“Essentially, the municipality had taken the initiative, on its own, to create a pocket park that was a skills-developing area for young and intermediate mountain bikers,” Russell explains. “The elements were all hand-made from log and some cedar-dimensional material. It was pretty rudimentary.”
Well, maybe rudimentary now, but not when it was built. The park quickly became a fan favorite—used by families, bike groups, youth
One of the benefits of bike-skills parks is that they don't require high obstacles to build confidence and improve ability. Courtesy Of Progressive Bike Ramps
groups, and others. And—like all popular park projects—the bike park was being thoroughly enjoyed. However, a combination of heavy use and homemade elements with moving parts led to maintenance issues.
“One of the big items was the double teeter-totter we had initially built,” Russell says. “Anytime you’re employing moving parts, you have the opportunity for weaknesses to develop. Since there was a lot of traffic on it, it was a bit of a higher maintenance item. But, at the same time, we realized this is what’s exciting about the park, so we wanted to continue providing it.”
Russell and his team spent the better part of 10 years running regular safety inspections, addressing any stability issues and, when needed, tearing down elements and rebuilding them from scratch.
So, when industry manufacturers entered the market with pre-fabricated, engineered structures, Russell and his team took notice.
“When Alpine Bike Parks developed their pre-fabricated structures, they presented to us the opportunity to have a longer-lasting, more durable, but equally effective product—one that still provided an opportunity for skills development,” Russell says. “We ended up hiring them to design and create a steel-framed, engineered teeter-totter. We were quite excited about that.”
The success of that first pre-manufactured element continued to include several features.
“We’ve now got three specific Alpine Bike Parks features in that area,” Russell points out. “One was the teeter-totter. We also asked them to make a wall ride so, at the very end of the park, as you do your turn to come back, there’s a large wall that’s on about a 60-degree angle. Additionally, there are a couple of flow-form “sunset” arches, which are this nice arc, elevated about 16 inches—a steel ramp with cedar decking—that just rolls up to an arc and then rolls back down; it’s a nice transition. The elements themselves are about 24 inches wide.”
The ramp and transition are wide enough to be safe, but narrow enough for the rider to pay close attention. “It requires some focus for sure,” Russell says. “But, we did keep the elements only 12 to 16 inches off the ground, so consequences are reasonable. It helps build confidence.”
The Rise Of Pre-Manufactured Elements
At about the same time, Radke and his team built the precursor to what would be their first bike park. It was not an extension of the bike-skills park, but instead an existing hilly area on which to build what is now called a bike park.
“We started like 7 or 8 years ago,” Radke says. “We put in a little system of directional trails. They really weren’t bike parks (like we know them today), but there were four downhill directional trails and a return trail in the hills. We built them in a separate area from the existing bike-skills park.”
The downhill trails featured the natural terrain. But, as Radke says, “We were seeing trends across the country and knew our trail system was lacking variety. And we knew there was a strong contingency out here that liked this kind of riding. We knew there was a demand for it.”
So, with the land under control and the demand apparent, Radke and his team sent out a request for qualifications for the project that they advertised as design-build.
Ultimately, they chose Progressive Trail Design in Missouri, and charged them with building Halle’s Trail (a 1,800-linear-foot intermediate slopestyle trail) and Aidan’s Trail (a 1,500-linear-foot flow trail). Elements included dirt jumps, a curved wall ride, a step-up box, and assorted rock features. To help defray costs, the team didn’t put down a controlled surface; instead, it found some good dirt from a local construction site and used that to build most of the features.
“I wanted to go with a low-impact approach, and the dirt on our site is not real great,” Radke explains. “If it was real good dirt, we would have dug more and salvaged more on-site.”
The final cost of the bike side of the project (Phase 1) came in around $95,000.
“Slopestyle trails are more expensive than flow trails because of the elements you need to add, but compared to other recreation facilities, they’re pretty cost-effective,” Radke notes. “Per square foot, they’re pretty reasonable, and they’re low maintenance.”
“We try to keep the weeds down on the trail. I like good sight lines,” Radke says. “And make it look nice. That’s probably our biggest thing. We do have to rebuild some of the jump lips and the berms once in a while. We sweep the dust off once in a while—just push-broom the berms when they get a little dusty or slippery, but that’s about it.”
Size Doesn’t Matter
Perhaps the best part of the introduction of pre-manufactured elements to the bike-park movement is it enables any park department—no matter how small the budget or how small or flat the terrain—to build a free-ride trail that encourages bikers to do laps, test their skills, and improve their abilities.
“That’s really quite the amazing thing about it,” Russell says. “The pre-manufactured features, they create the landscape for you. You know, whereas in the past, we’d be hauling dirt or building the trail through a hillside to try and create a rolling effect, transitions, and now you can put them anywhere. You could put them in a Wal-Mart parking lot if you wanted.”
Regardless of the size of the bike park you decide to build, Russell recommends doing the necessary homework before selecting a partner, and staying true to the parks’ mission:
“I think these sorts of pre-fabricated structure parks are still a little bit in their infancy. There are probably a number of other companies that are getting on board. Have a good look at references and other successful projects, and talk with those municipalities and see what was successful for them, and if they’re enjoying it. Ultimately, what’s the demographic? What’s the goal? Are you keeping to that goal?”
Bike Park Lingo
Bike Skills Parks/Trails
Beginner and intermediate areas full of elements and defined lap paths designed to help users improve their skills and advance to the more challenging jump, pump, flow, and slopestyle trails.
Designed specifically for BMX bikes, these parks are full of dirt jumps with transitions and tabletops. Expert parks also include gap jumps.
Designed for riders to pump and work their way around the track without pedaling, and to learn to use gravity and momentum to navigate from beginning to end.
Downhill trails feature elements, drops, and changes in direction. The idea is to get in the “flow” and work the bike through the course. More time with wheels on the ground than a slopestyle trail.
Downhill trail features more challenging elements, drops, and air time in contrast to a flow trail.
Consider using a company that specializes in these types of trails. Similar to building a skatepark, organizations that specialize in this type of work are more likely to lay out a trail in an appealing way.
Consider whether you’ll be programming the area. If so, consider designing the park or trail in a way that a coach/instructor can interact with multiple riders at once.
Depending on the size of the project, actual construction can be relatively quick—as little as one month. But consider the time of year and the type of weather you may encounter.
Consider risk-management issues. Although a park may not be staffed, rules and instructions on how to use the park safely should be displayed.