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Pump track – the sports and playground for cyclists

By Claudio Caluori (Think & Build Velo Solutions GmbH)

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Pump track is a success story and is booming worldwide. The huge popularity of pump tracks is easy to explain. Children and young people find a cool type of sports activity, the average cyclist finds an ideal place to practice and pros have a perfect training site. 

 

What is a pump track?

The idea of the pump track is wonderfully simple. By means of specially laid out rollers a mountain biker is able to build momentum simply through pump movements. This means speed is generated through the pushing and pulling of the rider or pressurising and releasing pressure on the rear wheel. There's no need to pedal and because this new form of motion requires every muscle in the body to be used it helps both to improve conditioning and power and to enhance coordination.

 

At the outset pump tracks were usually built from natural earth, typically a mixture of sand and mud. The first pump tracks were mainly developed on private land or in small front gardens by bikers keen to build a private training facility. Clubs soon got in on the act and endeavoured to create pump tracks on a larger scale.

The quantum leap in pump track construction came when the Velosolutions and Pumptracks companies constructed the first pump from stabilised material. As a result, pump tracks became attractive to local authorities as public and leisure sports facilities. Costly maintenance was eliminated, the facilities were aesthetically integrated into urban environments and their use was no longer the sole preserve of mountain bikers.

Velosolutions' pump tracks have since become multi-use sports areas suitable for virtually anything that moves on rollers or wheels. The asphalt-covered rollers are ideal not just for bikes of all kinds but also for skateboards, kickboards and inline skates.

 

What are the distinguishing features of a pump track?

Pump tracks are designed as round courses and endless combination opportunities are created through the arrangement of various loops. The other areas created are planted with greenery, with the result that every individually planned pump track is like an artwork, an oasis for sports people, at the heart of the city.

There are various reasons why such a facility is attractive to a local authority. Cycling has long been one of the most popular leisure activities in Europe. And of particular interest is undoubtedly the large target group to which a pump track appeals. Naturally children in particular are attracted to a pump track but they also appeal to older cyclists. Using a pump track is essentially simple and intuitive. Anyone who loses momentum at first can build it again by pedalling. After around half an hour most people have got the knack and are rolling comfortably across the pump track. Nonetheless, a pump track offers a big enough challenge to remain attractive for years by jumping obstacles or rolling on the rear wheel of your cycle.

The entry barriers are also very low. Almost everyone owns a suitable item of equipment (bike, kickboard, inline skates, skateboard) for use on a pump track. Children have the opportunity to familiarise themselves with a bike away from the road and acquire valuable skills for when they eventually travel in road traffic.

 

Pump tracks are safe

Pump tracks have also been rated safe by the bfu (the Swiss Office for Accident Prevention). They have been given the same rating as children's playgrounds. However, it is often novices and children who have most difficulty in assessing dangers. So the safety of the facility, to which we attach the greatest importance, is all the more important. While falls cannot be completely prevented, many can be avoided and their impact alleviated through intelligent track design features such as roll-out zones next to the track, good user guidance and good visibility.

 

The profile and enjoyment of pump tracks and bike parks has risen sharply in recent years and they are now often developed in conjunction with regular playgrounds and sports facilities. Velosolutions' pump tracks in Chur, Lindlar near Cologne, Pontresina and Sils im Domleschg show that it normally takes less than one year, from drawing board to completion, to execute a project.

 

Bikepark Zürich

At around 5800 m2 Bikepark Zürich is currently the largest publicly-operated pump track and is more than a classic pump track because it caters for various types of cycling.

As a landscaped ensemble the park is also a place where people of all generations and origins can come together. Therefore it has been planted accordingly and in addition to the tracks has two rest areas, bike stands, benches and a fountain.

The idea for a bike park in Zurich was first put forward around ten years ago. Since this kind of infrastructure was unfamiliar to both the authorities and the public, the first task was to provide information on and raise awareness about this new facility. An initial prototype for a pump track was developed in 2010 on Zürichberg hill. Based on this prototype significant progress could be made in the professionalisation of public bike facilities. Material tests for operating a bike park on a small budget were carried out. Advisory services from the Swiss Office for Accident Prevention and examples of Best Practice were developed and the design was constantly adapted to reflect the latest research, ensuring maximum accessibility and riding pleasure at all times and the very highest safety standards.

Initially reference points and experience in the construction and maintenance of bike parks were only available in the private sphere. Specifications, difficulty definitions and guidelines for the construction of such facilities had to be drawn up. This includes, for example, the premise that all elements should be rollable. There were several changes of site during the planning process and the bike park was eventually incorporated in the overall concept for the Allmend Freestyle Facility (bike park and skate park).

 

A park for all

From small children on balance bikes, older children and youths through adults, ambitious amateurs and pros right up to 70-year-old pleasure riders – the facility has the right track for everyone at three difficulty levels. And what's more it's right in the heart of the city and therefore easily accessible by bike or public transport. The various tracks were divided into four sectors, with particular attention paid to siting the sectors aimed at children and beginners close to the rest areas so that parents have a good view.

The balance bike track means even the smallest of children can try out the park in a protected environment before venturing onto the pump track. A separate oval, easily visible from rest areas, allows little ones to cycle undisturbed away from the rest of the cycling activity.

The pump track consists of rollers and banked curves. These rollers are used to generate momentum by means of pumping movements, making it possible to perform a circuit without pedalling. Instead of simply rolling, advanced riders can progress by jumping from roller to roller. The pump track also forms one of several connections that take riders from the end of the jump track to the starting hill.

Jump track (intermediate to expert): Jumps were also incorporated into the park by popular demand among the local scene. They are all rollable and in various sizes for all levels, from easy to expert. The starting hill helps riders to generate the necessary momentum. The jumps are arranged in such a way that, depending on ability level, users can make as many jumps as they like without having to put their feet down in between.

Urban BMX (intermediate to expert): This is a slightly less challenging version of the Olympic sport BMX though riders are still able to compete against one another and train. The course is a little shorter than the Olympic version and only four riders start rather than eight. Starts, which are decisive in a competition, can also be practiced on the modern start grid.

 

The surface material: a matter of belief

Purists insist on mud and soil. But the city of Zurich thought differently: Firstly, the cost of maintenance of such a track would be too high. And secondly, construction alterations on such a facility could not be undertaken without the approval of the city administration. The city wanted a covering that was as flexible as possible and as hard as necessary. Pete Stutz and Fabian Vollrath from the Pumptracks company got together with representatives of ETH Zurich university for technology and natural sciences, the construction materials company Holcim and several gravel quarries to come up with a secret blend that fitted the bill perfectly.                                               

The material, to which a proportion of cement is mixed, posed a challenge during construction, reveals Claudio Caluori: "Because it sets quickly it had to be laid and shaped very quickly. Calculating the required amounts was tricky due to the organic shapes and there was no scope for error with radii and distances either. The riders' reactions on the first day, however, show that the builders of the park did a great job. There were very few complaints about the surface and the response was overwhelmingly positive."

 

The impact of Bikepark Zürich

Incredible as it may sound, Bikepark Zürich really has changed lives. Even before its official opening in May 2013 the facility was being heavily used in all weather conditions. Mountain bikers travel from throughout Europe to see it. Clubs from throughout Switzerland organise excursions to ride there. Bikers from the region became regular visitors. Normal cyclists suddenly acquired a taste for using their bike in a different way. Mothers come with their children and allow their children free rein. Former mountain bike pros who had hung up their bike fifteen years previously are now in the saddle again every week thanks to Bikepark. Even people who had nothing to do with bike sport previously have been inspired by Bikepark. They bought themselves a bike and are now enthusiastic mountain bikers.

Even shops in the vicinity have reported a spike in sales since the opening of Bikepark.

The newest pump track in Aranyaprathet, Thailand, built in November 2014, has had the same impact. A new era has started.

 

Photo: velosolutions/Hansueli Spitznagel and Alex Buschor

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