Urban Bike Parks, Part 3: Land Use

By Philip Armour May 22, 2015
Editor’s note: This is Part 3 of a four-part series:       Part 1: Pump, Jump and Flow      Part 2: Evangelists     Part 4: Equipment

“Today’s bike parks lower the bar to entry. Like climbing gyms, they improving your skills, so you can go on to tackle terrain in the wilderness. Or just come back to the park and ride harder and faster.” —Chris Bernhardt, director of field programs for the International Mountain Bicycling Association

The local community bike park on a municipality’s public property is a relatively new phenomenon. Fifteen years ago, the idea was just starting to gain traction, as mountain biking advocates pulled pages from the skateboard park playbook.

“Skateboard parks are 20 years ahead of us, in terms of advocacy, organization and fundraising,” says Chris Bernhardt, director of field programs for the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA). “There are hundreds and hundreds of skate parks across the country. They literally paved the way for bike parks.”

By The Numbers

Today, there are 40 to 50 public bike parks in the U.S. (and about 30 more in Canada). These are free or minimal-fee facilities on public property—everything from pump tracks to comprehensive facilities. The Whistler Mountain Bike Park in British Columbia may have helped kick start the idea for bike parks in 2000, but ski resort parks are private enterprises that charge for access. There are about 25 to 30 bike parks at ski resorts throughout North America, with about a dozen private facilities, including indoor parks, like the popular Lumberyard in Portland.

Skateboard parks and community swimming pools helped land managers and city councils come to terms with the liability concerns and “reasonable degrees of exposure” that would come with building bike parks. Those earlier community amenities set the precedent for the bike park movement by establishing standards for mitigating negligence and ensuring good upkeep.

“You avoid lawsuits by taking the proper steps: good signage, gradual terrain and proper maintenance,” says Bernhardt. “You have to be smart, disciplined and organized. Do this, and municipalities basically end up with immunity against lawsuits.”

All this and more is laid out in IMBA’s new book Bike Parks (IMBA, 2014). Edited by IMBA’s Communications Director Mark Eller, the book is essentially a manual for any mountain biker who wants to take up the cause of building a local park.

If You Come, They Will Build It

When 100 mountain bikers show up to a city council meeting, public officials tend to notice.

“Land use is not the issue,” says Bernhardt about the general willingness of public officials to allocate space for parks. “It’s money.” Fundraising and allocating public funds are the biggest hurdles to getting a bike park constructed in your community. And that’s where being organized really helps. When 100 mountain bikers show up to a city council meeting, public officials tend to notice.

Bike parks are getting a big push from both IMBA and PeopleForBikes because these purpose-built facilities are great for building technical proficiency that stokes excitement and brings new people to the sport. Bike parks are one of IMBA’s signature initiatives, and the group leverages a good part of it $5 million annual budget and 35,000 members—in the form of grants, advocacy and volunteers—to get more bike parks built. Your local bike park is a labor of love, with thousands of volunteer hours behind it.

Thanks in part to IMBA’s efforts, mountain bikers are better organized than ever before and better able to educate and energize land managers. The bike parks movement indicates a maturation of the sport, as the public is driving park construction for the benefit of local communities.

Ease of Entry

“The wilderness aspect of trail riding can be very intimidating for beginners and people with younger children,” says Bernhardt. “You don’t have to deal with getting lost [in the woods] at a bike park. And if you’re exposed to harsh weather or you run out of water or your bike breaks, you don’t have miles and miles to cover to get back to your car.”

To better accommodate different levels of riders, bike park design has evolved so that terrain features are no longer isolated from each other. Designers are focusing more on delivering an experience of “flow” by linking features, which progresses riders as their skills improve. The isolated pump track has given way to pump parks, where you can transfer lines into more technical terrain.

“We’re designing for a bigger crowd with better-integrated facilities and more comprehensive riding experiences,” says Bernhardt about IMBA’s Trail Solutions, the group’s consulting and contracting arm. “Today’s bike parks lower the bar to entry. Like climbing gyms, they improving your skills so you can go on to tackle terrain in the wilderness. Or just come back to the park and ride harder and faster.”

“Today’s bike parks lower the bar to entry. Like climbing gyms, they improving your skills so you can go on to tackle terrain in the wilderness. Or just come back to the park and ride harder and faster.” —Chris Bernhardt, director of field programs for IMBA