Urban Bike Parks, Part 4: Playground Equipment

By Philip Armour June 19, 2015
Editor’s note: This is Part 4 of a four-part series:       Part 1: Pump, Jump and Flow      Part 2: Evangelists     Part 3: Land Use  

Biking is part of everyday culture in a way other sports are not. It has transcended its practical role as transportation to become a form—many forms, actually—of recreation. In fact, almost all of the consumer segments identified in OIA’s ConsumerVue, especially The Achiever, The Outdoor Native and The Urban Athlete, enjoy and participate in cycling sports. And according to the Outdoor Foundation’s “2014 Outdoor Participation Report,” biking (road, mountain and BMX) is the second-most popular outdoor activity among Americans 6 years and older.

In urban environments where road and mountain biking opportunities are less accessible, bike parks—a mix of BMX-style pump tracks, jumps and cyclocross trails—are gaining popularity across the country. Naturally, the largest cycling brands have taken notice, offering an overwhelming variety of bike configurations, components and equipment to suit myriad park-riding styles. Here’s a look at what’s influencing the progression of this burgeoning category of two-wheeled toy.

Something For Everyone

Park bikes—also called dirt jump or street bikes—are hybrids of mountain and traditional BMX rigs. Some have gears and some are single-speed. Any number of bike configurations are adaptable to park riding, though smaller frames and wheels are more nimble on tricky terrain features.

Park bikes can be configured and customized to accommodate varying sizes, fitness levels, skill levels and riding styles. The number of companies producing these bikes has multiplied, says Tammy Donahugh, instructor certification program manager at the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA). “When the bike park phenomenon began a few years back and local dirt jump spots were popping up everywhere, a handful of boutique companies, specializing in dirt jump and street riding frames came out,” she says. They included Superco, Tonic and Black Market. Although the big-name brands like Trek, Specialized and Giant have gobbled up a lot of the market share, boutique brands still have a strong presence and many have maintained or attracted dedicated followings among the most committed park riders. Banshee Bikes, Voodoo Cycles and Salsa offer niche options with differing personalities and backstories.

Less Money, Less Weight

“Park riding gets you away from the $7,000–$9,000 carbon trail bikes,” says Chris Bernhardt, director of field programs for the IMBA. “Weight is not as much of an issue in the park, and park bikes don’t require the beefy construction of high gravity-type riding.”

Design inspiration is a two-way street, though, and park bike configurations are starting to influence mountain bike frame geometries. In fact, the diversity of mountain bike styles on the market today can, arguably, be traced to the rise of urban bike parks. Fifteen years ago, there were basically two mountain bike options: short-travel hardtail and full suspension. Long-travel downhill bikes are quite heavy and poorly suited to uphill pedaling; they require car shuttles or chairlifts at mountain resorts. If it hadn’t been for bike parks, we might not have the variety of mountain-bike frame geometries that are available today.

There’s No “Right” Way To Ride a Bike Park

There is no consensus on what a park bike should look like, not to mention that riders’ component preferences vary, too—grip shift versus trigger shift or fixed gear versus single speed—depending on ability and riding style. The beauty of the park category, says industry veteran and Shimano product tester Joe Murray, is its inherent diversity: “You’ll see everything in bike parks.”