Why bike parks are the next big thing

May 7, 2013

Kristin Butcher

Getting air on one of the dirt jump lines can make you feel like you’re flying. (Image: Kristin Butcher)

I still remember sitting on the couch as a kid waiting for that moment for BMX Bandits to come on the TV. And when it did?and it always did?I was transfixed by young rebellious BMXers using their mad bike skills to thwart a gang of criminals.

It all seemed so real. A group of kids successfully taking on a professional theft ring? Totally plausible. Riding down a waterslide to get away from angry thugs? Brilliant idea! A whole town of kids all capable of jumping over cars? Alright, this part was obviously far-fetched, but a kid can dream, right?

Afterward, I’d hop onto my bike (a pink 10-speed with drop bars and barely functioning brakes) and race around the neighborhood pretending to be Nicole Kidman, the token girl Bandit. I knew my sketchy-at-best attempts to leave the ground were so cool they made strangers stare in awe.

That was decades ago. Nowadays, my weekends can be more mundane: grocery shopping, slipping in quick bike rides, and swim lessons for the kids. Oh yeah?and still fantasizing about becoming a BMX Bandit who can fly through the air, rail near vertical berms, and foil crime sprees with stylish mid-air flare. (Hey, a 34-year-old mother of two can dream, right?)

So when the $3.2 million dollar bike wonderland of Valmont Bike Park opened in Boulder a few years ago, I saw my chance to learn. This park has it all, including progressive jumps, slopestyle courses, big berms, dual slalom and a variety of trails.

At first I’d head over to the jump lines and practice. I wish I could say that all my practice paid off and I can now do back flips, but that’s not the case. On my best days, I catch a few inches of air. And for that half-second, I am launching over a car that the bumbling criminals just crashed into. Superheroes unite!

Watching toddlers and teenagers, parents and grandparents heading down the same little jump line, I wonder how many of us are fulfilling childhood dreams at the local bike park. By the looks of the smiles on the constant stream of riders, I’d guess quite a few. Looking across the park, hundreds of bikes mill through the landscape like ants discovering an abandoned picnic. And everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, whether they’re just getting started on miniscule kick bikes or bending the laws of gravity.

A few weeks ago on a Saturday morning, I found myself cuddled up with my kids watching BMX Bandits again. I can honestly tell you that nothing about this movie seems remotely plausible. Not the bumbling criminals. Not the daring bike-waterslide escape. Nothing?except the idea of a town full of kids with amazing bike skills.

Good bike parks cater to all types of riders – from beginners to pros. (Image: Kristin Butcher)

Here’s a list of bike parks around the US:

Ray’s Indoor Bike Park (Milwaukee, WI and Cleveland, OH)
The Lumberyard (Portland, OR)
Grand Rapids Bike Park (Grand Rapids, MI)
Valmont Bike Park (Boulder, CO)
Colonnade Bike Park (Seattle, WA)
Duthie Hill (Issaquah, WA)
Plattekill Bike Park (Plattekill, NY)

Kristin Butcher is a freelance writer based out of Boulder, Colorado, she spends her time writing about people, the outdoors and, of course, bikes. You can read her column, Butcher Paper, in BIKE Magazine.

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