Want to build skills and confidence? Hit the pump track. A pump track is a looping sequence of rollers and banks – nimble, banked turns – for cyclists. It’s designed to maximize your momentum so you can ride it with minimal pedaling.
“It’s like a little roller coaster you can ride,” says Eric Porter, a professional mountain biker who built a pump track in his backyard. “It’s a tool to improve your motorcycle riding skills and it’s also something that’s really fun to ride.”
The beauty of pump track, Porter says, is that it’s accessible to almost anyone and all ability levels. You don’t have to be an advanced rider – don’t be surprised to see a 2-year-old shredding on a balance bike. It’s a learning tool that everyone enjoys.
Pump tracks are usually found in bike parks, certain trail networks, skill parks, and other cycling centers. You can sometimes find them in public parks and recreation areas as they are becoming more and more popular now. If you’re unsure of the nearest one in your area, look on mountain bike websites like Trailforks or Google Maps.
“It’s really cool to see how much they’ve grown in state parks and city parks,” Porter says.
Many pump tracks are made of dirt because they are cheaper to build but require regular maintenance due to use and weathering. Some pump tracks are also made of asphalt, which is more expensive upfront but requires less maintenance.
If you’ve never been to one or are looking for tips, here’s how to ride a pump track—plus why you should, how to prepare, and more.
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Advantages of riding the Pump Track:
For Porter, translating pump track skills to mountain bike trails is “a big ticket that a lot of people don’t think about.” Riding a pump track develops your bike handling skills – including turning, weighting and lightening the bike, and jumping – and helps you learn how to gain momentum on certain sections of the trail.
“You start reading the trail differently. If you see a bunch of roots in front of you, instead of assuming those roots will slow you down, you can try using them to gain speed—like a roller on a pump track, he explains.
Most bike skills are about muscle memory and practice, so the pump track allows you to repeatedly cycle through a series of features to build muscle memory until it becomes second nature on the trail. And that comes in handy once you get into more technical terrain. “You start to be able to spot the perfect spot in the berm to aim for, and then you start to discover that on the trail,” says Porter.
But that doesn’t mean mountain bikers are the only cyclists who can benefit from a pump track. Road, gravel, BMX, and cyclocross riders can learn something on the pump track, as skills like cornering apply to all disciplines.
Another big benefit? It’s a solid workout. We dare you to try to walk a few laps without breaking a sweat and being out of breath. “It’s like doing intervals without doing the intervals,” Porter says—which means it’s a lot more fun.
What do you need to ride the Pump Track?
“Dirt jumper” is a bike made only for pump tracks and dirt jumps. It has a rigid fork or minimal front suspension, super short chainstays and seat tube, and 26-inch (or smaller) wheels. But mountain bikes, BMXs, and even “cross bikes can do it well,” says Jon Gabor, a cycling skills coach in Phillipsburg, New Jersey.
Whatever you’re riding, inflate your tires high enough to roll fast – but no more than the recommended maximum psi for your particular tires – and push the seat down so it doesn’t hinder your handling on the bike. If you’re on a full-suspension bike, lock out the rear suspension (if possible) for better efficiency and acceleration. But Porter says you might want to leave the suspension open if you’re looking for a closer feel to what you’d experience on the trail.
Wear what is comfortable, it can be as simple as jeans and a t-shirt. If you need to put your foot down quickly, trainers and flat pedals are usually preferable to clipless cycling shoes – although Porter says if you’re used to them, feel free to use them. A helmet is always a must, and if you are new to the pump track or working on advanced skills, you should also wear gloves and knee and elbow pads. If you’re doing tricks like jumps, you should wear a full-face helmet, especially on an asphalt pump track.
How to ride the Pump Track?
According to Porter, the first skill you need to have (besides knowing how to ride a bike) isn’t the “pumping” movement; it knows how to ride standing up. Children and new riders may have the most trouble with this; if so, practice standing and riding on the level ground first.
As you get used to riding on a pump track, your first goal may be to complete a lap without pedaling or with as little pedaling as possible. Once you’ve done that, work up to two more rounds.
Once you get comfortable on the pump track, Porter says another great skill to learn is manual – it’s similar to riding a bike but done out of the saddle. The key is not to lift the front wheel but instead to “sit down and get back on the bike and push the rear wheel through the roller,” he says. It’s an even faster way to get through the roller section. Keep one finger on the rear brake during the exercise.
In addition to being an innovative amusement park that is trending in more and more public spaces, the pump track is a track for sports equipment on wheels that, when properly ridden, does not require pedaling or pushing but “pumping” to maintain momentum (see animation above for a demonstration