It was around 2008 that Kyle Crangle and his friends began traveling down to northwest Arkansas to go mountain biking. Trail builders in that area had started adding dirt jumps, flow trails, wooden features, and pump tracks to their local parks, creating a progressive bicycling hub that draws people from across the Midwest and, indeed, the country.
In addition to being a longtime mountain biker and BMX rider, Crangle is also a volunteer with Gateway Off-Road Cyclists (GORC), a local nonprofit that helps built and maintain multi-use trails in the St. Louis area.
Noticing the southern exodus of riders, Crangle and others saw an opportunity. They worked with GORC to form a subgroup of the organization, called GORC Gravity, which would focus on the newer sorts of trail systems taking off in other parts of the US. (See our upcoming November/December 2019 issue for the full backstory on GORC Gravity.) If they could add more feature-rich options and opportunities in the St. Louis area, perhaps people would stay closer to home on the weekends.
That desire, ultimately, led to a forthcoming project — the country’s largest pump track, in St. Charles County — that planners and local riders think will not only attract St. Louisans but also riders and race organizers from other parts of the country.
Crangle predicts that the Youth Activity Park (7801 State Highway N), the site of the pump track, will “become a mecca for all things adventure.”
For those who haven’t pumped, a pump track is a run of banked turns, rollers, and other elevated features that “is designed so that once you get to a certain skill level, you should not have to pedal your bike. You are using more of a pumping action with your hands,” explained Bekin Youngblood, park program coordinator for St. Charles County.
After forming GORC Gravity, Crangle and other group members met with St. Charles County and began discussing what options could be feasible for the area.
“We thought, all these local biking enthusiasts are going to Arkansas and other parts of the country to utilize more of these progressive-type biking amenities, and we basically felt like we wanted to get a piece of the action and encourage people that are into biking of various skill levels and types of riding to stay here in St. Charles County, or people in the St. Louis region to come see what we’re offering,” said Youngblood.
The county hired Joplin-based Progressive Bike Ramps and Velosolutions, a Swiss company that has completed similar projects around the world, to design the track. Construction has been awarded to American Ramp Company and is expected to cost about $650,000. Work began earlier this week, and the county hopes to have it open by the end of November.
According to Youngblood, the largest pump track in the US is currently 25,000 square feet. This one will be 30,000. The county would like to use the track for competitions, including perhaps a qualifying event for the Red Bull Pump Track World Championship.
“It will potentially be able to hold one of the premier races in the country,” said Steve Friedman, a GORC Gravity director and pump track rider.
The county plans to allow people to use the track for free initially, though it could begin charging a small fee at a later date as it adds more amenities.
Most riders use either a 20-inch BMX bike or a 26-inch dirt jumping mountain bike on pump tracks, Friedman said. In October 2018, he drove to Springdale, Arkansas, to compete in the Red Bull pump track championship but did not qualify. He enjoys pump track riding because, “It’s many different styles of bike riding combined into one. It’s real similar to BMX, but it’s also real similar to some of the stuff I do on a mountain bike,” he said.
The new track will also benefit St. Charles because it will be open year-round, even at night, so when some trails are not ridable in winter, bikers will now have a new outlet.
“It will allow mountain bikers to ride in any kind of weather, since it’s going to be asphalt, and it will also expose them to BMX riders and that style of riding, so I think everyone will learn and benefit from it,” said Friedman, who is 43 and raced BMX for much of his life.
St. Charles County is also in the process of designing a downhill flow trail for Matson Hill Park and could add other new mountain biking trails as well, according to Youngblood.
Author: Eric Berger is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.