Pump tracks are great places to learn BMX bike racing skills. The track is, at the bottom, just a continuous circuit of hills and banks, usually made of soil and dirt, that can be ridden without the use of pedals.
The idea is to 'pump' the bike around the track using body movement alone. Gentle hills, low rollers and sloping berms are typical, and they all help the BMX beginner get started.
As bike control skills and experience improve, BMX riders can generate higher speeds and greater momentum on even the smallest and shortest pump tracks.
But that's not to say all pump tracks are created equal. Some pump track designs can be very demanding indeed, and the circuit can test the skills and techniques of even the best BMX riders.
Much depends on the imagination and expertise that goes into designing a track. A small backyard pump track such as that built by Clark & Kent is terrific to ride, thanks to its progressive layout and diverse features.
A place to learn BMX skills
Pump tracks were spawned by BMX racecourses when race organisers realised they needed smaller runs where youngsters could hone their skills before they graduated to the full BMX racing track.
Mostly constructed out of mounds of dirt with no start section as such, they are just a string of rolling hills and berms laid out in a loop where novices could learn to 'pump' their bikes.
The BMX pump action is vital for competing in BMX racing. BMX race tracks all feature a 'rhythm' section of rollers and jumps, which can be tackled in various ways.
This is where the 'pumping' reaps the most significant rewards as the bike spends most of its time in the air and when it lands, there is no time to pedal before the next jump or turn.
Here is where the riders with the best pump action can gain momentum and speed without using pedal power at all.
These small training pump tracks are often built by hand and can be straightforward and inexpensive often needing to accommodate just a single rider at a time; a place to practise pumping continuously.
What defines a good pump track
The main aim of a pump track is to provide a free-flowing loop that can be ridden without using the bike pedals.
Pump tracks are used by riders of all ages and abilities, so they mustn't be too difficult to ride for beginners yet are testing enough to have even the most skilled riders coming back for more.
Variety is often the key to building a good pump track with plenty of variation in rollers' shape, height, and spacing. The steepness of berms and their radius can determine whether you have a free-flowing track that is a pleasure to ride or a cramped stilted ride full of faltering, overtight turns.
What helps to keep riders coming back for more is a pump track with sections that can be ridden in more ways than one. Variations in line and approach not only offer variety but give riders a chance to hone different skills.
Overtight berms and regularly spaced rollers can soon feel boring to the novice and offer little challenge to the more experienced rider.
Alternative lines, staggered distances and variation in levels will improve the BMX biking experience and encourage more creative riding.
The best tracks for beginners
The best-built pump tracks are comfortable enough for beginners to ride with confidence and offer excellent opportunities to those who want to progress.
Twin rollers, for example, should be easy enough to ride one at a time but far enough apart for the more experienced rider to use the first to take off and the next to land.
Rollers of varying lengths and heights can be used to improve pumping or hone jump skills, learn new creative lines and approaches or merely to improve pressure control skills.
Although pump tracks are only mounds of soil and dirt shaped to ride bikes around without pedalling, they offer great opportunities to learn and a fun ride.
Designing a decent track
Designing a pump track looks simple, but it does have its challenges. One of the biggest is drainage. As hills are looped together, it is easy to create holes that soon fill up with water on rainy days.
The compacted soil used to create jumps can be eroded over time with cracks developing, so it is important to keep pump tracks adequately maintained.
Many local authority-funded pump tracks are opened to great fanfare and are an instant success. But months without maintenance can lead to them quickly becoming overgrown with weeds, waterlogged and strewn with debris.
Most pump tracks have a loop style layout, but significant variation can be built even in a relatively small space. Features such as crossovers, camel humps and tabletop jumps can offer a real challenge to even the most experienced rider.
The most important thing to bear in mind when designing and building a pump track is that it should be fun to ride no matter what the user's BMX skills or experience level.