How to build your own backyard pump track
The dream of having a private riding spot isn’t far-fetched – all you need is a little yard space.
While they're small and compact in concept, pump tracks can be great fun for riders of all ability levels.
Building one isn't rocket science, and if you've got the space, some decent dirt, and a few basic tools, there's a good chance you won't even have to spend any money to have one of your own.
Sure, if you want to make your life easy you could certainly rent exotic tools like a Bobcat or a vibration packing device, but we're going to show you how to do it with good old-fashioned muscle.
The concept of a pump track is simple: It can be any combination of berms, rollers, small jumps, cross-overs, and whatever other bits you can think up, laid out in such a way that you can 'pump' around it, generating momentum and flowing through the lines without the need to pedal. It's not all about size, some of the smallest pump tracks can be the most fun. It's all in the flow.
What you need to build a pump track:
A bit of space: Bigger isn't necessarily better. It's all about how you lay out your turns, rollers, and berms to make things flow.
Friends: The more people you have to help you move dirt around the better. Bribe them with snacks, drinks, and the lure of being able to ride your creation. Threats such as “No dig, no ride” will come in handy here.
Dirt: There's a good chance what you need is right under your feet. You can dig the pump track right into a flat area in a lot of situations. In our case, we had an incline, so most of the dirt from the high side of the yard ended up being dug down to the point of level, and used to build the berms at the low end of the yard. The thing about the dirt is it needs to pack together well. A soft pump track does not work well at all. If you've got sandy soil, you are going to need to find alternatives.
Tools: Some shovels (flat heads are better for packing the dirt) and a rake will be your primary tools, but a wheelbarrow will come in handy for moving dirt.
Drainage: It doesn't have to be fancy. Drainage can be as simple as grading the dirt so water has nowhere to pool. In our case we installed a drain at the lowest point with a corrugated pipe running away from the track.
Gloves: Don't forget your gloves. Blisters are fun for no one.
Old shoes: Do not wear your nice shoes. They will become old shoes very quickly. Dirt is not forgiving on the footwear.
Marking paint: To sketch out a loose plan in the dirt before digging. This helped ensure that the group of friends digging were all on the same page on the general layout. As you start digging the plan will likely evolve, but at least you'll have a starting point.
Start with a plan
While your track will evolve as you build, a little planning doesn't hurt. One of the most important steps up front is making sure you're not going to chop through any gas, water, or power lines underground. That would not be a good start to your build. Depending on where you live in the world, you may have a Dial Before You Dig number that you can call to get in touch with the different utilities and they will notify you and mark out any line locations.
In our case, we had no lines in the dig area, and even better, throughout the build we had almost no issues with rocks or tree roots.
Make sure to consider drainage early in your planning so you don't end up with an inadvertent backyard water feature.
In the three days we spent building, our design evolved several times. It's usually best to get your lines, berms, and rollers laid out in full before you start packing everything in, that way you can see it all as a whole and make tweaks to your design before you're too far along.
It was quickly apparent that since it was spring, our dirt was very soggy. The upside is that this meant we weren't going to have a problem with dust and the dirt drying out as we built. We had ideal clay to work with, but with all that moisture, it was heavy to move around.
Once everything is roughed out you can start refining and shaping. You need to strategically place your rollers and berms to maximise your flow. Rollers into a berm will help you pump speed into it and rail around the corner, and rollers out of the berm will help you regenerate the speed. Long straightaways will require rollers or little jumps to keep that pump going.
At the rough-out phase it wouldn't hurt to get your bike out and get a feel for the positioning and the shapes of your berms. Are they too tight? Too wide to hold your speed? Think about these things at this point. There will be adjustments later, but good decisions now will save you a lot of work.
Pack it, pack it real good
Packing in the whole track is one of the most tedious and labour-intensive parts of the process, but it's also one of the most important. You do not want a soft pump track, and you don't want to create massive ruts by riding on an unpacked track.
Flathead shovels work best for packing in the dirt. Our dirt had so much moisture in it from the get-go that we only had to water down a few areas as we packed.
We also packed grass seed into the backs and sides of all the berms, taking advantage of the root system to hold everything together in the long run. In addition to structure, it will also add some nice colour contrast to your track.
Our dirt was so moist that there was simply no way we were going to be able to ride it right away. It actually took a few weeks of airing out and daily sun before it was ready to be ridden.
Without patience, all of our hard work packing would have turned into a rutted-out mess and would have created more work in the long run. Also, don't expect your design to be perfect right away. These things evolve. You'll find reshaping that needs to be done, and new lines that can be added. That's the best part about dirt – you can change it up easily.
Once you're packed in and ready to ride, expect your phone to start ringing. Remember all those friends who had other stuff to do when you needed their help digging? They're going to have open schedules now! You'll start to use the old trail adage “no dig, no ride” in daily conversation a lot more now. Prepare for things to get awesome, though. Your life just got a lot more fun.
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