The bike park? That’s only for the pros and daredevils with full face helmets and protectors, right? Just thinking about it gets your heart racing: am I good enough, fast enough, can I keep up? E-MOUNTAINBIKE editor and quadragenarian, Patrick, dared to try it out for himself, discovering what you stand to gain by facing your fears.
Never been to the bike park? That’s nothing to be ashamed of. But you may be thinking about going. So, what’s holding you back? We asked ourselves the same question and thought back to our first wobbly steps in the trail centres of this world. We quickly realised that it’s not just the newbies among us who are plagued by bike park demons. Even seasoned pros chew their fingernails when faced with the next big drop or jump that they’ve been meaning to hit for some time, but just haven’t worked up the nerve for. It can also be things that have nothing to do with riding itself, like how to use the tow lift without toppling over and getting dragged along or ruining your bike. Or will you get your bike out of the gondola fast enough? And once you overcome one fear, there’s guaranteed to be another one waiting for you around the next corner. But that’s what it’s all about: the growth experienced in overcoming challenges is an important building block for a happy life. Facing the unknown will always be scary. But fear shouldn’t prevent you from being open to trying new things. Instead, it is meant to sharpen our senses, and teach us respect. But don’t let it rob you of confidence, because that’s what we need when facing new challenges: respect and confidence. This also applies to the first time you ride in a bike park. If we approach the matter with the necessary amount of respect and confidence in our own abilities, a day at the bike park can become one of the best of our lives. Filled with adrenaline, fun, and sense of achievement. And you might even make new riding buddies that become lifelong friends, in real life. No insta involved. So, let’s experience the bike park premiere together, overcome some fears and challenges, and have the time of our lives!
Good lord – Just think what could happen in the bike park!
Doubles, tables, drops, and jumps – what sounds like fun and recreation to the pros gets the hearts of regular mountain bikers racing at the mere thought of it. But where does this fear come from? And can riding in a bike park be about more than just getting to the top of the mountain as quickly as possible with the lift, blasting down the trail, and catching maximum airtime? Can trail and touring riders boost their skills in the bike park and learn a few things that they can use in everyday situations? Spoiler: it’s a resounding yes to both of the above!
What fears and worries are keeping you from visiting a bike park? Most of you will probably worry that you’re not up to it, not skilled enough, not fast enough for all the experienced riders out there. There’s also the risk of injury, of course. And peer pressure. No one wants to be the one everyone must wait for, holding the whole group back. But let’s be honest, even the most bad-ass riders started small. As the saying goes: practice makes perfect. But even then, crashing is a part of the sport, and it happens to the best of them. Anyone who goes on the adventure that is bike park riding will experience a lot of new things, learn a lot, and quickly realise: it’s not so bad – quite the opposite, in fact.
Of course, you’ll encounter challenging and seemingly dangerous sections in the bike park: roots, hairpin bends, rock gardens. All these things can be quite scary – especially when they show up suddenly and you don’t expect them. But in contrast to visiting a foreign country or crossing the Alps, you can get detailed maps and descriptions of the different mountain bike park routes, so you can inform yourself beforehand, and often study at the key points on foot.
The bike park – A special place with special vibes
So why should you even hit the bike park from time to time? We can think of several good reasons. Contrary to the widespread assumption that bike parks are reserved for the most hardcore riders, modern parks offer something for every rider and skill level. Mountain bike parks are places where adults can let their inner child run free, teens can go wild, and families can simply have a brilliant time together. You don’t have to hit the biggest jumps or the optional freeride lines. Pump tracks, flow trails, and even shaped uphill flow trails make bike parks a paradise for any kind of rider with any kind of bike – with or without a motor, short or long travel, light and nimble or hardcore and capable – all jumbled together into a big colourful crowd who are there to have fun.
There’s no better place to hone your skills and broaden your horizons. Unlike natural trails somewhere on a remote mountainside, there are no nasty surprises lurking here. Most lines are shaped, checked and maintained regularly, and generally rideable. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should be overconfident and just go for it blindly. But at least you can be sure that someone has put a lot of thought into the tracks, so they’re guaranteed to be fun while also being as safe as possible. This doesn’t apply to natural trails. And if things get too rough, there is always an emergency exit nearby, commonly referred to as the chicken line. With every lap, you’ll feel a little more assured, as your confidence in your skills and your bike grows. And thanks to the lift, you can do a lot of runs in one day at the bike park. At the end of the day, you might even feel ready to hit the jump that gave you goosebumps in the morning. And once you’ve mastered it, that’s it. You’ve learned a skill for life. And you can apply it on your home trails. After all, mountain biking is like riding a bike. Once you’ve learnt how, you never forget 😉
The right preparation
Depending on where you live, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Some regions have numerous mountain bike parks, whereas others are devoid of anything like it. Be that as it may, choosing the right bike park is an essential part of making your first bike park experience a success. Equally as important as the bike park itself is who you choose to go with. It is less about riding skills – a healthy difference in skill level can be a great advantage, allowing you to learn from the best – than it is about interpersonal skills. Mutual courtesy and trust form the basis for a successful day in the bike park. You should know your strengths and weaknesses, and rather play it safe than be a daredevil. As so often in life, anything goes in a bike park, but nothing’s compulsory. Take the time you need and also give everyone else you’re sharing the trails with the time they need. A positive can-do attitude certainly doesn’t hurt either, helping to dispel self-doubts and getting you out there on your first successful trail ride in the bike park. A video of the most spectacular crashes of the RedBull Rampage might also do the trick…
While many bike parks have trails for almost every level, you shouldn’t start this adventure completely unprepared. We recommend learning the basics techniques of cornering, braking, and line choice on your home trails first. But you won’t need any more than that. Of course, you’ll also need the right kit: a helmet is a must, that goes without saying. Some bike parks require full-face lids, which you can usually rent on site if you don’t have one. The same applies to bikes, by the way, if you want to experience what a modern enduro bike feels like compared to your current steed. Gloves, protectors, and decent footwear – ideally with grippy soles for flat pedals – round off the mountain bike park starter kit. Speaking of shoes: this can be another cause for concern amongst newbies who aren’t sure if they should ride with flat or clipless pedals. Check out our in-depth article on clipless vs flat pedals here.
Of course, you should also prepare your bike for a wild ride. So, before heading to the bike park, first check if your bike is fit for the task. Brakes? Check! Drivetrain? Check! Suspension? Check! Tires? Check! Tire and suspension pressures? Check! Once you’ve gone through this short list, you’ll already be on the safe side. The unforeseen can always happen. But isn’t that a part of what makes riding exciting?
The perfect day at the bike park
Sweaty palms, knees weak, your heart is racing? Then we’re ready to go! You’ll probably feel something like this just before hitting your first descent in the bike park. And that’s how it should be. Nervousness increases your concentration, and a healthy dose of respect has never hurt. Slowly build up to your skill level, give yourself the time to get used to the tracks, the conditions, and the interaction with other visitors. Your bike may also feel different in the bike park than you’re used to, because you might have firmed up the suspension or lowered the tire pressures somewhat in preparation for the more demanding conditions. All these factors must be considered, so that your first day in a mountain bike park is one of the best days.
A tip to the newbies: it might be better to stay among yourselves on your first mountain bike park visit. The supposed pros can often be a bit impatient, overconfident, and occasionally even a little foolish. And that’s not to say they didn’t also start small and aren’t also plagued with fear from time to time. Don’t let it put you under pressure. Riding in smaller groups or even just in twos creates a less pressured atmosphere. Should you crash – which is likely to happen while you get the hang of things – get back up, take a closer look at the spot, and ride it again and again… until you can do it blindfolded.
If you heed these simple tips, your mountain bike park debut is sure to be a raging success. You will improve your riding technique, overcome your fears, and make new friends. For even more information, check out our bike park guide for eMTBers here. And who knows, maybe you enjoy the bike park so much that you want to incorporate this experience into your next holiday. You’ll find plenty of options in both the Alps and the lower mountain ranges, offering something for everyone.
The self-experiment – Half as wild, but twice as cool
It’s only been a few months since E-MOUNTAINBIKE editor Patrick experienced his baptism by fire in the bike park. Here’s how it went for him, in his own words:
As a typical touring rider with more than 30 years of mountain biking experience, it still took me quite a while to build up the courage to finally visit the local mountain bike park at the Geisskopf, a mountain in the Bavarian Forest. I thought I was probably too old and too slow, wouldn’t be able to keep up with the young guns, and would just get in the way. As a dad and husband, I always had the risk of injury in the back of my mind, too. On the other hand, I wanted to experience it for myself, especially since Bikepark Geisskopf was one of the first with an uphill flow trail especially made for eMTBs. And as a man in his late forties, my eMTB has now become the bike of choice. Not that it wouldn’t be fun without a motor… it’s just the recovery time needed after all-day rides has become much longer, unfortunately. In mid-October, the time had come, setting off to the Bavarian Forest with two riders of a similar age and three eMTBs in tow. Our spirits were high, despite the terrible weather. It had been pouring cats and dogs for days – just getting there by car was a challenge. Nevertheless, dozens of bikers were already on the muddy trails upon our arrival. The lift queue was considerably longer than the one at the wash bay.
In contrast, the uphill trail was completely empty. So, I donated the twenty Euros that I would have spent on the lift ticket towards trail maintenance and headed straight into pure bike park fun. The uphill flow trail wasn’t a big challenge, but it was a lot of fun, nonetheless, and put us in a good mood for the first descent – the blue trail, of course. That’s typically the easiest grade in a mountain bike park. As we made our way to the start of the Flow Country Trail, we had our first encounter with other, much younger visitors. They asked what the uphill trail is like and whether we’ve been here before. They also told us that eMTBs are still quite a rare sight here and that we should feel free to take it a little slower at first. It wouldn’t bother anyone. And that’s just what we did. We took our time as we approached a pace that we felt comfortable at, moving over for faster riders when safe, and often getting an appreciative “thank you” in return. Ois easy – as Bavarians like to say.
We started feeling more confident after the first two descents, identifying key sections, and hitting the first small jumps. It was extremely helpful to watch and learn from the regulars, and we got the occasional tip for free despite the inclement weather, which largely prevented anyone from chatting at length. What we did learn, however, is that only those who ask will get answers. In any case, everyone was very helpful, and we never got the feeling we were annoying anyone or getting in the way. At the end of the day, we had managed to do 12 runs, including two halfway decent attempts on the enduro lines, realising that I’ve never improved my riding skills so much in a single day. And that I’m not too old for the bike park yet. By the way, since visiting the mountain bike park, I’ve learnt that knee pads are less annoying than I thought they’d be, so I’ve made a habit of wearing them more often.
Mike, 27, has been riding mountain bikes for 12 years: “I generally stick to my home trails or ride in the Alps, far off from civilization. But when I do visit the bike park from time to time, I try to avoid T-bar lifts. It’s nowhere near as relaxed as in the gondola or the chairlift. I always worry that the T-bar suddenly slips out from underneath me or gets entangled with the bike just before the summit in such a way that I can’t get it loose.”
Antonia, 28, has been riding mountain bikes passionately for 2 years now: “Despite two hand fractures in the second year, I haven’t given up. It took me a whole year to rebuild the confidence to hit drops – but I’m quite proud I did. The fear of T-bar lifts, steep chutes, and wet roots still plagues me from time to time, but I’ve largely managed to deal with it so far, whether on or off the bike. I learn so much so quickly when riding in bike parks, and I get tons of support from everyone there, whether girls or boys.”
Patrick, 47, has been riding MTB for 32 years: “Contrary to my fears, my bike park debut was a great experience. I learned a ton and had many interesting conversations. I felt totally welcome in the bike park – almost like coming home to a big family.”
Simon, 30, has been riding mountain bikes for 4 years: “I like riding in the bike park a lot in the summer, but I don’t quite trust the T-bar lift. I always worry about hooking the T-bar above the saddle and being thrown off the bike. Or hooking it too far down and destroying my rear wheel when pulling away. Either way, using the T-bar lift always stresses me a little.”
So, head to the bike park and don’t worry about the fear. It will always be there to some degree. We need it, because it sharpens our senses, keeps us concentrated, and fills us with a sense of achievement when we manage to face it and overcome a challenge. Whether in the bike park, at an enduro race, or on your home trails, fear stops us from becoming overconfident and helps us assess the risks. Accept it as a part of your being, and learn to channel it into energy and confidence!
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Words: Patrick Gruber Photos: Mike Hunger