You Don’t Need a Special Bike for Pumptrack, However …
Pumptracks are becoming increasingly popular with bikers of all ages and skill levels, as they offer a fun and challenging way to improve bike handling skills. But if you are new to pumptracks, you may be wondering whether you need any particular bike to ride them.
If you’ve ever been to one, you’ve likely seen all kinds of equipment being ridden: not only bikes in all shapes and sizes, but also skateboards, scooters and inline skates. This already gives you a hint for the question “do you need a special bike for pumptrack riding?“
No specific bike is needed for pumptrack riding. Technically BMX bikes, dirtjump bikes, mountain bikes, and even road bikes could be ridden. However, the smaller, nimble types of bikes are better suited to pumptrack riding than regular-sized ones.
Which leads us directly into …
Best Types of Bikes for Pumptrack Riding
BMX and dirtjump bikes are popular choices for pumptrack riding. Both are small, lightweight, stiff and nimble. They’re designed for tight and smooth courses that require riders to use a lot of movement to navigate turns, rollers and jumps.
For most bikers, a 26-inch dirtjump bike or an unusually big 24-inch wheeled BMX is going to be the best option. While 20″ BMX are far more common, they require more time and practice to adapt to as they’re far more twitchy than 27.5″ to 29″ bikes adults usually ride. And they come with suspension forks, that are very beginner-friendly.
Full-suspension slopestyle MTBs are basically similar in geometry with the addition of featuring a rear shock. Which is not ideal for pumptrack it absorbs some of the power generated by pumping. But it can help ironing out mistakes, especially on big jumps.
So, while there is no such thing as the pumptrack bike, dirtjump bikes are often called that. They are two synonymous names for the same kind of bike: a 26″ hardtail with a short wheelbase and suspension fork. I even got an entire article on what a pumptrack bike is.
Can you ride hardtail on a pumptrack?
The next best bike is actually a hardtail mountain bike. Something very common out on the trails and on urban bike paths. This is because usually, their tire profile is still good for hardpack surfaces, the saddle can be lowered a lot and there’s no rear suspension absorbing energy from the pumping motion.
In fact, dirtjump MTBs are technically hardtails. They just don’t pedal very well and the saddle is not there to sit on it. Regular hardtail MTBs are of course bigger in every dimension. Especially the longer wheelbase will make cornering tougher. However, sticking with the same bike can be hugely beneficial for overall feeling and comfort on the bike as there’s no need to adapt to different bikes when sticking to one.
Since we hit on a couple of pointers that indicate why some bikes are better than others, let’s dive deeper into what makes bikes better or worse for pumptrack.
What to Look for in a Pumptrack Bike
While you can take pretty much any bike for some pumptrack laps, some are better than others. And that’s because of some key characteristics. Use these for bike selection or maybe to adjust an existing bike to work better.
What you should look for includes:
- Low saddle height: This is crucial to even be able to pump with your legs. The saddle is not for sitting on a pumptrack.
- Short wheelbase: A short wheelbase makes the bike more nimble and easier to turn around tight corners.
- Low bottom bracket: A low bottom bracket helps to lower the center of gravity, and provides better stability and control.
- Wide handlebars: The wider the handlebar, the better control, and leverage for steering and maneuvering.
- Suspension: Suspension can help to absorb bumps and iron out mistakes, but also absorbs the power you put in. A hardtail with a stiff front fork is ideal.
- Small wheels: Wheel sizes 26″, 24″ and even 20″ are preferred for handling on tight tracks. This is often in direct correlation to frame size.
- Road or dirt tires: Tread patterns that work well on hard ground like BMX, XC or road tires. Big knob MTB tires can start sliding on the tarmac and definitely have high rolling resistance.
Now after reading all this, you may come to the conclusion that road bikes seem to have a couple of the desired features.
Can You Ride a Road Bike on a Pumptrack?
Road bikes can technically ride on pump tracks but are rather unsafe. Pumptrack riding requires a more upright body position and range of motion in the legs. The high saddle is a major reason why it can hardly be pumped. Also, they have very limited grip for cornering.
While a road bike’s fast-rolling tires, stiff frame and short wheelbase sound fitting, the narrow handlebars and tall saddle height are a big disadvantage. It’s simply not designed to handle well, especially not on tight turns and without any pedaling. Additionally, the lack of any suspension means that riders will feel every bump and jolt, which can be uncomfortable if not dangerous paired with the other negatives.
Despite these challenges, experienced road cyclists can still turn some pumptrack laps on their bike, using a combination of skill and technique to navigate the course. If you’re an experienced rider looking for a challenge, riding a road bike on a pumptrack could be a fun way to test your skills and improve your bike handling. Gravel bikes may even ride a bit better in this regard.
Here’s how you can do it.
Tips for Riding a Road Bike or MTB on a Pumptrack
If you’re planning to ride a regular mountain bike or road bike on a pumptrack, here are some tips to help you get started. These are the steps I took to ride my sull-suspension trail MTB on the local track. While extremely exhausting and awkward, I still had tons of fun (and got some weird looks).
- Choose the right pumptrack: Look for a pumptrack that is beginner-friendly and has a relatively smooth surface. Avoid pumptracks with large bumps, jumps or technical features that may be difficult to navigate on a road bike. Stick to wider asphalt tracks.
- Lower the saddle: How low it can go is determined by the bike’s frame. Road bikes may be very restrictive here. Slam it down as far as it can go in any case. Which probably is still not ideal, but a big improvement still.
- Try proper technique: To ride a pumptrack on a less than ideal bike, you’ll need to use a combination of pumping, leaning, and shifting your weight to generate speed and maintain momentum. Practice these techniques on a flat surface before attempting them on a pumptrack.
- Adjust your tire pressure: Lowering your road bike tire pressure (and pumping up your MTB tires) can help with grip. Experiment with different tire pressures to find the right balance of comfort and performance.
- Wear appropriate gear: As with any type of cycling, it’s important to wear the appropriate safety gear when riding a road bike on a pumptrack. A helmet, gloves, and knee and elbow pads can help to protect you from injuries in the event of a fall.
- Do NOT lock out suspension! Locking and still pushing hard into it will damage the internal valves. For a stiffer platform, rather pump up your suspension to reduce sage and increase compression. Much better, safer and easier than clicking any of the dials.
In conclusion, while some bikes are not designed for pumptrack use, it is possible to ride them with the right skills, technique, gear and some easy modifications. If you’re an experienced cyclist looking for a new challenge, give it a try – you might be surprised at how much fun it can be!