So, there is this local pump track waiting to be ridden. But an actual pumptrack bike is only one part of the required gear. The rider also needs to come equipped properly in order to ride well and safely. With many getting into the sport recently it’s fair to wonder: What do you even wear to a pump track?
A helmet, gloves, flat-pedal shoes and knee pads are the gear basics on a pump track. Riders prone to crashing more often like beginners and racers should wear elbow pads, shin pads and a full-face helmet in addition. Pump tracks always have hard surfaces so protection is critical to injury prevention.
So, there you have it. It’s as simple as that. Most riders hide their protective equipment underneath normal jeans and a jersey. That’s the most comfortable and also stylish way to dress for riding.
Now let’s discuss WHY some items are critical and others are not recommended.
A helmet is non-negotiable. Generally, not road helmets but low-cut MTB helmets are used. Obviously, the head, the housing of your brain, is the most valuable body part. You only got one so take appropriate care. There’s always the cool rider at the local pump track in a hat, which is cringe-worthy as it is but even more so when they eventually hit the ground showing off.
Flat pedal bike shoes or skater shoes are the standard footwear. Both work well and special MTB shoes have the added benefit of stiffer soles that offer more stability and grip on the flat pedals. That’s important because the majority of control and power come from the feet. Whatever shoes you use, just make sure they don’t slip and don’t clip into the pedals. More on clip-ins further down.
Gloves and knee pads are key for the same reason: hands and knees are the body parts to pretty much always make contact with the ground when crashing. Not only that, even while riding knees will hit the bike frame. And gloves will help grip the handlebar even when hands eventually start to get sweaty. I just use the same pair of gloves I have for mountain biking, no fingerless ones.
Basically, this is just a regular mountain bike outfit for trail riding.
Of course, you can equip other helpful gear items if you feel the need for it.
Mobility is such a big part of pumptrack that more protection isn’t always better. But there is some extra protective gear you can add on top of the basics.
Full-face helmets (like mine) are common but not as widespread on pump tracks as half-shell helmets. You definitely see professionals using them, but unfortunately, not many kids and amateurs as these things are expensive and can’t be used for normal riding. I personally always use my Giro Switchblade MTB helmet with the removable chin bar, as without one I’d feel kind of naked.
Elbow pads are definitely not as trendy, it seems. But neither are hurting elbows, which are another regular body part to make ground contact. The only reason I wouldn’t consider them must-haves is the fact that they will slip down the forearm with all the movement on the bike unless the fit is perfect or extra tight. The former is hard to find and the latter leads to arm pump.
Another piece of kit to maybe think about are big MTB goggles, especially in combination with a full-face helmet. It’s a trade-off between protection from wind, rain and dust on one side, and limited breathability and fogged-up lenses on the other. For dry eyes or cold temperatures, the benefits may overweigh.
Back protectors are generally a good idea, but like goggles, their benefits are limited. Hardly does one fall on their back on a pump track. And they tend to move around a lot with the body shapes made on a pump track. That being said, when it fits well, no harm no foul.
Do Not Wear For Pumptrack
And then there are cycling gear options that are available, but make no sense whatsoever for pumptrack.
Regular sunglasses should not come on track with you. They usually don’t stay in place well with the rapid movements and offer almost no protection in case of a crash. Even worse, these lenses can break into shards, unlike bike-specific glasses or goggles.
Chest guards or upper body protector vests are complete overkill for most riders. They impede range of motion, movement, and agility dramatically. And on pumptrack, where all those are important to be able to ride well, full body armor isn’t helping.
For example, shoulder pads would make sense but can only be worn as part of a full upper body protector vest. I wear such a vest for downhill, but not for trail riding or pumptrack as it’s just too heavy, not so breathable and frankly overkill.
Clip-in shoes are popular for mountain biking on difficult terrain but will harm technique on a pump track. They’re not only unnecessary and unhelpful but also dangerous because things move fast and happen quickly in pumptrack. You’ll want to dismount fast in case something goes wrong.
Full-on heavy knee braces like riders use in motocross are also a no-go as they limit the knees in their pumping movement. Also, I found thicker braces feel awkward and make me feel removed from the bike when they touch the bike frame. You just don’t feel as connected to the bike, similar to extra thick gloves.
Neckbraces may have their place in gravity MTB like downhill, but not on a pump track. The speeds here are not that fast, the obstacles not that severe and the surface not that grabby to warrant the use of a neck brace. Also, the turns are tight and the head’s range of motion shouldn’t be limited to be able to look into the turns and at the track ahead while crouched on a small bike.
Pro (BMX) riders may still choose to wear one due to increased speeds and big jumps.