Can You Ride A Full-Suspension Or Hardtail Mountain Bike On A Pump Track?
So you may want to try out this local pump track or get some off-season bike time in. But the bikes there don’t quite look like regular bicycles you see in the woods or around town. They are short and have slick tires. Quite the opposite to your mountain bike, so it’s fair to wonder:
Can you use your mountain bike on a pump track?
Regular mountain bikes can be ridden on pump tracks. However, they have characteristics not preferred on a pump track like big wheels, off-road tires, suspension, and high saddles. Trail and cross-country MTBs are not ideal but suited for some pump track laps.
As long as the seatpost can slide down enough to allow hip movement, suspension can be locked and tires are pumped up to pressures unusually high for MTB, you can have a good time riding your mountain bike! Bonus points for running a semi-slick rear tire.
Can you use a hardtail on a pump track?
Hardtail bikes are the best type for pump track riding because of the stiff rear end, which allows direct power transfer. Speed and momentum is generated by pumping the rear tire through rollers and berms. Any suspension will absorb some of the energy created.
Usually, cross country and trail bikes have the best prerequisites of any type of MTB: short travel, low tire profiles or semi-slick tires and hardtails. The only issue you may run into is the seatpost height. With them not being optimized for downhill, the saddle may not be able to retract far enough to allow for the leg leverage needed. Or a big 29-inch wheel may be in the way. Nothing stopping you to use a 29er hardtail on the local track though!
The solution is to remove the saddle and seatpost entirely. This definitely feels very weird, but I found it’s still miles better than a saddle pumping you in the butt on every single roller. Pump track is so fun because you can be unusually active on the bike. Don’t limit the fun because of an unorthodox look and initially weird feeling. A special pump track bike has the saddle slammed down as well and feels quite similar.
Technically speaking, bikes specific for pump track riding like slopestyle and dirt jump bikes are mountain bikes. Only a couple of dimensions smaller and stripped of all unnecessary components and weight.
This is why even the small, light full-suspension slopestyle bikes are inferior to dirt jump hardtails!
Is a full-suspension MTB rideable on a pump track?
Full-suspension mountain bikes can be ridden on pump tracks, but are at a disadvantage in terms of handling and efficiency. The longer wheelbase and more suspension travel is more difficult and energy intensive to ride as pump tracks are designed for short, nimble, and rigid bikes with low tire profiles.
Nevertheless, for the first times out to the local pump track I brought my 27,5-inch, full suspension trail bike with big mud tires to try it out. I got some weird looks for sure and it was obvious that I had to work twice as hard to complete a lap and pull extra hard to clear jumps but it sure was just as much fun! And the workout kept me warm and my skills sharp during the winter months.
Even when pump track rewards bike characteristics not usually preferred on an MTB, it requires new bike handling skills and is great anaerobic exercise on top of that! All while having a blast with your mates. If you ride a full forgiving suspension bike regularly, you’ll be surprised how precise you have to be on asphalt rollers and jumps.
How to prepare your MTB for pump track
First and foremost, the saddle needs to go down as low as it can without touching the rear wheel. Lowering the dropper post down its usual way won’t cut it. On a pump track, you’ll need your legs for leverage and hip movement even more so than on regular downhill sections in the mountains. The standard movements are greatly exaggerated here. This is why a small dirt jump bike or BMX is a huge benefit.
Clipless pedals are not advised for two reasons: power transfer may be difficult on small platforms, and safety concerns. Things happen fast and obstacles come up quickly. In a pickle, you might need to ditch the bike in a split-second decision. The added benefit of using flat pedals is a smooth pumping technique without the ability to pull on the pedals.
Drastically increase the tire pressure to within the range of 45 – 55 PSI for the rear tire and 5 – 10 PSI lower in the front. For mountain biking, optimal tire pressures are significantly lower than on road bikes. But on smooth, hard surfaces more pressure means lower rolling resistance and more grip due to more stability in the sidewalls. Even if the tread pattern isn’t optimal for smooth, hard surfaces.
If you have the option to swap tires or wheelsets for pump tracking specifically, semi-slick tires are the way to go. The difference is night and day to regular wide and aggressive tires! But the effort is considerable too. The choice is yours.
And last but not least lock out your suspension or increase the pressure for air forks and air shocks. The regular benchmark of 20-30% sag doesn’t apply in this world. Lock-outs and strong forces like pumping don’t go together well and may damage valves. It’s better to increase pressure if you have a suspension pump at hand. I always leave my RockShox High-Pressure Pump in the trunk of my car for situations like these. And no, a regular tire pump won’t be able to handle the huge pressures of suspension components.