What Are Pump Track Bikes & What Makes Them Special?

Pump track riding is a mix between the established bike disciplines BMX and MTB dirt jumping. However, dedicated pump track bikes are neither a BMX nor a mountain bike. Rather, their design and features slot right in between: Small and nimble, but still stable and forgiving.

So, what exactly is a Pumptrack bike?
Pump track bicycles are similar to mountain bikes used for slopestyle or dirt jumping. They are characterized by a small, short frame, a front suspension fork, no rear suspension, disc brakes, strong 24 or 26-inch wheels, flat pedals, single-speed gearing and semi-slick MTB tires.

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This 26″ dirtbike is an example of an ideal pumptrack hardtail bike and exactly what I described above.

Pump track is often part of big mountain biking events, so it can be considered part of MTB and the bikes borrow a lot from regular-sized mountain bikes in terms of components and geometry. Just their size is more similar to the smaller 20-inch BMX bikes.

So, do you need a special bike for pump track?

No specific bike is absolutely needed for pump track riding. However, smaller, more nimble, hardtail bikes like a dirtjump bike or BMX are recommended since the tracks are tight and require the rider to be agile on the bike. The bigger the bike and the more suspension travel, the harder it is to generate speed.

So, don’t let any less-than-ideal equipment stop you from trying out pump tracking! Getting your feet wet doesn’t cost anything extra. Just bring what you got and see if you like it enough to pick up some more dedicated gear.

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On a typical public pumptrack, riders come and ride with all kinds of bikes – big or small, rigid or suspension.
Fun can be had on pretty much any bike.

But wait. I’m now telling you to basically ride anything on a track designed for pumping. Surely there are bikes better suited for that than others. And you would be correct!

What makes a good pump track bike?

A bike ideal for pump track bike riding has a small frame with a low saddle, short chainstay and a steep head angle, 100mm front suspension fork, no rear suspension, no gearing disc brakes, small but strong 26-inch wheels, and semi-slick MTB tires. Basically a hardtail dirt jump bike or a big 24-inch BMX.

It’s basically as maneuverable, light, and strong as possible. 24-inch wheels, no suspension fork and rim brakes are also used, but less often. While rear suspension can often be found on similar slopestyle MTBs, it’s not used for dedicated pump track bikes. With the rear end being used for generating speed and momentum, you’ll want it to be as stiff as possible to not soak up any energy.

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A better look from the front reveals how little accessories and components are on the bike.
It’s stripped of all unnecessary weight to be highly maneuverable.

Same with the tires. Huge, aggressive mountain bike tires with low pressures will roll significantly slower. Slick tires have a definite advantage here. Whatever the tires, make sure to pump them up so they are hard and have low rolling resistance.

Can you ride a BMX bike on a pump track?

Generally speaking, BMX bikes are great for pump track laps. Bigger 24-inch BMX are generally better for pumping and more stable compared to regular 20-inch BMX wheels. Due to their short frames and steep head angles, they can get quite twitchy at higher speeds.

They usually come with rim brakes, which are not as powerful and safe as modern disc brakes. Other drawbacks are the lacking suspension, especially the front fork which is another level of safety on asphalt tracks and downright required on dirt pump tracks.

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BMX are very common and potent pumptrack bikes.
The bike in the picture is a 20″ wheeled one, the most used size. // Photo by Rūdolfs Paipa

The best thing about BMX though is their widespread availability and price. They are definitely worth considering as an entry into pump track riding! Just try and avoid the regular-sized 20″ BMX and go for bigger 24″ wheels if pump track is the main use.

Now, what if I could choose the best overall type of bike to be best equipped for pump track riding?

What kind of bike is best for pump track?

Regular 26″ dirt jump bikes are the best overall type of bike for pump track riding. Smaller 24-inch BMX bikes are also good and easily available, but not quite as stable. Slopestyle MTBs may look similar but don’t roll as fast due to their rear suspension.

They all look and feel quite similar, but still have specific differences. Most important is the overall stiffness for power transfer during pumping and low rolling resistance.

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Bigger 24-inch BMX bikes are recommended for junior riders or adults used to BMX.

For riders with shorter legs or kids, smaller wheel sizes may be better. There’re also 24″ dirt jump bikes out there. So are 20″ and ever smaller-wheeled BMX for the junior riders.

Now, while slopestyle bikes are technically mountain bikes, they are not your usual MTB anyone would climb up hills with.

Can you use a mountain bike on a pump track?

Regular mountain bikes can usually be used for pump track riding. 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.

In fact, I brought my 27″ full suspension trail bike with big mud tires to the local pump track when I first tried 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 but it sure was just as much fun! And the exhaustion kept me warm 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.

Great off-season training in my book! But more on the topic of MTBs on pump tracks here.

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