What Is Pump Track Biking? The Basics

The discipline of pumptrack is establishing itself as its own major thing and getting bike riders of all ages to hop onto those small bicycles and ride around in circles. Professionally built pump track facilities are found increasingly easier, attracting bigger and bigger masses to try it out for themselves.

While it has been around for quite some time, there seems to be a worldwide boom around it. One thing is for sure: Pumptrack definitely looks new and interesting. But it’s not quite clear what’s going on here at first glance. And why the riders manage to keep going in circles without a single pedal stroke.

Let’s clear some of those burning questions up, shall we?

What Pump Track riding is all about

Pumptrack is a bicycle discipline where speed is generated by pumping instead of pedaling. This is done on special circuit courses featuring obstacles like rollers, berm turns and jumps. The track design favors small, rigid bikes that roll well on hard, smooth surfaces.

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Experienced and young pumptrack riders on the same course.

It is a comparatively inexpensive bike sport for all ages and skill levels! It can be done as a discipline by itself, or – more commonly – as cross-training for other biking disciplines like BMX, Enduro MTB, or Downhill.

Apart from initial gear investments like a pumptrack bike, safety gear the recurring costs are minimal with very little service and maintenance due to fewer moving parts than on regular mountain bikes.

There is no gearing on the bikes as they’re “singlespeed”. No rear suspension either, only front forks are common. As far as brakes go, they mostly decelerate with only a rear brake. Overall, bikes used for pumptrack are sturdy and can withstand the abuse of riding and the occasional crash on hard surfaces. The overall wear and tear is minimal and there’s hardly any danger of flat tires.

As fun as it all sounds, sadly it can’t be done anywhere! This kind of riding heavily relies on the availability of a specific pump track circuit.

What’s a pump track?

Pump tracks are short circuit courses with obstacles like rollers, berm turns and jumps. They’re usually made of clay dirt or asphalt and are designed for short, maneuverable bikes that can generate momentum without pedaling. A good pump track can be ridden without pedalling.

Luckily, the pump track boom is catching on and a ton of cities are building their own urban facilities to cater to the active youth and encourage everyone to improve their biking skills regardless of age and skill level.

local asphalt pump track circuit with rollers berms and jumps
My local asphalt pump track with rollers, berms and jumps. The mirrored two-lane format is very common in pump tracks.

A pump track is also often a component of a downhill bike park either as its own dedicated race track or integrated into a mellow practice course for beginners. Depending on the actual track design, both is possible.

Why do they call it a pump track?

The name pumptrack refers both to the main movement of pumping the bike in order to do laps on a specifically built track. If done right, no pedaling is necessary. Riders can even accelerate through pumping alone. This is unique among cycling disciplines going in circles.

Now we know what it is and what kind of track is required. But why even do it?

What is the point of a pumptrack?

Pump track riding isolates three fundamental bike riding skills: cornering, weight transfer and jumping. This is done in a safe environment for bike skills training or as its own racing discipline. Focusing on bike handling fundamentals is why it has been becoming so popular.

These core biking techniques are critical to any cycling discipline where bike handling is a big part. In mountain biking the more difficult the trails get, the more important sound technique becomes. This is especially true for gravity MTB like Trail, Enduro and Downhill. But also more niche bike sports like slalom, dirtjump and slopestyle. Obviously, there is also a big overlap with classic BMX riding.

Another benefit of pumptrack is the fitness that comes from the high-intensity, explosive movements maintained throughout.

Combine the ability to ride obstacles in quick succession well at a high heart rate for the perfect training effect that translates to many other sports. The short bursts of 2 to 3 laps followed by breaks is not dissimilar to HIIT (high-intensity interval training).

pumptrack rider jumping his hardtail
A pumptrack rider jumping his hardtail. Fundamental skills for any type of riding where tires leave the ground.

MTB Legend Claudio Caluori says it best himself:

“[Pumptracks] bring all kinds of people together. They are facilities where everyone can have fun, where people can meet and really let off steam. You can really train on pump tracks and at the same time they are fun playgrounds.”

Claudio Caluori, Founder of Velosolutions (Source)

How a pump track works

Pump tracks allow riders to generate momentum by pumping due to obstacles like rollers, banked turns and jumps being placed in close proximity to each other. These explosive up and down body movements (“pumping”) allow to soak up inclines and accelerate on declines.

Generally, a pumptrack is built in a way such that it’s looped and multiple laps can be ridden in one stint. For dedicated race tracks, the track layout may sometimes lead from an elevated start to a separate finish line or even go in a straight line with multiple lanes next to each other. These one-off tracks are usually built out of clay, not permanent asphalt.

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An extra large pumptrack layout from above.

Can you pedal on a pump track?

Pedaling is possible but not required on a pumptrack. A danger of doing so is potential pedal strikes on some of the obstacles like rollers or berm turns. During races pedaling is generally forbidden and even chains are removed.

With obstacles in quick succession, pedaling is usually a bad idea as it destabilizes the rider and hinders the ability to pump track features and gain speed the way it’s intended to. Pedaling is usually a sign of a technique in need of improvement.

This is what it looks like in motion:

A train of riders on a pumptrack.

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