Old Hobby, New Stoke

Old Hobby, New Stoke

The face and nature of advocacy is evolving. Traditionally, the face of advocacy has been seen in bike lanes and other infrastructure aimed at people who use bikes for transportation—the big exception being IMBA. But with groups like Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz and the Redwood Empire Mountain Bike Alliance emerging, the work of improving cycling has shifted increasingly off road and to the creating new trails and caring for those trails.


My adopted home of Santa Rosa is on the verge of opening its first pump track, shepherded to fruition largely through the efforts REMBA and board member Doug McKenzie. McKenzie, a veteran roadie, undertook the effort after riding his first pump track during a visit to Specialized HQ. He observed that it was a fresh way to enjoy something he already loved.

img_6576Builder Andrew Taylor demonstrates proper shovel technique.

The track was built on city park land, and babysitting it through the various approvals took McKenzie more than three years. And then there was the cost of the dirt and construction. That was provided by a grant from the King Ridge Foundation, the nonprofit that distributes the funds raised by Levi’s GranFondo.

img_6571Taylor’s friend Greg Watts worked with him on design and construction.

Design and construction of the track was provided by Andrew Taylor, a pro dirt jumper and Santa Rosa native who now resides in Santa Cruz. Taylor and his friend, Greg Watts, took the truckloads of dirt and distributed them around the layout using a Bobcat. That was the easy part. Turning the piles of dirt into a rideable track took the better part of another week and a dozen or so volunteers.


It turns out that there’s a pretty specific sequence of events and techniques required to turn a bunch of dirt into a pump track. There’s shaping, wetting down the dirt to help pack it down, breaking up big dirt clods, pulling out sticks and anything else that’s not dirt and then slapping the dirt with a shovel.

Yeah, slapping dirt with a shovel.

It’s grueling work. I invested maybe a half dozen hours in the track as a volunteer. Not much, to be sure, but enough to become familiar with the process and to hold my head up and say I was there when it mattered. I’d have done more if my schedule would have permitted.

There’s a special technique of sliding the shovel either forward or backward as you slap the dirt to keep it from sticking to the back of the shovel. It’s a technique that is difficult to develop, but crucial for when the work gets down to the final phase of shaping.

img_6578McKenzie put in more hours on the track than anyone save Taylor and Watts. And yes, that’s a T-shirt with his likeness surrounded by a halo as he looks over the pump track. 

Local kids, when they learned that McKenzie was responsible for the creation of the pump track, dubbed him “Pump Track Jesus.” It’s pretty fitting.

The bigger miracle here is how supportive the city has been. When pitched a chance to take some little-used park land and turn it into a play structure that could be enjoyed by adults and kids alike, wouldn’t cost the city anything and would be maintained by volunteers, they were excited to support it. There are preliminary plans to add to it in the future.

For me, the big lesson is that in an increasingly privatized world, community development and support has become a terrific way to accomplish projects that were once within the domain of government.


We’ve begun riding the track in, further packing down the dirt and making the surface both harder and faster. The best part, as I see it, is that it’s given parents a great place to ride with their kids. I’ve bumped into former Mercury pro John Peters, not to mention Bike Monkey’s Carlos Perez and some of the riders who broke my legs at this summer’s dirt crits. The only downside is that to transport our bikes to the track, I have to drive. That said, when Mini-Shred sees bikes on the back of the car when I pick him up from school he’ll exclaim, “Oh boy, we’re going to the pump track!”

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