Interview: Ray Petro of Ray's MTB Parks

Jan 20, 2015 at 7:19
by Lauren Jenkins  


Ray s MTB Old and New

Ray Petro is a legend, a word often overused to describe people who are not quite worthy of that title, but not Ray. We often find ourselves on paths we seemingly have no control over, spiralling down with no idea how to get back up, many fight and many lose, but sometimes strength overcomes the darkness, we just have to find a way. For Ray, that strength came from bikes - at one time in his life he was lost, dragged down by the allure of drugs and alcohol, but it was during that time that his life changed. It was then he realised that he needed to make a change, and so the wheels were in motion.

It was during a dream that the concept of Ray's first came to him, and like a dog with a bone that was all he thought about and he knew he had to make it happen. It took him seven years, but on Thanksgiving weekend 2004, his first park opened in Cleveland, Ohio. Since then Ray and his team have opened another park in Milwaukee, and have plans to develop more. He is a man that has proved that with passion, determination and grit anything is possible. A visionary and creative, Ray did something not many people are able to do. Now every winter the two parks open allowing people to ride whilst the weather is bad, in summer they close and the team gets to work remodelling them for the winter ahead.

Find out more about the man, the parks and what the future holds for Ray's Indoor Bike Parks.

bigquotesMy past was drug and booze filled nightmare. I draw strength from it. I still go to an AA meeting every week to remind me of how good I have it now. - Ray Petro

For those who don’t know what Ray’s Indoor Bike Park is, could you describe it in a nutshell?

Ray's is a place for all styles and skill levels to have a great time on a mountain bike or bmx bike.

Ray s Indoor Bike Park
Cleveland Women's Weekend - Photo by Matthew Delorme

When did the first park officially open? Did you ever imagine opening a second at that point?

Thanksgiving weekend 2004. I never in my wildest dreams thought it would be what it has turned into or that I would have a second park.

Who helped the project happen in the early days, were there any complications you had to work through?

I had so much help in the beginning it was crazy. People would bang on the garage door of the building before I opened the doors and ask to help build. It's was unlike any other business opening I had ever seen. Being the first of its kind presented many problems. Mostly with finance, banks won't loan money on crazy dreams. The city. The people at the building dept had no idea what to do. My city councilman made sure we stayed open, the whole thing was a miracle really. The full story of the place is in my little book I wrote with Johnathon Allen.

Ray s 10 year anniversary
Then and Now

At what moment did you realize that this was more than just a warehouse for you and your friends?

After the first season was almost over, I got a call from Subaru. They wanted to be a sponsor and help me develop it. Also, so many people offered to help me , I couldn't not reopen it for the next season. Everyone loved it.

What’s the ethos behind Ray’s – what can people expect when they come and ride?

All riders have fun. We strive to build a easy to progress park. Riders check their egos at the door. We are the anti skatepark, the tough guys aren't welcome. You can be a pro rider, bring your dad, your wife and kids.... Grab a picnic table to call home and enjoy the day or weekend. Everyone has fun on their bike. There's nothing like it really.

Ray s Indoor Bike Park
Cleveland Lobby on a Saturday

Is talking about your past hard for you or something you look back on and draw strength from?

My past was drug and booze filled nightmare. I draw strength from it. I still go to an AA meeting every week to remind me of how good I have it now. The parks make me feel good because everyone is "high" but not on booze or drugs.....just a simple invention called a bike.

At what point did you realize that mountain biking instrumented a turning point in your life?

When I spent my first summer sober and just rode my bike in 1996. I started going to AA in April and got drunk again that fall on thanksgiving weekend. I remember waking up from the drinks weekend and the first thing I saw was my bike. I knew that if I kept drinking I wouldn't ride any more. I chose the bike. That's also when I had the idea for Rays.

Ray s Indoor Bike Park
Jeff Lenosky by Matthew Delorme, Cleveland Park

During the past 11 years how would you say you’ve maintained the success of the park when so many others have tried to do the same thing and either failed to get it off the ground or have been forced to close?

Much of it is location. I also have a great landlady who loves what we do and worked with through all the lean years. Many parks have made the mistake of building things that are too big and only posting people flying through the air. The base of Ray's is still older XC riders. That's what it started as and that's what works. Nothing against BMX riders but many parks have catered to them right from the start and it scares away the older riders. It becomes a place for kids. Rays was conceived to make an older feel like a kid again.

Ray s Indoor Bike Park
Milwaukee Park

What are your thoughts on the half dozen indoor bike parks that are directly influenced by what you created?

I'm flattered by it all. It's fun to see others tweak the idea and make it their own. I wish them well. I know how hard it is.

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Aside from the obvious, what are the benefits of indoor riding in comparison to more natural, outdoor stuff?

Staying on your bike all winter and working on skills, style and fitness is a huge advantage once the trails open in the spring. We as a sport lose riders to winter every year....people get lazy, out of shape and then get spanked by their buddies in the spring. If you have a Ray's that's less likely to happen. I never tried to replace Mother Nature just fool her for the winter. That's why we close in the summer. You should be outdoors riding. I still can't figure out why all the other parks stay open.

Ray s Indoor Bike Park
Cleveland Women's Weekend - Photo, Leigh Donovan

What is the single most important bike handling lesson you’ve learned at the park?

Cornering, backside pumping transitions and jumping. Makes xc riding so much more fun with those skills.

Do you think that riding at the park gives a rider an advantage when they ride outside?

Absolutely, skills learned in the park or on any bike will transition to all areas of riding.

Ray s Indoor Bike Park
Milwaukee Trek section on Take a Kid MTBing Day - Photo by Greg Dickson

How important do you think facilities like these are in regards to progression of the sport?

Huge. I wish we could have one in every town. That's what much of the thinking was when I joined Trek. I was at the end of what I could borrow from the bank. They had the ability to go global. We are still working on growing Ray's for the future.

Why does Ray’s close in the summer?

It's such a party all winter it's nice to get a break. Riding outside is where all riders should be in the summer. It also gives us a chance to remodel and experiment with new ideas. There's also something to be said for having a big grand opening every year.

Ray s Indoor Bike Park
Cleveland Women's Weekend - Photo by Matt Delorme

What’s your personal favourite obstacle you’ve built at Ray’s?

I love the new mellow lips on the xc flow loop. For several years many of the jumps were too "lippy", the new stuff is not and the riders love it.

Ray s Indoor Bike Park
Milwaukee Transferland -- JAX Photography

I know you have a few, but what’s your favourite bike to ride?

I've always rode long travel trail bikes. I have been on Trek Remedy's for the past four years and can't say enough about them. Especially the new Reaktiv rear shock, amazing technology.

How many people do you think have been through the park since you started?

I would guess we are nearing 100,000.

Ray s Indoor Bike Park
Cleveland Women's Weekend 2014

Do you have plans to open further parks in future?

That's all up to Trek. I know we are trying. They really want to. I think we all needed these past four years to work together and dial in the business side of things. Trek is all about making the planet better place via the bicycle. More parks fits in with that thinking.

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MENTIONS: @raysmtb1 @trek

Author Info:
laurenjenkins avatar

Member since Jan 10, 2012
105 articles

  • 54 2
 Wow, thanks for the kind words everyone. It's true, I'm down in Florida at Santos in the winter. Trek has a fantastic group of people running things at the parks during the I have a few free months to get away. I fell in love with santos and have been helping the local club and park system with some projects while I'm down here. Just trying to make the works a better place via the bicycle.
  • 7 0
 You da man Ray! We drive from Ontario all the time and get harassed at the border for telling them where we're going and riding bikes indoor. Thanks for the years of hospitality...see you soon.
  • 4 29
flag dthomp325 (Jan 27, 2015 at 16:30) (Below Threshold)
 Santos? Dude, it's warm here in AZ too, and we have legit trails. I mean, I'm glad you're building down there, but you can only do so much with a quarry in the middle of the flattest state in the US. You should come checkout Tucson if you want to try some real mountain biking during the winter.

I rode Ray's Milwaukee over Christmas break, and it was awesome, and cheap too! I think it was something like $40 for entry, rental, and a personal lesson combined. A DH lesson alone at Winterpark is about $200 for a group lesson, not including lift ticket or rental. Learned a lot about how to jump a dirt jumper (I'm used to all-mountain and DH bikes), and my instructor even pulled a back-flip off the first hit on the drop in to the jump line. I was really impressed with the traffic too, quite a lot of riders of all ages having fun.
  • 3 1
 Ray you rock. Accodently fat fingered neg props, sorry!
  • 3 0
 most people have no idea the biking potential in florida, not even counting the year round riding season. Ray when you going to come and ride grapefruit trails in palm bay, you'll have a great time.
  • 4 0
 keep up the great work at Santos, looking forward to hitting it up this year.
  • 3 0
 The Ray Man!! You are awesome for our sport!!
  • 1 0
 Awesome my man! Im from clearwater, just rode alafia yesterday. I better get up there soon after seeing this!
  • 14 0
 I met Ray about two weeks ago at a trail system in Ocala, Florida. He had been building all sorts of cool features on the XC trails and even built an awesome jumpline.Such a nice man and i'm glad I got to meet this legend.
  • 7 0
 Wish they could build one in the uk
  • 3 0
 Love Ocala, we used to take trips there every year from Miami when I was a wee one to go ride!
  • 3 1
 Ocala is ok but Grham Swamp is wonderful. FL peeps
  • 8 0
 We are lucky to have Ray down in Florida during the winter...he's built some awesome stuff the last couple of years at Santos and has helped out at some other local trails.
  • 1 1
 Handy's under the corkscrew.
  • 5 0
 Met him and got the "first year open" shirt back when I was doing an internship at the Cleveland Clinic. He's put it all on the line, and deserves all of the accolades and props. I wish you all the continued success in the world Ray!!
  • 4 0
 Wow! Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I'm in Florida at Santos a few months in the winter. Trek has an awesome crew running things and I get to take a brake for a few months. So, I love to build things, so why not do it at Santos......just trying to do what Trek asked me to do. Make the world a better place via the bicycle.
  • 2 3
 Ray, please god come to Hartford CT and build!!!
  • 8 0
 how cool would a ray's and claudio collaboration park be?
  • 7 0
 Totally changes the meaning of factory rider
  • 3 0
 Cool article pinkbike. I was in college not far from the park when Rays opened, became buds w/ Ray that year. Great guy and did a great thing for the sport. It's really cool to see the then vs. now photos, have many similar in my archives.
  • 1 0
 I think he should move one down into edmonton are because the closest riding spot we have is in hinton and that is still quite a ways to drive and it would be nice to at least get out and ride once In a while in the winter time because we get winter 5-6 months of winter but before we can ride we have to wait for all of the snow to clear up.
  • 1 0
 Just stumbled on this story - missed it when initially posted. Having lived near Cleveland for 3 years, and being a newbie to mountain biking I can attest to the friendly nature of the park for people of beginning levels. It also looked like people with way more skills than me were having a blast too. When I first entered the building it was initially intimidating with the sheer volume of obstacles that seem to be never ending in every direction you look. I had a mechanical problem as I was about to head out on course and so right off discovered the friendly support from the staff and the stash of tools they have for people to use if needed. Once fixed I headed out, still with a little trepidation, but that feeling was extremely short lived and replaced by major fun factor. It is unbelievable how many "miles" of tracks there are twisting through the different areas of the warehouse. The variety of obstacles is mind blowing - it seems every obstacle is different than the next one. So much imagination everywhere including the great technical sections. It is obvious Ray is "addicted" to creating challenging and fun riding. Time flies - you just want to keep going whether exhausted or not - and there are many sections that will suck you in as you try to ride it better, smoother, further than the time before. The feeling from the whole experience is 10 times better than what I though of Disneyland as a kid. Ray's MTB Park oozes with the passion of riders. I wish Ray, Trek, or any one else building something like this the best of luck. I have since moved away from Cleveland to a spot where nothing like this exists and find myself wishing for a Ray's MTB Park again.
  • 1 0
 Here's a link to the book that Ray mentioned earlier with Jonathon Allen:
  • 3 0
 Hopefully Ray's advice of going too big too fast doesn't bite the ass of the folks building the underground bike park down in Indy.
  • 2 1
 Come over to Scotland, you would make a fortune! It's winter at least three times a day, every day... PS good on you, looks like you have made something really special - keep up the good work!
  • 1 0
 I met some of my best friends at Ray's and could not imagine this winter without being able to ride there. Even after 100's of hours it hasn't gotten stale and there is always something to work on.
  • 4 0
 Up next: Ray's Detroit. You know we got the vacant buildings! :-)
  • 2 0
 Hat's off to Ray, It's come a long way! now, how do we get our hands on the 'hotwheelz' t-shirt?!
  • 3 0
 I saw him wearing a cool NASA themed shirt down in Florida.
  • 4 0
 So sick. Respect.
  • 2 0
 Buzz told me you were a legend, so this story is definitely true! thanks for the vision and going for it Ray!
  • 2 0
 Ray is a great guy. Met him at Snowshoe Bike park 2 years ago, he shreds!
  • 2 0
 This looks awesome but some dirt wouldn't go a miss!
  • 3 1
 dirt is really tricky to do indoors, without contaminating the timber skatepark, you'd have to wash and dry tires before allowing bikes back into the skatepark.

APE in the UK had indoor dirt jump trails next to the skatepark, but dirt dust would get onto the timber ramps and cause all manner of nasty slams, try 360 the large spine only to have your tire (or wheels for skateers) slip out on landing Frown
  • 2 0
 It's being done at the 417 Project in Cheltenham, depends what dirt you use! I'm talking about hard clay, as it's grippy, feels much nicer to ride than wood, certainly not impossible to mix the two
  • 1 0

yeah it can be done. At Esher we had our pump track which was a mix of hoggins and timber stunts, worked fine but all the riding surface timber was rough sawn slats so lots of texture even in dry,dusty conditions

This is also how the Esher Shore bike park also worked with all the dirt built from hoggins, the timber was pinned with wire mesh in the north shore area.

If you are building plywood riding surfaces (common to skateparks - I've built a few in my time) then dirt can be an issue.

417Project sounds interesting, is it yours?
  • 2 0
 Yeah you make a very good point actually, smooth plywood of skateparks I agree would be an issue. I suppose it depends how you use the timber in whatever creation you're making Smile

No the 417 Project isn't mine, the guys who run the FlyUp Downhill uplift at the Forest of Dean and Gawton are making their own place, due to be opened some time this year hopefully, and if it's going to be as good as they're hyping it up to be, it'll be one of the best places to go in the UK, everything from DH to dirt jumps, 4X, dual slalom, XC loops, full uplift, indoor dirt park, pump tracks and a drag lift to the top of the 4X and dual slalom!
  • 1 0
 There IS dirt at Ray's (another building).
  • 1 0
 haha tippipe was rocking the old juicy 3s
  • 2 0
 When is the 417 project being opened in the UK? Come on guys!!!!
  • 2 0
 Awesome! I wish I had one of these nearby when it is raining!
  • 2 0
 We need at least ten more Raysmtb spots
  • 2 0
 Thank You Ray!
  • 1 0
 Ray represents goodness in the world.
  • 3 6
 Milwaukee Park pic looks like an accident waiting to happen.
  • 1 0
 Riding any of that stuff is relatively low risk, if you miss a line and slide off a skinny then you drop 6 inches and move on. Usually you stall before eating anything really hard. Also all loner pads are free (helmet, knees, elbows).
  • 1 1
 The rider sitting down and with nearly stretched arms holding on to those narrow bars, doesn't seem prepared for what is coming.
  • 2 0
 the speed which most people take those turns would allow him to stand up before he hit any obstacle

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