Bike parks are absolutely amazing. Pretty much any bike park, from the mega-resorts to the single-chair outfits, will give you some of the best times you'll ever have on two wheels. The ingredients are simple, really: take away all the climbing, multiply the descending by ten or twenty, and do it all on killer singletrack or a wild jump line. Haven't been lucky enough to get to a bike park yet? Below, I take a tongue-in-cheek look at how it might play out...
Driving into the parking lot reveals a sea of expensive vans and nearly matching trucks, most with tailgate pads and the same 'Ride or Die' sticker on every back window. ''They take this bike'n thing pretty seriously around here,
'' you think but don't say to your buddies while gearing up to the competing sounds of Rise Against and various rap songs about drive-bys and drug deals.
You've always liked your medium-travel do-everything bike; it was on close-out but it's never let you down or held you back. It's a great bike, dammit. But it also appears to be about a third of the machine that everyone else is on. You wonder if you really do need a downhill bike, why your handlebar is so skinny, and why are there so many riders here? You just wanted to ride the jump line but now you kinda just want to go home. ''Bro, the jump line is going to be U-N-R-E-A-L. I can't wait!
'' you say to the group for some reason that you can't comprehend. ''f*ck yes, let's do it first lap,
'' someone replies loud but hesitantly. ''Let's get it, boys!
'' comes out of your mouth despite you definitely not wanting to say it.
But first, there's the money and some paperwork.
It turns out that not riding your bike uphill ain't cheap, but you've been dreaming and planning this trip for ages and you're happy to pay any amount of money to be scared shitless. You sign a thing and another thing. Then you print your name and sign just below it. ''Initials as well, please,
'' asks the very polite person at the counter before telling you to sign here and here and here. ''Stand in front of the camera, please,
'' he says before handing you a very official card with your mid-blinking mug on it. You might have signed something that ensures everything is your fault, but you're also convinced that this is the best DMV in the world.
''Let's get it, boys
'' you whoop senselessly for the eighth time as your group rolls into the lift line. An hour and a half later and it's nearly your turn to load bikes. Shit, you hadn't thought about that. Rolling the bike onto the tray looks easy enough, but there are three hundred mountain bikers behind amped up on over-priced pop and Soundcloud rap. What if you mess up and they have to stop the lift? What if your bike falls off? What if you fall off? But aside from getting your shirt caught on the handlebar of your friend's bike and dropping your helmet, it goes fine.
And then you're on the lift. In the frick'n bike park. You all want to put the restraining bar down but no one says anything other than a few too many nervous-sounding 'SO SICK' comments while everyone thinks about how they'd love to start the day on an easy trail...
Being that it's your first time in the park, you and your crew fully realize that it's best to do some warm-up laps on a blue-rated descent before dropping into a jump line that you've never even seen before. None of you say that out loud, of course, and none of you have the slightest idea how to jump or have even left the ground on purpose before, but you're not about to let any of that stop you from having a good time. Or losing a lot of blood.
Thankfully, you can all easily ride around the scary squirrel catcher at the top that's designed to ward off those who may not have the skills required to make it down the trail safely. Otherwise, you'd have to walk it and that'd be too embarrassing.
One thing that strikes you immediately, aside from outright terror, is how tall the jumps seem to be. You watched countless GoPro laps of this trail and could have sworn they were two, maybe three feet tall and all you had to do was coast into them and yank. But now that you're here, they seem to be five or six feet tall, at least three times that as long, and why are the lips pointing straight up? You wisely took up a position in the rear of your sketchy posse and watch as three of your four friends ride their front wheels across the first big tabletop and miraculously roll down the landing in one piece. Marty on the rental bike with too much air pressure and no rebound damping manages to go impossibly far for not having enough speed but, unfortunately for him, he buries his front wheel well past the landing zone and it disintegrates instantly as Marty cartwheels into the face of the next jump.
He's mostly fine, as usual, but it takes him hours to get off the mountain, most of it under the chairlift while being heckled, where a hefty repair bill is waiting at the bike shop and the hospital. ''Dude, that was so sick!
'' you say while abandoning him somewhere on the mountain so you can get the most out of your $173 lift ticket. ''Let's get it, boys!
'' he yells back surprisingly encouragingly for a guy with multiple compound fractures and a brutal concussion.
After meeting back up with your group and letting them know you're a man down, you all agree that it'd be good to sit in the blazing sun on a patio while drinking one or three too many warm Coronas and eating the world's most expensive frozen chicken fingers. The spicy chipotle dip is very tasty, though, and a few hours pass before you manage to divvy up the bill and leave a $2 tip for your waitress who most definitely didn't want to listen to four buzzed mountain bikers who think they're funny and all smell like week-old underwear.
The lift line is even longer now and, judging by all the team kits, full-on race bikes, and the amount of Kashima ahead of you, there appears to be some sort of World Cup-ish event happening at the bike park today. Everyone looks fast, and you overhear conversations about so and so hitting such and such, how smooth the trails are, how rough the trails are, and that guy that everyone on the lift saw overshoot the first jump and blow up his front wheel. ''I hope he survived,
'' someone ahead of you says as a bright red helicopter slowly long-lines a body-shaped shape out of the forest in the distance.
Thankfully, Marty hits the group chat with a ''Let's get it, boys!
'' and says that the doctors think he'll probably pull through, but his cartwheels have left everyone a bit nervous about surviving the rest of the day. None of you say a word over the following two hours it takes until it's your group's turn to get on the lift again, and you'll be lucky to squeeze in a third lap before it closes for the day. Time flies when you're having fun.
The rest of the afternoon is a blur of cased jumps, people yelling ''On your left!'' that you assume means they want you to veer sharply to the left, and equal parts terror, excitement, and additional terror.
But not only do you not crash hard enough to need a bright red helicopter, you don't even crash at all; turns out you didn't need all that well-used body armor you rented. Better yet, you actually made it to a few transitions once you relaxed and carried some speed through the tallest, steepest berms you'll ever see in your entire life. No one in your group is going fast or realizes there are twenty angry locals wearing all-black TLD gear and no gloves bunched up behind you, but this is, without a doubt, the most fun any of you have had, or ever will have, on your mountain bikes.
Even Marty agrees.