Dossier: Family

Go for it on the pumptrack!

“On the pump track you develop a natural feel for the bike”.

Where does the pump track trend originate from?

Pump tracks evolved from BMX trails, though BMX trails have larger rollers as they incorporate jumps as well. Today’s pump tracks have rollers ranging from 30 to 40 centimetres high and first started to appear around ten years ago. They are specially designed so you can move the bike forwards continuously through pump movements only – without pedalling.

What’s so fascinating about “pumping”?

You need to engage your whole body, use your arms and legs. If you’ve never been on a pump track it’s hard to imagine being able to move so quickly through weight transfer alone.

Is the pump track suitable for the whole family?

Oh yes. My own children were riding the pump track on their balance bikes when they were just two and a half years old. There’s no upper age limit either. Here in Zurich you can see that the pump track brings different generations together.

From what age can children use pump tracks properly?

Children aged four to five can start learning how to make the pump movements and ride the track without pedals. Younger children tend to use their legs or the pedals on their first bike. But they still enjoy it. Some parks even have balance bike pump tracks for children with rollers that are only about 10 centimetres high.

Pump tracks are currently very popular – are there tailbacks on the tracks?

Yes, the tracks are packed at the moment. When the first large pump track was designed and built in Zurich, no-one could have predicted how popular it would become. Demand was huge. On sunny weekends our pump track is teeming with people.

When is the ideal time to visit a pump track?

If you want to have some peace and quiet for your first attempts, you need to arrive before 10am on weekends. After that, it’s every man for himself. However, it’s also great fun to take time out and watch from the sidelines.

Is riding on a pump track tiring?

Very. Even children with lots of energy need to take a break after an hour. Fit adults can usually ride for around four to five minutes at a time before they find themselves out of breath. You can plan proper interval training on the pump track: two minutes full speed, then five minutes break, two minutes full speed... You’ll start to feel the effects after an hour or so!

How long does it take to master the pumping action?

People tend to look a little clumsy at first, but they usually manage to get around the track after an hour. The flat parts are okay, it’s the steep curves that require momentum without pedalling which tend to cause problems. You need to be able to keep the momentum you have entering the curve when exiting it. This requires more practice.

Do you need a special type of bike for the pump track?

A normal mountain bike is fine, but I wouldn’t recommend a large mountain bike as they are heavy and won’t reach the same speeds. A smaller bike means the weight distribution is more effective. Therefore: the smaller the bike, the better.

What protective gear would you recommend?

Definitely a helmet because there’s so much activity on the track. I’d also recommend knee and elbow pads plus full-fingered gloves for children as they may fall from time to time. Without protective pads, a fall on concrete can really hurt and kids will quickly lose their motivation.

Are pump tracks good practice for children learning to cycle on roads?

Definitely. If nothing else,  they develop a natural feel for the bike. This means they can concentrate on the traffic rather than worrying about technique and balance on the roads. On the pump track children can practise cycling in a protected environment.

“On the pump track children can practise cycling in a protected environment.”
Frank Wadenpohl

Is cycling a family sport?

Yes. Cycling is one of the few sports you can enjoy at any time of life. Children can learn to ride a bike at a very young age and there are lots of sprightly pensioners still getting around on two wheels. Bicycle materials have developed in leaps and bounds over the last ten years which has led to increased demand for bikes. What’s more, a lot of money is being invested in bicycle infrastructures in urban areas leading to more people (and families) taking up cycling again. New membership at our club is on the rise while other sports clubs have trouble finding new members.

What’s your advice to families who don’t live near a pump track?

Contact your local authority. The investment and space required are completely manageable, and pump tracks haven proven to be a huge success. We are currently advising the city of Zurich on the construction of several smaller pump tracks as this would help create a feeling of community – local meeting points for sporty people both young and old.

Pump tracks in Switzerland

Frank Wadenpohl

President of Züritrails