The pump track craze
Pump tracks are increasingly popular playground staples in the Fraser Valley. But not all tracks are built equal.
Pump tracks recently shot to popularity in the Fraser Valley. Four of the tracks have been built in the last two years, and two more are under construction.
But the tracks weren’t originally fun playground staples.
The tracks are made up of loops of trail where riders use bumps and curves to manipulate gravity to gain speed and “pump” themselves along on bikes, skateboards, scooters, and rollerskates. Most cities in the valley have at least one track, if not more—and they’re busy all summer long. Chilliwack’s original paved track has been such a hit, it’s prompted the city to build several more to relieve pressure on the site—and give younger riders a safer place to ride.
‘This thing seems great’
Rocky Blondin, a former president of the Fraser Valley Mountain Bike Association, started advocating for pump tracks after a visit to a campground on Vancouver Island that had a paved track. It was full of bikes and scooters from dawn till dusk. His kids rode in circles on it for hours.
“We thought: ‘This thing seems great. And the kids love it. So we should get one of these closer to home,’” Blondin said.
Blondin started talking about building a pump track in Mission in 2016. It would take him years and multiple appearances before recreation committees and city council to start gaining traction.
But once he did, three tracks were constructed within a year: one by forestry workers at the Kearsley Creek campground, one at Tom Jones Park, and another track at Griner Park.
“That was one of my first forays into advocacy for an outcome,” Blondin said. (The FVMBA isn’t actively involved in getting pump tracks built. Instead, people who push for the tracks are often also part of the association, he said)
Inspired by the kids at the campground, the pump tracks that Blondin helped get built in Mission were made to be played on, not necessarily raced on. But that isn’t the case for every track built recently in the Fraser Valley.
Big tracks, small tracks
The original pump tracks—and many still built today—weren’t paved. Instead, they were made with volunteers, shovels, and large piles of packed dirt for tough downhill racers.
Built in Australia in the early 2000s, the tracks were based on hardpack BMX trails in the 1970s and 1980s. They started popping up in the backyards of professional downhill racers and mountain bikers who wanted to practice skills and train at home in limited space.
Pump tracks soon became an extreme sport all of their own. Today, Red Bull runs a world championship with 23 events over a span of several months. (The final races last year ran in Whistler).
Langley’s cement pump track, at the Penzer Action Park, was built in 2017. (A dirt pump track was built at the park in 2008). Chilliwack’s track was built in 2021 and Mission’s came soon afterwards. Neither Langley nor Mission’s tracks were built on a scale to hold professional competitions. But Chilliwack’s was.
Chilliwack’s paved pump track, outside the Chilliwack Curling Centre, was made on a scale that could host high-level races. It was touted as the largest paved track in North America and one that would be an economic tool that could bring visitors to watch and participate in races.
But the size of the design is both boon and bane. It wasn’t made to be solely a playground—and the entire track is very difficult for some of the kids who want to ride it.
“I took my kids to ride it after it was built and it was big and difficult and intimidating,” Blondin said. A smaller practice area was packed with bikes while the large, steep main loops of the challenging track were empty, he said.
Chilliwack is currently building two new and more beginner-friendly pump tracks: one in Vedder Park and one in Jinkerson Park.
An evolving sport
So how did pump tracks become one of the more popular ways to spend a summer afternoon? The same way any sport changes and transforms over time, Blondin said.
“That evolution is kind of a worldwide phenomenon,” he said. “It’s the evolution of all of these sports. BMX was born from motocross.”
And its evolution into an amenity for parks that specifically serves older kids on bikes, scooters, or skateboards isn’t only important because it’s fun—though it is, certainly, very fun. Blondin said it’s also a relatively low-cost amenity that helps communities have fun together outside.
In the future, Blondin dreams of a lot of different pump tracks speckling cities like parks and playgrounds do today.
“Ideally, in a sustainable and future built community, you'd have one of these within proximity of, say, 2,000 kids that are going to school nearby,” he said. They’re not hard to build, accessible, and something that older kids can “self-serve” on in the great outdoors.
“They can go out their front door on their bike and go play,” he said.