Portland, Oregon area riders got a small win with the approval and go ahead of an Adopt-a-Park agreement between Tualatin Valley Parks and Rec and local advocacy group the Northwest Trail Alliance. The NWTA will officially be partnering with Parks to take over maintenance of a small BMX park in Beaverton, a suburb of Portland. Conveniently located a small distance from the Max line, the Eichler Park BMX Jumps have been practically abandoned, and today the jumps are worn down stacks of dirt that currently don’t engage riders, but hold a lot of potential for fun.
Taking a look at the available space at the Eichler Park location, it is clear that utilizing the existing space limits options due to the size restrictions, but depending on the nature of the design, quite a bit of fun could be packed into this small space- it all depends on the nature of the design. Many bike parks utilize a one way track style layout that is reminiscent of BMX tracks. Unlike skate park design which utilizes more of a freeform layout that offers endless lines and combinations due to features that can be ridden in any direction, many public bike parks are designed in a manner that limits creativity due to the one way routes. Due to the increased speeds of bikes over skateboards, this is probably a good thing. Choosing this type of layout prevents conflicts and collisions between users. While freestyle bikers enjoy riding concrete parks, a higher level of skill and awareness is required in order to safely navigate the park- most concrete parks are intimidating to beginners as they would be ranked as blue square or black diamonds in a mountain biking context.
As the Eichler Park location is likely to be the first public bike skills area in the Portland metropolitan area, a one way track style layout is probably the best choice for the design. (although a freeform style design would better utilize the small space)
That doesn’t mean the space can’t be effectively utilized. However, each design element is simply that much more important to the entire flow of the park.
Case study: Woodward MTB Park in Fresno, CA
We recently did a tour of public jump parks in Northern California. Among the parks visited were the Pleasanton BMX Park, (Pleasanton) Calabasas Park, (San Jose), and the Woodward Park in Fresno. Each of these parks were blessed with ample space for the park layout. However, none of them truly take advantage of the space. In each park, riders are forced to pedal vigorously in order to gain momentum to clear the features. Compare that to your typical BMX trails hidden in your local woods. Unlike (most) public BMX/ Jump parks, pedaling is kept to a minimum. What mountain bikers consider flow today for the most park was invented by BMX trails builders and riders. In order to fully utilize a small space, it is from them we must take our inspiration. Take a look at this section from the Fresno, CA bike park:
The Jump Jam area is a similar layout to the space in Eichler. It is one small segment of features pulled from the overall bike park. While it is certainly fun to ride in the context of the overall park, if it was the only space in the park to ride, personally I don’t think it would be as fun. While I feel the designers of this park were ultimately successful in their park design, much of it is because they were able to build so much that they were able to accommodate every type of user, from groms on 20″ BMX bikes, to freeriders on 8″ travel rigs. However, such a design goal for the Eichler Space is unrealistic. By limited the design scope to 20″ BMX bikes and hardtail/ dirt jump mountain bikes, we can build jumps and features closer together, and utilize the space more efficiently.
My personal design goal would include a “flow” that doesn’t require the use of pedaling or braking. Not only would it be significantly be more fun, but low income youth without brakes, or a chain on their bike could utilize the park as well. In fact, many contemporary freestyle BMX bikes are designed to be run without brakes now, and only include an inexpensive bolt on brake. Because of this design consideration, the radius and height of the berms of our design will need to be taller, and more thoughtfully considered.
There are a few variations between the drafted plan and what was actually built. The biggest of note is the number of jumps on the right. Out of the four on the plan, only three were completed. (the brown jump icon actually represents a start hill.) As you can see from the photo, there is quite a bit of un-utilized space between the camera’s position on the start hill, and the first jump.
What if we were to “borrow” from the Fresno Jump Jam area and incorporate it into our bike park plan? Looking at the image above, the set of three table tops are a great size- nice wide take offs and landings. While they aren’t the most technical, like BMX tracks, a good table top jump can be (and are) ridden by riders from 6 to 60 every week at ABA and NBL tracks all over the US. For our use, I would possible look into steepening the jump radius on the expert line slightly in order to offer a bit more challenge as well as hang time. While we wouldn’t make the lips nearly as steep as BMX lips, a slightly steeper lip would differentiate between the intermediate and advanced lines. Let’s nix the beginner jump line from the start, as it is redundant, doesn’t utilze space very well. We’ll instead replace it with a pump track line that can provide an enhanced user experience for riders of all levels, including our intimidated beginners. Take a look at our first revised rendition of the jump area, tweaked for our application at Eichler.
Note that we’ve eliminated the rollers and small table tops on camera left. Same with the red “x’s” on nixing the “beginner” table tops. They aren’t needed and don’t add to the overall experience. In a pump track, rollers are simply parts of the terrain we utilize for gaining speed. For our application, we want to be able to combine them into jumps at speed- this way our advanced users are served by the same piece of terrain. It also allows for progression for our beginners and intermediates. Millions of BMX track users all over the US (that ride at a beginner level) are capable of rolling a 4″ table top jump with a mellow radius, therefore having a smaller jump has been eliminated as being unnecessary. We would also need to enlarge the 180 berm at the end significantly. Over building berms is always good, and they can’t ever be too big. Taking a cue from pump track design, let’s add a roller into the berm, and one out. We could also add a start hill behind it and offer a secondary starting location.
Here is our revised jump area, with a basic loop type layout, maximized for fun and hang time. Due to the economy of space, we have essentially two lines. An intermediate table top line, and a beginner/ intermediate inner line. They are split into an inner and outer directional loop. Because beginners tend to congregate on flat platform surfaces, we’ll add a start hill on both sides of the layout where riders can group without getting in the way. All the berms should feature rollers on the approach and exit, which will eliminate the need for pedaling. The jump lines offer transfer options in and out of the lines. (signage may be required to discourage transfers during busy sessions) We can also populate the inside loop with berms and other pump track elements. Depending on the amount of space from the first jumps from the start hills, we can add a set of rollers, which serve to teach pumping to beginners, or serve as doubles to advanced riders.
That’s great. But will it fit?
That’s our big question. The space at Eichler is quite small.
The short answer, is probably not without some design changes. Again taking design cues from the Woodward MTB Master Plan by Hilride, here is a possible design option incorporating jump elements with pump track features and flow. One thing to remember with designs like this is that as a builder, has to acknowledge that sometimes plans on paper don’t always translate well to reality. A good builder will adapt as necessary, scaling, resizing, reshaping, and moving elements as needed. As a builder, one has to sometime put away the ego and realize that sometimes things just don’t flow the way it was intended. If this happens, the best thing to remember is that its just dirt. You can change it.
While this mock up isn’t to scale, it gives us a visual indiction of how many jumps we might be able to squeeze into the space. Here is another variation on a theme:
At this point, I’ve been staring at little drawings of rollers and jumps for perhaps a bit too long, but with variation number two, the large jumps have been de-emphasized with more of an emphasis on fun, flow, and options. On the viewer’s left, we have an intermediate level rhythm section. Jumps don’t have to be big to be fun, and this line would focus more on helping intermediates flow a rhythm line. Tighter spacing adds a degree of technical difficulty, and lips would need to be steeper to keep riders from over jumping. On the far right we have a three pack of our “advanced line.” Our middle section is a pump track spaced so that many of the rollers can be doubled by more advanced rider, for more of a jump track type of flow, while completely accessible for riders of any skill level. There are also options for transfers within lines while still maintaining a counter clock-wise one way direction. Expect more variations to be added to this post- the more I think about something, the more I tend to rethink layouts. This space is pretty small, and I may be a bit overly ambitious with the amount of features I hope to pack in.
If the perimeter of the park is expanded, even more options open up for us. We could either extend the length of the track, or incorporate a separate, freeform style pump track. The beautiful thing with dirt is that it is limited only by one’s imagination.
What do you think? Feel free to leave feedback in the comments below. For those interested in having a try, here is a link to the Illustrator file in an editable PDF format. Have a go, and leave a link below to share.
And one more:
Eichler BMX Park
Where it is: Beaverton, Oregon
Status: Green light for rebuild. Dates TBD
For more info on how to get involved with the rebuild visit NWTA website