As winter approaches, riders in all climates must find different ways to keep training. For those in northern climates, workouts are often on a trainer, for hours, and some time outside doing a winter sport. This traditional model of training, however, leaves bike skills and specific riding fitness idle for many months. Over the past few years, many indoor bike parks have opened around North America to fill this need for year round bike practice, such as Ray’s Bike Park in Cleveland and Joyride 150 in Toronto.
Recently, I took a tour of the Mega Underground Bike Park, which is built into an old limestone mine in Louisville, Ky. The 320,000 square feet of underground riding did not disappoint. The dirt base makes for a realistic riding experience that reminded me of Sedona, Ariz., in some ways as much of it is hardened trail that guides you along walls of Louisville limestone. As a cross country rider, it would be interesting to see the more than 100′ of possible elevation used to create some climbing. But for most riders, the benefit of the park is in the jumps, whoops and corners, more than any steady riding or intervals, since those can be done on the trainer.
When I arrived at the Mega Underground Bike Park, it had just come out of its wet summer season. The trails were almost completely dry, with a few muddy spots around. (There is an indoor and outdoor bike wash for taking off any muck.) Pump tracks, jumps of all sizes, skinnies, drop-offs, wood features and a range of cross country trails make for hours of exploration and skill-development. The size of the park and its natural surface (dirt and rock) set it apart from other parks. Most other indoor facilities are built in large warehouses (typically less than 100,000 square feet), where your bike will stay clean, but cornering and off-road riding experience isn’t as realistic.
Riding a cross country bike makes a park’s bumps less of an issue, but having a bike set up for jumping and negotiating features enhances the experience (dropping your seat is a good start!). The bike-park environment can be intimidating for road riders and even seasoned mountain bikers; many assume that bike parks are for “crazy kids.” But in fact, parks like these are excellent areas to ride all year to develop skills that will make you—at any age—faster on the road and trail and also much safer. Bike parks are fantastic entertainment for kids; many parks make sure the park environment is safe and welcoming for young shredders. It’s worth bringing the whole family for a day of fun along with skills practice. The bike park, which is part of the Louisville Mega Cavern, makes the family fun experience even better by offering several other activities, including zip-lining, for family members that don’t want to ride, and the park also has full Wi-Fi access.