As the doldrums of winter set in and began to take a hold of me this winter I really began to miss the dynamics of mountain biking. Yes, I've been riding, but without a fat bike of my own yet it's been a bland season of just commuting and putzing around town on an old steel beater bike. I've missed dropping drops, jumping jumps, slaying berms, and rolling rock gardens. It's been a long winter, and I'm excited to see the forecast for next week (looks like a straight week of high 30's and low 40's) and I hope this is our turning point, and that our phenomenal trails will soon open up.
My fiancee grew up in the Milwaukee area and this weekend was her bridal shower and bachelorette party. So, we hopped in the car and made the trek to Milwaukee. Saturday morning, while the rest of the bridal party was hustling and bustling around the house, primping and spraying, I was able to slip out for a few hours and make a pilgrimage of sort to a spot that I've always wanted to ride. A spot that would most likely help carry me over the next few weeks of the melt, a spot where hucking, rolling, and dropping are the norm over the winter months. I was finally getting my chances to ride at Rays Indoor Mountain Bike Park. I plugged the address into my GPS and I was off.
Rays provides 4 different styles of bike to ride and the great thing is that you can try them all out without any extra fees. I decided to go with their Ray's edition, Trek dirt jumper. I've never ridden a dirt jumping bike and was very excited to give it a try. With a click of my helmet and a "Have a good ride!" I was off. Upon first impression, I was a bit taken a back. There was just so many things to ride and I wanted to ride them all at once. I took the first half hour or so to just get my bearings of the park and it's layout. There was so much diversity and so much to explore. Being that I beat the rush and was knocking down the door, I was forced to "share" the park with two other riders... it was rough :). I hopped onto the "green trail" which was a large green line painted around the park that took you over and through obstacles, berms, rock gardens, and anything in between. This trail would serve as my quick and easy way to get around the park from section to section. The park was very well designed and I felt that they did a great job replicating as much real world mountain bike terrain as they could. The berms were well constructed and flowed very smoothly, the skinnies were just as challenging as outside, the teeter totters were a blast, and overall the terrain was top notch. It kept me busy and it was not too different from riding outdoors. The green loop had one of my favorite trail features replicated indoors. After gaining speed down a ramp, hitting a small kicker, and then carrying momentum up a small ramp, one could choose between three different drops to do. Each of which transitioned as smooth as butter to an amazing landing ramp. I hit this section of "trail" every time I came by. It felt so good to actually be riding and replicating what is done outdoors.
|The Expert Section of Skinnies and Features|
|The Sport Section of Skinnies and Features with the pump track in the background on the second level|
The largest thing I noticed and appreciated about Rays was that they catered to beginner riders, and I noticed that in their design of the course. To me, getting new riders to feel the stoke is important, and in my opinion, Rays caters to that very well. They have a whole section off to the side, removed a bit from the park, closed off with the exception of one passage in and out, it's quiet, and you can't see out to the park. It's in this back/side room that they teach beginner riders the basics. The floor has painted "skinnies" to get riders comfortable with riding on a narrow path. They built very small obstacles and "jumps" and even have an area where you can practice falling into foam mats. It's in this area that I met Ryan. Ryan was in the middle of a group lesson where he was teaching a couple the basics of bike handling. I sat removed from the interaction and just watched. He was a very good teacher in my opinion and took the time to break things down and explain things to the riders in a very effective way. Being that riding is so intuitive and such a "feeling" thing, I often have a hard time teaching it, but watching Ryan teach in this area confirmed to me that Rays is more than willing to teach and reach out to new comers and that this place is very welcoming. After the lesson was over I pedaled over to chat with Ryan and introduce myself. Through our conversation, Ryan was able to confirm what I suspected and told me that the lessons aren't just for beginners. He said ANYONE can walk in and get instruction on improving any part of their riding that they want to improve. I can't stress enough how cool it was to see how intentional Rays was in designing this area for the new comer, all distractions were removed, and all of the "chaos" of the other riders hucking themselves in the jump tracks, foam pits, off ledges, and over the coping in the street park were removed. With a few riding stories exchanged with Ryan, I was back out into the "chaos" as he had another lesson to teach.
All day long I spent most of my time on the XC loop taking myself between the "Sport" and "Expert" section of skinnies and features. Here I was able to continue to work on riding narrow, elevated, terrain. The features were constructed just as they would have been outdoors and offered as much variation as I wanted to experience. These sections were extremely fun and offered a change in pace from the other two sections that I spent a lot of time in. On the second level of Rays, tucked into a corner, they have a phenomenal pump track. It was probably the best designed pump track that I've ever ridden. It was super smooth and once the rider finds their own groove it's possible to do lap after lap after lap, without so much as a half stroke of the cranks. I visited the pump track quite a bit as it provided a great workout and was very fun to ride. I also thoroughly enjoyed their mini rhythm section. This was a mix of pump track and kickers in a compact loop that you could lap out on. Between these two areas, I put the jump bike to work.
|The Pump Track|
|The Berms of the Pump track.|
The only two areas I did not take advantage of were the foam pit (rental bikes aren't allowed in the foam pit) and the street park (quarter pipes, half pipes, and bowls aren't my thing) but it was very fun to watch riders practice their new tricks in the foam pit. I watched from a cat walk as a kid, somewhere around the age of 7, whipped his first 360 into the pit and caught the "stoke" for a few moments. It was fun to watch him over the course of the day as he practiced more and more tricks. There was a lot of very strong, young, riders on 20in bikes tearing the hell out of the ramps. I was very impressed with the stuff they were pulling off on the jump tracks.
As my time began to wind down I mainly stuck to the rhythm sections and played on the jump bike. The bike performed flawlessly in the park. It was set up as a single speed, however, outside on trails I would have preferred a cluster of gears on the back. It took about 45 minutes of riding to figure out both the "flow" of Rays and how this new geometry worked for me. Once this was dialed, I had a blast and was able to ride and push myself to do new things. Overall, my time at Rays exceeded my expectations. I wasn't sure what to expect with an "indoor mtb park" in the middle of Wisconsin, however, they know what they are doing! I was able to see how the park would benefit a rider by keeping them engaged. It is a substitute for long days in the saddle, no. Is it a place to keep you skills sharp over the long months of winter, YES! Is this a substitute for riding outdoors, no, and Rays knows that, so they close in the "off season" while we are outside. Overall, it's a very well run place. The staff are extremely helpful, they cater to all riding styles and skill levels, and it's top notch in my book. I will be paying a visit whenever I can. Thank you Rays!
If you would like to visit the website, I've attached a link. I suggest if you're in the area you check it out.
Next time on the CFJ: Spring Riding? We can only hope!