What is a pump track?

In this article I will explain the basic techniques required for riding a pump track. But when I say “pump track,” there are probably a number of people that have no idea what I’m talking about.

A pump track is a continuous circuit of dirt rollers, berms, and jumps that loops back on itself, allowing you to ride it continuously.

Photo right: Me riding the advanced pump track at Big Creek. Photo: Summer H.

Why should I ride a pump track?

Riding a pump track will teach you a number of critical skills that can benefit you in tangible ways out on the singletrack:

  1. It teaches you how to pump the terrain to gain speed (more on this below).
  2. It teaches you how to ride berms and improve cornering.
  3. It teaches you how to maintain momentum in order to ride as fast as possible.
  4. It helps you learn how to look several steps ahead of where you’re riding.
  5. It creates a playful bike-handling demeanor, allowing you to see interesting lines on the trail that might not be so obvious.
  6. It provides an intense full-body workout in a very short amount of time.
  7. It’s tons of fun!

Part of a pump track.

What kind of bike should I ride?

The ideal bike for a pump track is a dirt jump bike:

Element22’s Banshee Amp DJ Bike.

Dirt jump bikes have 26″ wheels, super short chainstays, aggressive geometry, beefy frames, hardy components, stiff forks, and a super-low seat. They are designed and built with dirt jumping in mind, and pump tracks are a natural spinoff from dual slalom courses and dirt jumps with their berms, doubles, and rhythm sections.

While a DJ bike is the ideal machine, you can sample a pumptrack with just about anything. If you have 26″ wheels and a rear end with no suspension, you’re in pretty good shape: just drop the saddle so you have room to let the bike move under you.

Pump Track 101

As mentioned above, the basic goal of a pump track, besides having fun, is to teach you how to pump the terrain to maintain speed. Pump tracks are set up with a series of rollers and berms that, if the track is designed well and you are riding it correctly, should allow you to gain and maintain your speed through the track without pedaling at all.

Rollers on a pump track.

To do this, as you approach a roller, unweight your front wheel on the front side of the roller. As the wheel crests the top, transfer your weight forward and push down with your arms (and then with your feet) to input power on the downslope. This “pumping” motion (hence the name “pump” track) is what will generate and maintain your speed through the track.

Berm on a pump track.

As you approach a berm, make sure you control your speed into it, then maintain good cornering position through the berm, and try to exit on the other end with more speed than you entered. As you ride the berm, make sure you are looking well through the turn at your exit point, and as you approach the exit, make sure that you continue to look even beyond that.

One of the key ingredients to successful pump track riding (and mountain biking in general) is to maintain a quiet upper body. While the bike will be moving up, down, and sideways beneath you, the goal is to keep your torso, the center of your mass, traveling in as straight of a line as possible as quickly and as fluidly as possible.

Some locations will provide a beginner pump track and an advanced track. No matter what your mountain bike skill level, if you’ve never ridden a pump track before its always a good idea to get the hang of it on the beginner track first. If your local trail only offers an “advanced” track, never fear. The beauty of most pump tracks is that, generally, they can be as easy or as difficult as you make them.

Advanced Techniques

Some sections of a more advanced pump track can be rolled like normal by your average rider, but an advanced rider could possibly do a couple of different things. For instance, look at this feature pictured below:

Advanced feature on a pump track.

It may be hard to tell just from looking at this photo, but this feature can be rolled like normal by an average rider, or an advanced rider could manual over it (riding on just the rear wheel without pedaling). Or, if his speed is high enough and he’s got the rhythm of the track down, he could “double it up” by jumping off the front side of the mound, airing over the flat top section, and landing on the downslope on the back side. Manualing through rollers and gapping certain features with the right rhythm allows experienced riders to gain and maintain significantly more speed on a pump track than your average Joe (like myself).


Want to see how to all works together? Watch Mick Hannah tear up his backyard pump track. It is nowhere near as easy as he makes it look.

Your Turn: Have you ever ridden a pump track?

# Comments

  • trek7k

    Pump tracks are tons of fun – would love to have one close by to practice on.

  • jtorlando25

    I know this is an MTB forum but I must mention that it is a BLAST to ride a 20″ bmx bike on a pump track. I go way faster than I do when I ride my 26″ DJ.

  • fleetwood

    I’ve never ridden a pump track, but they are building a local skills park, which will include a beginner and intermediate track. Looking forward to giving it a go one day.

  • rcraft6826

    Great overview, makes me wanna go out and practice on a few of the local tracks around here!

  • skibum

    I never got jazzed by pump tracks in and of themselves. However, using one has translated to being able to maintain momentum better over many natural features on real singletrack–just like other skill park features usually have some applicability on real trails.

  • joeblob

    great write up! I recently added two quick loops of the pump track to my 5 mile routine at Big Creek. I’d do a few more loops but my heart monitor always starts beeping “easy big guy.”

  • RoadWarrior

    Pump-track riding is a skill that translates directly to trail riding. I remember some years ago, while talking to a trail builder in Virginia, I happened to mention that the first pump track I rode successfully was in Rapid City SD, He said; ” I built that one”; Small world.

  • mtbgreg1

    Yeah I wish I was closer to this one than I am–it’s about an hour drive. If I lived within like 20 minutes of one, I’d really like to have a purpose-built DJ bike for it.

    And I totally agree with everyone that said it has significant applications to the trail. Learning to pump the terrain, look ahead of where you are, and maintaining momentum… it’s great.

    Did I mention how great of a workout pumptracks are too?

  • Bubblehead10MM

    Haven’t tride that yet. I’m game though, just a mater of time till I run across one. 🙂

  • Fitch

    I’ve ridden two, what I’d call, faux-pump tracks up here in Massachusetts; one near Cutler Park and one at Russell Mill. I’ve heard the more worldly guys say they’re not quite normal pump tracks, but it’s similar in motion. They REALLY get your lungs and legs burning!

  • maddslacker

    One of the trails I ride has a pump track near the parking lot. I tried it on my 29er and it was just wrong! I was laughing all the way around as I tried to make it worked the way I remembered from my BMX days.

  • dgaddis

    I’ve ridden our local pump track on my 29er, and you can do it, but it’s not as easy. I’ve also ridden it on a borrowed dirt jump bike, and the DJ bike was waaaaaaaay better and more fun.

  • Tr0gd0r

    I recently picked up a used DJer to ride my local park. Not only is it awesome to pick up a new discipline, but learning how to ride a pump track and jump has done wonders for my MTRB trail riding!

  • Jared13

    I’ve ridden 3-4 pump tracks and would LOVE to make one in my backyard. It’s sketched out, costs estimated, just no time/money and I won’t be living here long.

    After 2-3 trips to the pump track, I noticed a short uphill section on my local trail had natural rollers in them so I pumped my way up the hill and actually gained speed, it was awesome!

  • blundar

    …and yet another great article for the “Mountain Biking for Beginners” channel! lol

    • mtbgreg1

      Haha right on

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.