If you’ve been on YouTube or Instagram lately, you might’ve noticed some mountain bike pros and even dedicated amateurs have built impressive jumps and ramps in their backyards. For those of us who aren’t pros, or who have little shredders who just need a small area to practice, many of these features can be overkill — not to mention require a lot of time and money to construct.
For those who have a Saturday morning to spare (or even a Tuesday mid-day if that’s your current situation), here are three easy mountain bike features you can build using tools and materials you may already have on hand. I’ve ordered these from easiest to most involved in terms of time and materials, and have included a couple bonus ideas at the end as well.
Build a berm
Cornering is something all mountain bikers can stand to improve, and having your own berm to practice on is super convenient. To build a berm, you really only need one tool — a McLeod — but if you don’t have one, you can still make a great berm using a rake and shovel. Even if you have a small yard, chances are you can fit a berm in along the edge somewhere. (Wooden fence wall ride for the win!)
Here’s how we built our berms. First, we used the rake side of the McLeod to scrape off the top layer of weeds and leaves, sweeping everything toward the outside of the turn. Next, we used the sharp, flat side to hack the soil and roots down a couple inches, and across about 18 inches. We pulled the dirt to the outside of the turn, and used the flat bottom of the McLeod to tamp the dirt at an angle.
A quick test ride showed our berm was too tight, so we pulled it back a little farther, and worked to make a smooth arc. Second and third test rides revealed more necessary tweaks, so we continued to adjust.
Eventually we found the sweet spot where both kids and grownups alike could head into the turn with some speed. The great thing is we can build it up or tear it down easily. This doesn’t have to be a permanent installation by any means.
This is one I’m kicking myself for not building sooner, ha! To build a kicker out of dirt all you really need is a shovel, though a McLeod makes this even easier. The great thing about building a dirt ramp is it’s easy to adjust — taller or shorter, depending on the skill level of the riders in your household.
Perhaps the toughest part of this (for me anyway) was finding some loose dirt to use. I ended up digging a hole in another part of the yard and filling about two wheelbarrows full of dirt to build a small kicker that’s less than a foot high. We placed the kicker right in the middle of a large grassy area with plenty of room for landing. Of course the grass is already torn up in the landing zone, but we can always re-seed.
We used the flat side of the McLeod to tamp the dirt down and to shape the takeoff and back side of the ramp. The back side of the kicker is steeper than the front, while the takeoff area has more of an upward arcing shape to really “kick” the front wheel up. My 7-year-old son loves trying to see how high he can jump, and how far he can skid after landing. For me, it’s great practice as well.
Wooden kicker alternate
Building a wooden kicker ramp definitely takes more time and materials, but the advantage is you can use this on a driveway, plus it’s portable. I followed Phil’s online video tutorial for mine and it turned out pretty well.
You’ll need some plywood and 2x4s, plus tools for cutting and fastening, to build a wooden kicker. The toughest part is bending and shaping the plywood for the ramp surface, and in his video Phil suggests soaking the plywood in water to make it more, well, pliable. I decided to try layering hardwood underlayment (basically really thin plywood) for mine, and with some water it worked OK initially. There was still some cracking, but the real problem came after leaving the ramps outside over the winter. The thin plywood basically delaminated and peeled away like bark. Painting the surface probably would’ve been wise, though I don’t think it would have completely solved the problem.
The crazy thing is, the ramp is still rideable. The 2×4 lateral supports are spaced close enough that my wheel rolls right over them, though soon I’ll go back and add more 2x4s to fill in the gaps. If you have an indoor space to store the ramp it should last a long time.
I also built the landing ramp as shown in Phil’s video. It’s nice to have this built of wood as well so you can move it closer or farther away to practice doubles. I’m still working to get used to the speed, body position, and timing for this.
Skinnies are great for practicing balance and they are easy to construct. You can build a simple, zero-consequence skinny in your driveway with a single board. Depending on your kids’ skill level (or your own), start with an 8-foot 2×8 or even a 2×4 laid on the ground and see who can ride the line.
I decided to build a more permanent, though still low consequence, wooden skinny in a part of our yard that’s often wet and muddy. To add some interest I decided to angle the skinny in the middle so it’s not just a straight shot, and added a ramp on the front end for an easy entry. The back end features a drop onto rocks for a bit of a kid-sized challenge.
A simpler design could be built using a series of 2x8s or 2x10s running the length of the skinny. You could also make this one portable, just be sure the supports are tucked underneath so if a wheel slips off, the rider doesn’t go endo.
If you have some rocks or even landscaping bricks laying around, pile them up to build a mini rock garden for practice.
Sticks and logs can be used to build a log stack. We’ve also been using some larger logs to practice hops.
Our backyard bike park has been getting a ton of use this spring. We linked all the features together into a single run, with a separate “climbing” trail returning to the start. Running laps after dinner has become a ritual for us, and everyone is improving their skills day by day.
Your turn: Do you have any ideas for simple to construct, backyard trail features that don’t take up much space?