We came, we rode, we smiled.
It somehow seemed appropriate that our final trip of the year to Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park, located in Cleveland, there was wind, cold temperatures, and plenty of rain. It is, after all, because of the nasty winter climate that made Ray Petro decide to open an 80,000 square foot North Shore-style playground in an old warehouse in West Cleveland, Ohio.
For the past two years I have been organizing bus trips from St. Catharines, Ontario down to this one-of-a-kind riding centre, located about four hours away. While the logistics of running this type of trip are pretty crazy, the end result is 40 or 50 guys and girls taking a full-size coach bus down the I-90 through New York, Pennsylvania, and into Ohio.
I’ve never been able to enjoy the party atmosphere that is the bus because I drive a 24-foot truck packed with tens of thousands of dollars worth of bikes but I figure if I’m the one organizing the trip, I only trust myself to be responsible for everyone’s rides on the way to and from Cleveland.
When we arrive at the park, we ride for a good six hours before heading home and, by the time we’re done, everyone is completely exhausted and smiling from ear to ear from the experience.
So who is Ray and what’s his park all about?
Ray Petro is a 38-year-old construction business owner who left a life of drinking, drugs and partying behind eight years ago in favour of a new addiction — biking.
“In 1997 I was going to be 30 and I decided the life of my 20s was going to kill me, so I thought ‘I’ve got to find something else to do’,” he said. “I was sitting in a bar and a guy was reading a Mountain Bike Action.”
“That first summer, I was obsessed with it. I was the local bike shop’s best customer. I was like a kid in a candy store, but now I could afford to buy whatever I wanted. Then fall comes and I’m flipping out. The weather turned nasty and I started getting into this funk,” he said.
So Petro decided to take matters into his own hands. After years of planning, he decided to launch Ray’s Indoor MTB Park.
Location, location, location
The first order of business was finding a location, and when a real estate agent showed him a 66,000 square foot brick building where Ray’s is now located, it was love at first sight. The building couldn’t be any more perfect for what he needed.
With massive glass windows on the roof, the building needs no lighting during the day as the natural light pours in to give the whole place a very outdoor feeling about it. Of course that feeling is also helped along by the fact there are hundreds of pine trees painted on the walls, artificial trees all over the three courses and massive amounts of rocks, logs and wood making up the various stunts and obstacles.
Petro took possession of the warehouse in August, 2004 and immediately went to work – first bringing the long-empty building up to par, and then on the construction of the stunts.
“There was a tremendous amount of work to do on the building because it was in really bad shape. It took us six weeks to get the building in shape,” he said.
The stunts themselves were all built by a handful of dedicated volunteers who spent countless hours designing, building and test riding everything.
“All I do is feed them, keep them in nails and wood and tools and they just show up. It’s amazing. They want to see it work because they want some place to go,” said Petro.
The riding area is split into various sections. There are beginner, sport and expert courses, as well as a trials area, a “skatepark” for bikes, a foam pit a quarter-mile outer riding loop and a full jumping loop that wraps around nearly the whole park.
The building, which has now been expanded to 80,000 square feet, has change rooms, washrooms, a huge indoor area to park your ride while you’re taking a rest, vending machines, a lounge, and more.
Our most recent trip to the park was on 1 April, two weeks before Ray closes the park for the season.
The whole point of the park was to give people a place to ride when the weather is bad, so when things get nice Ray shuts down and goes to work rebuilding things. This summer he plans to relocate the foam pit, add more cross-country features and even add a bar/distillery for the adult customers to visit after the riding is done.
With massive amounts of press and some huge events that drew big-name riders, business at the park has doubled since its inaugural season.
That’s good news because the costs to maintain and heat the building are extremely high.
The entry fee this year was $18 for non-members on weekends or $10 for those who purchase a $90 membership. Anyone who has logged any serious mileage at the park knows it’s absolutely worth it.
What can you expect at Ray’s Indoor MTB park?
- Beginner course
Even for those of you who have no fear of gravity, the beginner course is a great way to warm up. With a couple of small berms, a few skinnies, some rocks and a mild teeter-totter, it whets your appetite for what’s to come in the park. More experienced riders find this is a good area to ‘dial-in’ a bike before hitting the fun stuff.
- Sport course
The average rider will find the sport area the perfect place to ride a tonne of challenging wooden obstacles while getting a workout at the same time.
Despite the warehouse being flat, there are so many obstacles built into the courses that by the end of each run you’re definitely feeling it. The sport area starts out with a high-speed section of berms, whoops and table tops and then goes into the all-out technical section. Here you’ll be challenged by S-shaped bridges, rock gardens, teeter totters, lots of skinnies and more. If you can clear the first 90% of the sport course without putting a foot down you’re doing well, but if you can clear the entire course including the last skinny which is a hydro pole on it’s side, then you’re better than most.
- Expert course
Don’t let the “Expert” badge on this section of the park scare you off — there’s still something rideable by most.
Last year the expert section had some very sketchy stunts that were unrideable by all but the top riders, so this year Ray refined things a little bit to make it good for everyone. There is still a wide-variety of stunts that challenge even the best riders, but everything is just a bit safer this year. This section of the park is where the creative juices of the park’s builders have really come through.
There’s a three-level drop off where you can learn to ‘huck’ from various heights, there’s a double teeter totter, a ‘slider’, an elevator drop (exactly how it sounds…you ride in and it drops you down), a pivoting teeter that drops and rotates at the same time and lots of skinnies.
- Fisher Pump Track
This is a two-lane mountain-cross-type course where smoothness and momentum are all you need. You can actually ride this entire circuit without pedaling because the berms and bumps give you all the speed you need. Many a race have been had on this very fun section of the park. It was new for the 2005-2006 season, but has quickly become one of the park’s highlights.
- Outer jump loop
For anyone who likes to get some air under their wheels, this is the perfect place to start. The high-speed jump loop snakes its way around the other sections of the park and, if you can make it through the whole run without tiring out, here’s what you will hit:
A long straight away to a left handed-berm that gives you enough speed to hit the park’s biggest box jump. From here it’s a short straightaway into a fairly low box jump and then you hit a massive hip jump with two different height options.
The hip kicks you to the left and leads to a three-pack of steep box jumps where the best riders can easily pull backflips, 360s or whatever else they’re confident enough to try.
From here it’s another small hip jump, over a right-handed berm and then into the 5-pack, which is a series of three jumps, a 12-foot high massive 180-degree berm and then two more box jumps to finish off the run.
Trust me, by the end of all this (if you made it through without wiping out, you’re wiped).
- Skate park
Tucked away in the back corner is an unbelievable park designed by resident pro rider Joe Prisel. The park features a 180 degree wall ride, loads of quarter-pipes, splines and more. BMX riders are only allowed into Ray’s on certain days, but when they are allowed, this is where they love to hang out. The nice thing is it’s designed with bikes, rather than skateboards, in mind.
- Foam pit
I know what you’re think. Me? I would never, ever try a foam pit. Well again, trust me, this is not nearly as scary as it looks. The foam pit at Rays is massive, and it allows you to try anything you’ve ever dreamed of on a bike. I’ve watched guys attempt DOUBLE backflips into this pit and walk away laughing. Unless you’re really, really bad on a bike you can’t get hurt in a foam pit. Try it once and you’ll be hooked.
Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park may be the first of its kind in the world, but it likely won’t be the last. As more and more riders from all corners of the earth visit the park, the concept of riding indoors in a place like this is beginning to spread.
What makes Ray’s special though, is that everything aligned perfectly for the park to open. If you tried to open something like this in Vancouver or Toronto, you’d have to pay so much for 80,000 square feet of warehouse space that you would go broke before the park ever saw its first rider. Ray found the ideal warehouse in a city that has a strong riding community and a bad winter.
And Cleveland also happens to be driving distance from many major urban centres that have horrible winters.
For more information, visit: www.raysmtb.com