By Steve Medcroft
Unless you're lucky enough to live in the Southern Hemisphere, November is the time of year where your opportunities for mountain biking begin to get thin. Oh, you could hack out some cold, wet rides just to get time on the bike or you could move to Central California, but what if you live in Cleveland, Ohio? Are you screwed out of any chance to ride a mountain bike for the next four months?
Maybe not – just huck on over to 9801 Walford Avenue, pick up a season pass and you're golden until April sixth because at that address, you'll find Ray's MTB Indoor Park; a heated oasis of ramps, trials stations, trails, pump tracks, a foam pit and North Shore-style challenges tucked inside a renovated industrial warehouse.
Ray Petro, the park's founder and namesake, says what he's tried to create is “a giant skills garden.” A skills garden made completely out of rideable wooden structures. The point of the park, says Petro, is to give winter-bound mountain bikers a place to work on balance, skill and fitness.
Although he says he drew inspiration for Ray's from indoor skate and BMX parks, Petro says the actual implementation of what had been a decade-long dream came by accident. “The space was suddenly available but it was in real bad shape,” he explained from his office at the park on Wednesday. “But I'm in construction and the stuff that needed doing didn't scare me.” So Petro took on the lease in August of 2004, bought up all the lumber he could find, and started building.
“We had our first version of the park built last year (open from October 2004 to April, 2005),” Petro says. “After watching how the whole place flowed, seeing what people liked, and just as importantly, what guys were getting hurt on, I made a bunch of changes for 2005 during the summer.”
The 71,000 square feet of warehouse floor space is divided into three main sections; beginner, sport and expert. The sections are linkable through a maze of marked pathways throughout the building. “There's also a foam pit for riders who want to try new tricks or jumps without paying the price of hitting the ground if they screw up,” Petro says.
The park is only open through the winter season and since the newest season has just hit, Petro says the park has been popular with all different kinds of mountain bikers. “We have guys who come in and ride for two hours straight – hook together each of the sections and ride for a workout. We have the jumpers and the trials guys too but the biggest group of guys are here to just have fun; they want to work on tricks and balance, learn how to ride skinny, they just want to be on their bikes.” Which, Petro says, is a reflection of the state of mountain biking in general. “MTB is getting further and further away from cross country. Everything is progressing more toward the having-fun, big-travel, ski-resort type of riding.”
Petro says that although he is the sole owner and has a staff of employees that run the park, he gets a lot of help from the community that uses his facility. “There is a whole slew of non-paid volunteers – from guys who help create and build features to guys who help with the website. It's really interesting that the community that uses it is supporting it the way they are. There's no way I could have opened without them.”
The greater mountain-bike community has rallied behind the park as well. From a pro-attended Grand Opening a week ago to a $10,000 prize list Red Bull event in February, 2006 Ray's is becoming a destination for mountain bikers from around the world. “I've seen a lot more people than I thought I would,” Petro says. As for his goals for the business? “I'll be thrilled if I can get the money I spent to build it back and the place can support itself.”
Ray's MTB Indoor Park is open from October 28, 2005 to April 6, 2006. They offer one-day passes, packaged weekend visits (with hotel included) and season passes. For more information, visit www.raysmtb.com.