IF YOURE A RIDER AND LIVE ANYPLACE WHERE WEATHER – WINTER WEATHER, IN PARTICULAR – CAN STOP YOU FROM TAKING TO THE TRAILS ON YOUR MOUNTAIN BIKE, AN INDOOR PARK MIGHT BECOME AN OBSESSION. IT DID FOR RAY PETRO, WHO BUILT THE WORLDS FIRST INDOOR MOUNTAIN BIKE PARK. HE TALKED WITH DRIVE ABOUT IT.
I rode a bike until I was 14 years old – just around the neighborhood, recounted Ray Petro. Then I got sidetracked until I was 30, and I started riding a bike again.
I fell in love with the sport of mountain biking. I rode my bike all that summer and into the fall of 1996. When winter came, I got really depressed. Nobody was riding, and the weather was terrible, and it was muddy. Thats when the idea was born.
I tried to make it happen a few times, and it just didnt. Then in summer of 2004, I found a landowner who thought it was a really great idea. He said, I have the perfect place for you.
BUILDING AND REBUILDING
That place was a factory building in Cleveland, Ohio, where parachutes had been made during World War II.
Petro continued: I started to monkey with it. I was always in the trades – a remodeling contractor, mainly residential stuff. Ive had my tool belt on my whole life.
Todays park is completely different from what he built at first. Were always changing things, said Petro. When we figure out what the riders like, we build more of that, and we remove the stuff thats not their favorite.
I oversee all of the construction, and I probably do about half of it. The other half is done by either paid employees of the park or younger guys who are in college. Ill trade them a season pass for hauling rocks and doing demolition and helping me build stuff.
In 2004, we opened up Thanksgiving weekend. We were open through the winter. We did OK, but I wasnt sure I wanted to do it again. It was a lot of work.
I got a phone call from Subaru Great Lakes Region – from a person named Aspen. She said, We bumped into your Web site on the Internet, and we think its really cool. Wed like to send somebody out to see it. And we might want to get involved.
We swept up the place, and I gave them a tour. We were able to strike a deal within the next few weeks.
That was the bridge that got us to the next season.
Subaru has really gotten involved. It has sent checks and cars. Weve done showings at the park, and weve had events. Subaru has brought in pro riders, and weve had gimongous parties there.
I was able to parlay that into a relationship with Gary Fisher® bicycles. They sent somebody over, and theyve been involved since summer of 2005. Its a natural group of partners.
The park is set up like a giant Monopoly board inside of an old factory. Its split up into sections, from beginner to expert. We try to build everything to be as safe as possible.
Its not like a mountain bike ride in the sense that you head to a state park and go out in the woods for two hours. Its very social. Its like a big party. Weve got these big lounges. Theres no drinking – everybodys just high on riding their bikes and trying different things.
Weve designed it so you can bring a group of riders that you normally would not ride with – like a pro, and your girlfriend, and kids – and theres something for everybody to do. You wouldnt take that whole group to the state park and ride because somebody wouldnt be in good-enough shape or something. Youve got a wide range of experience.
Plus you can plan a trip next year and not worry about the weather – you just have to get here.
I couldnt make it on just my local riders. We started to get folks who would travel. We needed to make it a weekends worth of fun. So every chance I had to expand, I did. And Ive expanded the park every year since weve opened. We now have 120,000 to 125,000 square feet.
Subaru considers me a national attraction, and all my other sponsors do, too. Well see 300 to 400 to 500 people on a weekend.
We used to only let in BMXers on certain days. But now that the space is larger and weve made a bunch of improvements, were letting in all bike riders – whether theyre on a BMX or a mountain bike. They ride in different areas in the building.
THE CURRENT SEASON
Rays reopened in the middle of October 2009, and the park has numerous special events planned throughout the winter. To see more photographs and to find out more about the park and its events, visit www.raysmtb.com.
Rays MTB Indoor Park started as a dream that took eight years to become a reality. Its the worlds first indoor mountain bike park, Petro mused. Theyve had indoor skateboard parks, and they would let people ride their BMX bikes in there, but I was like, You know, if you had enough space