My fella and I, feeling the ill-effects of a too-long Wisconsin winter, decided to head out for Ray's this weekend after hearing that it offered an indoor reprieve for northern biking enthusiasts. And though, in the end, I still much prefer riding long, flowing trails in the great outdoors, I can definitely say that Ray's is a pretty rad place and I wish we had something like it a little closer to home.
As it turned out, the park was having a "Ride With the Legends" day when we got there, which included the presence of several pro BMX and mountain bike riders, plus a mob of curious onlookers. Still, the friendly Chicago ex-pat minding the door told us that the events never interfere with regular folks' ability to ride, so we had free reign to explore the nearly 100,000 square feet of park.
Think about that: nearly 100,000 square feet of indoor biking. Pretty impressive. I felt a little overwhelmed when I first rolled my bike into the melee. Between the fact that we'd only just recently retrofitted my bike to the point of it pretty much being a brand new ride, and this being my first time on it in months, I was a little shaky at first. Thankfully, there's a very nice "beginner room" that's generally quieter and less crowded than the rest of the building, and I spent some time there getting warmed up. After a few adjustments, the new bike ran smooth and true. After some mental adjustments, I wasn't so bad, either.
We spent a good 6 hours trying out what lines we could (that is, what lines wouldn't kill a couple of relative greenhorns like ourselves). There's the Gary Fisher XC loop, which runs along the ceiling of the converted factory space and then swoops down and around berms and ramps that crisscross several of the other areas. A small pump track provides a good chance to develop that particular skill. A good handful of technical mtb tracks are packed onto one half of the floor, each with varying levels of difficulty: teeter-totters, boardwalks, log runs, berms, tabletops, and plenty of skinnies.
I watched several trials riders bunny hopping their way from line to line and marveled at the degree of skill needed to do what they do. I have no interest in trials myself (I'm not that balanced, nor that patient), but it's fascinating to watch. Check out a video of what I'm talking about right here.
I worked on my jump take-offs and landings, trying to even out my bike as much as possible instead of just bumbling over things, and actually started to feel like I was getting the basic hang of it. I've still got quite a long ways to go, but the day provided a good chance to get to know my new bike and try out some things I'd been wanting to work on for awhile.
Of course, the day was not without injury. I took one pretty spectacular spill as I tried to navigate a long log run, nearly doing an endo before throwing my bike at the last minute and taking the bulk of the hit on my right side. My shin and knee pads did their job, but unfortunately I got a log right to the thigh and ended up with a pretty gnarly muscle bruise that left me limping for the next day. All part of the process, right?!
We took a few short breaks to just watch the pros tackle the big ramps near the front, marveling at the tricks they pulled and how easy they made it look. At one point, as we were waiting for our turn on one of the mtb lines, my fella struck up a conversation with another guy about some fancy new feature on his bike, not knowing that said guy was Hans Rey, one of the pros in for the day and a major pioneer of trials riding. So that was fun.
All told, it was a great day of riding, trying out new things, developing some skills, working up a sweat, and watching some pretty amazing riders do their thing. I was happy to see quite a few other women out on their bikes, too (we're still the minority in this sport, of course). And the overall vibe of the place was good, with little in the way of ego or pretense. And kids! We ran into quite a few tots pedaling around on miniature BMX or bigwheels. One particularly skilled guy was even out on the track holding his own. I talked briefly with his mom, who said he was just 4-years-old but already racing motorcycles, too. I can't say I'm entirely down with letting pre-schoolers race motorized vehicles, but hey, if that kid keeps it up and doesn't get mangled in the process, he's going to be pretty damn good at a pretty young age.
Got back into Madison last night, welcomed by much colder temperatures and snow. Our weekend biking adventure should help to keep me sane until spring really shows up and I can take it outdoors again--but it's Wisconsin, after all, so who knows? Here's hoping.
Tomorrow, it's back to your regularly scheduled blogging.
(full set of photos available at my Flickr account)