BATH — Lawrence Kovacs finished the last of five laps around the Bath pump track on his mountain bike, which he moved by pushing – or pumping – his arms on the handlebars around the course’s rolling bumps and banks. Then Kovacs, who is a middle school teacher, stopped and checked his heart monitor: 154

Kovacs, 54, helped design and build the dirt track. Though it’s no larger than a tennis court, it’s a challenge to circle five times without using one’s legs. Peddling is discouraged.

“It’s hard to make the loops without peddling,” Kovacs said. “It offers real concrete evidence that your skills are getting better. It’s made me a stronger rider, going around pumping. And I don’t think my experience is isolated.”

Lawrence Kovacs, a Bath Middle School teacher and mountain biker, rides a berm on the Bath pump track that he helped to build next to the school in 2017. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

A pump track is a little like a skate park – but built for mountain bikes. These oval cycling courses are slowly spreading across Maine, one more indication that mountain biking has moved into the mainstream here.

In the past 15 years, mountain bike clubs, trails and races have spread across the state. Today seven chapters of the New England Mountain Bike Association across Maine are winning grants; building hundreds of miles of single-track trails; even buying grooming equipment to maintain those trails in the winter. Two new pump tracks planned in Gorham and Portland will push the number of tracks in the state to five.

“Mountain biking in Maine is blowing up,” said Rob Lavoie of Gorham, who is spearheading the effort to build a pump track there.

On track to expand

Pump tracks, oval tracks with rolling bumps and banks, can be dirt, concrete or asphalt. There also are mobile tracks built of fiberglass. On average, the tracks are about the size of a basketball court. The cost can vary, from a track made with volunteer labor and donated equipment (a few thousand dollars) to a state-of-the-art track built by Velosolutions, a world leader in mountain bike parks (a few million dollars).

Velosolutions has built nearly 200 pump tracks in 30 countries, including 20 in the United States. This year, those numbers will soar, with 12 pump tracks built or scheduled to be built in the United States and another 90 around the world, Velosolutions spokeswoman Andrea Raemy said. She added that the tracks are often built in cities, near schools or in areas with many tourists.

The first pump track in Maine was built in Camden at the town-owned Camden Snow Bowl in 2008, and cost roughly $10,000, said John Anders, then the president of the Midcoast NEMBA chapter. The next went in at the town-owned Outdoors Center in Carrabassett Valley.

Then, in 2017, Kovacs and the Bath Parks and Recreation Department applied for a grant from The Specialized Foundation, a branch of the Specialized bike company. They sought 25 mountain bikes to use in Bath schools. Bath was one of 20 communities nationwide to get the grant.

Specialized flew Kovacs, president of the Bath-area mountain bike chapter, to California to train him to mentor kids on mountain bikes. While there, he asked the bike company for tips on how to build a pump track. Specialized did one better – it sent two professional trail builders to assist with the track’s construction next to the middle school, at no cost to the town, which provided the land, dirt and some equipment.

“The guys who work at Specialized live and breath dirt tracks,” Kovacs said. “We would have been in trouble if those guys hadn’t shown up.”

Lawrence Kovacs says the pump track built beside Bath Middle School in 2017 is heavily used by both students and adult riders. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

That same year, the city of Portland hosted a pump track demonstration at the city’s skate park using a mobile pump track on loan. Ethan Hipple, Portland deputy director of Parks and Recreation, said the temporary track was mobbed: “We had a turnout at the demonstration with hundreds of people.”

Now the Portland is looking at buying a fiberglass mobile pump track for $75,000. City officials were unable to fund it through the city budget, Hipple said, but they hope to get financial support from the nonprofit Portland Parks Conservancy.

“I see it as something that could rotate through different neighborhoods through the summer,” he said, “in Riverton, North Deering and Libbytown.”

Go big

When Lavoie in Gorham saw a time-lapse video on Facebook of the Bath pump track being built, he got the idea to build one in Gorham.

“We have the trail network already. We have the perfect piece of land next to the middle school,” said Lavoie, a Gorham chiropractor, avid mountain biker and former president of the Greater Portland chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association.

This April, the Gorham Town Council unanimously approved the construction of a pump track on town land near Gorham Middle School. But they told Lavoie he’d have to come up with the money. Lavoie researched what would be needed: $17,000 for equipment, labor and material for the track, a parking lot and picnic area. He and the Portland chapter started to fundraise.

This spring, local riders at a mountain bike gathering at Sebago Brewing donated $1,000. Local businesses and churches in Gorham chipped in – some with several thousands dollars. Now, Lavoie and the bike club are near their goal; so far, they’ve raised $14,000.

“We’re going to try to go big,” Lavoie said of the pump track. “It will be a quarter of an acre, 200 feet long, twisting and winding.”

Lavoie believes the Gorham pump track will serve not only as a mountain bike skills course for kids and adults, but as a gathering place for families, one that connects with the 23 miles of mountain bike trails that already run through the woods around town.

“I see it as a place to bring kids. It’s good for their health, and keeps them active. And it’s family friendly,” Lavoie said. “You can have Dad on his $5,000 29er (bike), and a preteen on a 24-inch bike and a toddler on a push bike. And they can all be having fun doing the same thing.”

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