DIY Pump Track by ZOIC Ambassador Jonathan Emery

I recently took on my largest bike related building project I've ever done by myself. I've wanted to build a pumptrack for a long time and always dreamed of having one local. Finally a combination of things made me pull the trigger and just get it done.

For a while I was taking my kids biking on a regular basis when they were really young visiting local pumptracks and Highland mountain bike park etc.. We would go as a family and have fun, my wife would go along with it, I would ride the bigger lines while my kids rode the little rollers one on her kick-bike and the other on her 16" BMX. Things were good, we had fun but it always took at least half a day to go anywhere to ride, those with kids will know what I mean. Not to mention the closest track was 45 minutes away which is still a pretty far drive for a family of 4 just to ride a pumptrack for an hour or 2... plus little girls have the tiniest bladders that need emptying every 5 minutes.

That was a few years ago and now both my girls are a little older. My oldest is 9 and even though she's reallygood at riding I think I pushed her a little too much when she was young and now has little interest to ride other than with her friends. She's grown out of that "I want to do whatever dad is doing" phase. It's very hard to get her to go for a ride, but whenever she would go a loud "woo hoo" could be heard. I knew she liked it, but as many of us know the hardest thing is getting going.

My younger daughter is still in that "I want to do whatever dad is doing" phase. She always has to be in front on a trail ride even if she's clogging the trail with her kickbike. It makes me smile every time. She has a strong passion for biking but no bike that really fits her or place to ride that's safe without me bringing her somewhere... yet. It was the lack of passion in my older daughter for biking and the great enthusiasm in my younger daughter that led me to bite the bullet and build this thing to get back to that point where we were all enjoying biking as a family. Not just once in a while, but whenever we walked out our front door.

I started by picking the brain of one of the best local pumptrack builders I knew,  local Collegiate National DH champ Phil Kmetz or who is now known as "Skills with Phil" on Youtube. I bugged him for a few weeks poking and prodding asking a ton of questions about soil types, where to get stuff, and what not to do. I watched his videos on Youtube and FINALLY found a place willing to sell me the right type of soil: 80% clay mixed with 20% screened sand. I then just pulled the trigger, reserved a tractor for the weekend, ordered 50 tons of sand clay mix and got to work. I was able to start early due to a dry spring and had an easy time finding rental equipment as it was still early in the season.

The first thing on the to do list was to remove all the unwanted material from the area and make a nice flat surface with a slight slope so it would drain well. This took WAY longer than expected (almost a full 8 hours of driving around the house and dumping one bucket at a time to remove the unwanted material). I laid the base with just regular fill for the 180* berms which would make up each end of the simple oval style pumptrack.

During the build process I took more than a few pauses to make sure I involved my kids in "helping" and they loved every minute of it.

After I had a cleared space with the base of each end berm laid out, I took measurements and drew out on paper how I would lay out the rollers in between each berm with the proper spacing. One side would be smaller closer rollers, and the bank side would be larger rollers with optional jump lips spaced further apart... you know, to make it fun for the dads, too!

It took 2 different weekends of rental equipment to get the job done. The first a smaller backhoe to remove material and the 2nd a bobcat and a gas powered compactor. The bobcat allowed me to shape the base of the berms much better.

I then laid out with marking paint the centers of the large rollers and built the bases out of regular fill to save the expensive finish material as a topcoat only.

After I had all the bases for the bigger rollers and berms it was time to lay out the sand/clay mix which was not easy, as it doesn't come premixed, I had to mix the sand and clay with the bobcat in the yard by basically working the material over with the bobcat multiple times. Then I laid out the material over the top of all the bases and did a rough compacting job to start.

Then I put the heavy machinery away and got out the square shovel, rake, and hose to work my butt off shaping and compacting.

I have to say the finish product was my kind of art. After few short days of riding it in (as it still needs tires to fully compress and turn into that concrete like surface) I was able to pump all the way around without a pedal stroke in about 11 seconds flat. But seeing my kids and buddies kids spend hours and hours riding it made all the hard work worth it in the end.

Since starting this blog post, it's been almost 2 years since I finished this project. The pumptrack is still there, grass has started to push it's way through so now it needs to be trimmed while mowing the lawn, but it has held up well. It requires a couple hours of shovel time each spring to get it back to optimal shape or just ride it once it thaws and repack it down as the thaw always softens it up every year. My kids are a little older now and what they have learned on the pumptrack I dare say has helped them in the woods on singletrack (or real trails as my daughter calls them).

Would I do it again? Would I spend the money again? Yeah, I would do it again, and recently finding out that we have another future grom on the way, I'll make sure the kick-bike is in tiptop shape, and the berms and rollers are fresh in the upcoming years.


Man hours: about 60 initial hours including machine time and hand labor so it was rideable. Requires annual maintenance every spring as well. Material: 60 tons of 80% clay/20% sand mix delivered $1200 Rental Equipment:
  • Small backhoe weekend rental $400
  • Bobcat or skidsteer weekend rental $300
  • Gas powered compactor weekend plus rental $100
Total Cost: $2,000 USD 4 years later, it’s still getting used by my kids, and friends and family when they come over.

Words and images by ZOIC Ambassador Jonathan Emery.

Follow him on Instagram and check out his bio here.