Trevor Heald and his friends might have looked a little shady, hanging out at night under the south bypass with their scarred bikes and homebuilt bike trailers. But if they were there for some nefarious purpose, they probably wouldn’t have brought lights bright enough to see a small ball on the normally daylight-only basketball court.
This is Corvallis Bike Polo, one of the many facets of bike culture in Corvallis people may not be aware of. That’s a shame, because what unfolds is as exciting as hockey and as off-beat as roller derby. Open to all—the players bring extra bikes strapped to their trailers for walk-ons—bike polo could be a focal point for local bike culture. That’s already happening in some places. The World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship in Seattle last year drew an international field of 72 teams.
After years of lugging lights and lumber to the basketball court to convert it for night polo, Heald has a sense that polo players need a less-improvised facility to take it to the next level, so he’s sent a letter to the Corvallis Parks and Recreation Department looking for help. That’s a big step for this DIY bunch.
“All the paperwork and bureaucratic stuff kind of intimidates me,” Heald conceded. “I take a few days to respond. But I’m going to get together with Karen Emery and talk to her, see how far she’s willing to go.”
Emery, Corvallis Parks and Recreation Director, is also looking forward to that meeting. “The bike polo currently exists, and they’re using two parks and recreation facilities that are not for that purpose,” she said. “So we will meet with them, and find out a little bit more about their needs. They’re a grassroots sport, so we need to learn a little bit more about that.”
Emery is also learning about another grassroots trend in cycling, the bike skills park. These spaces are mountain biking in your backyard, a local spot where the challenges are well-designed and concentrated. The biggest ones feature everything from rolling trails with gentle berms to big dirt jumps and wall rides, which is pretty much just what it sounds like.
One feature common to pretty much every skills park is a pump track. The idea is to create a continuous loop with small, rolling jumps and deep, smooth berms, which allows a rider to generate momentum by unweighting the bike on the upside of the jumps, and weighting on the downside. Jumping is not required, and can actually slow you down. On a well-designed track, a rider can take the chain off the bike and pump around.
Chad DeMers isn’t any more comfortable with the bureaucratic process than Heald, and he’s even less visible on his bike. As a mountain biker, he’s often disappearing into the woods. Or he’s in his backyard, riding his hand-dug pump track.
Still, he sees that there is a community need for local bike facilities. The weather can limit riding opportunities, and the steep climbs in the hills outside Corvallis are a big price to pay for entry level riders. A pump track could introduce new riders to the smooth, flowing sensation which keeps experienced riders grinding up those hills outside town.
So DeMers created some preliminary plans for a pump track under the bridge, just east of the basketball-cum-bike polo court and the Eric Scott McKinley Skatepark. He presented the plans to a receptive Parks, Natural Areas, and Recreation Board, putting the pump track on the radar for the ten-year plan.
Just after DeMers’s public debut, local promoter Mike Ripley offered the board his support for the project. Through his race promotion company, Mudslinger Events, Ripley has an established reputation as a promoter and advocate, and he identified with DeMers’s presentation.
“Every group needs cheerleaders, the dreamers, the people who want to do it,” he said. “But once you understand what’s possible, you need to stop and take a deep breath.”
The first deep breath for the pump track proposal will be the Willamette River Greenway permit. The Greenway program requires that any development that close to the river address long list of criteria to ensure compatibility with a wide range of environmental, aesthetic, and social concerns—and the permitting process carries a $6,000 fee.
Ripley is also one of those dreaming cheerleaders, and he hopes the current energy to develop more opportunities for cyclists—especially mountain bikers—can lead to alliances which could attract funding. In particular, he wants to expand the advocacy efforts of Team Dirt, his mountain bike race team, under the umbrella of the International Mountain Bicycling Association.
“The time is now to have one IMBA chapter, one non-profit, and look at the whole wide range of possibilities that would encompass Corvallis,” Ripley said. ”Everyone really has a similar need to explore, have good trails, have safe trails. There’s a wide range of needs in the community, and Corvallis has lagged behind in some ways.”
Visit Corvallis Executive Director Dave Gilbert would also like to see Corvallis catch up, and he’d appreciate one of IMBA’s mantras, “more trails equals more sales”. Gilbert likes the idea of developing more facilities. “It’s a tourism thing, and it’s potentially a business asset for people who move to Corvallis to have cycling be a major part of their recreation.”
The facilities could also be a showpiece for visitors during Ride for the Cure, a charity bike ride to benefit Project Her and Samaritan Health through the Komen Foundation. And if those visitors get the right impression while they’re here, Gilbert hopes they’ll help reshape Corvallis’s image.
“You hear of Eugene being Track Town, we think we can be Cycle City, because we offer this tremendous variety of on- and off-road terrain to benefit cyclists,” Gilbert said.
This sounds good on the other side of the river in the Flomatcher Building, where the non-profit Corvallis Bicycle Collective operates in Linn County but at a Corvallis Parks and Recreation site. The CBC already has a good relationship with the city, trading volunteer time teaching kids about bikes, as well as some landscaping around the building, for free rent.
With a very simple mission—to get more people on bikes—the CBC supports any bicycling initiative, and CBC Board President Paul Atwood sees the potential for more community support.
“The tourism bureau wants to turn this into Cycle City, like Eugene is Track Town,” Atwood said. “That brings in all the general business population, and maybe serves as a catalyst to get everybody together and try to get on the same page.”
Fortunately, it seems like the parks and rec director already has that page in her book.
“It’s our role to provide recreation for all residents of Corvallis,” Emery said. “People who might be underserved are in some ways easier for us to serve, because their needs are already identified. It’s not just about recreation, it’s about health, and it’s about community, and having a role in your community.”
They’ve proposed perhaps combining their needs with the skills course; that’s one concept.
We’re going to meet as staff with both groups in the next couple of weeks and find out a little bit more about their needs and their vision.