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Life as a Bike Jockey: Cleveland for Christmas

You may not know it, but what you want for Christmas is a ticket to Cleveland.

Forget the 40-inch flat screen TV and the zebra print Snuggie. A ticket to Cleveland will get you the opportunity to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, visit the house that made fishnet leg lamps ‘fragilé’ and the chance to ride at Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park.

While all are worthy Cleveland endeavors, what I’m really suggesting is that you go ride at Ray’s. I had the chance to ride the 125,000 square feet of fun that is Ray’s last January and have since bored every human on two wheels that I’ve come across about how rad Ray’s is.

If you’ve never been, words and images are only going to give you half the picture. The rest of the story is sensational — or sensorial. You just have to ride it to feel it, and feel it to understand it.

Fun Factory

The cross-country loop at Ray's Indoor Mountain Bike Park.
The cross-country loop at Ray's Indoor Mountain Bike Park.

I went to Ray’s last January to race in the Tri-Flow XC Challenge (a very cool event I’ll talk more about later). We pulled up to the loading dock of an inconspicuous factory that prompted a couple of doubtful looks to the shuttle driver. We poured out of the van, shuffled over the snow, walked thru the entryway and then came up to the opening of the factory floor lit up by ceiling windows.

Standing at the mouth to the main event, it was an immediate barrage of bike activity and an absolute 180 from the quiet exterior of the former rayon factory. Working through a little travel fog and still shivering from the January temperatures outdoors, it was like walking up on a biking oasis in the dead of winter.

But don’t spare time to gush over dramatic entries. The park has over 100,000 square feet packed with riding options from BMX to cross-country style riding. Your to-do list will likely out run the time you have to ride.

Hone It

Get your feet wet in the Beginner room on rock gardens, planks and the like. Or work your way over to the Expert area and ride some skinnies. They’re all close to the ground so you can ride ‘em to build your confidence or turn the screws and hone your technique without the consequence of a five-foot drop. The XC area has also been expanded this season to up the endurance workout in the technical skills mix.

Don’t limit yourself to the known. Hop on the pump track. Entirely of wood, the mathematically perfect rollers are geometrically generous. It’s a great place to learn how to pump your bike or a sweet spot to polish up your manuals. If jumping is your thing, the rhythm section is a veritable field of dreams. It’s up to you.

There are also teeter totters, swinging planks and other obstacles to treat you like a tiny silver ball navigating its way around a maze avoiding pitfalls to get to the end. Which is why telling you about Ray’s is only a fraction of the story. It doesn’t have the feel of your average ride.

Focus whittles down to the line you’re on and doesn’t stray much further than the walls that hold the roof up. Fun and challenge occupy your mind. Much like a kid at an amusement park, you ride a section only to finish it, get back in line and catch your breath while you wait to do it again.

The entire factory is all about this. It condenses the most exhilarating parts of trail into one accessible ride — without the 30-minute climb to get there. Riding at the park is its own crazy sensation.

Beginners to Badasses

The place caters to both beginners and badasses alike. No matter your ability you could ride for days straight. Got kids? Take the family as there’s trail for everyone. Take your bike or rent one there. If you fly into Cleveland, grab the shuttle to the Holiday Inn and take advantage of the Ray’s Stay Special. Then hop the next shuttle to the park and get ready to have fun.

And don’t think you have to wait till the summer to get in an XC race. You can jump in the 2010 Tri-Flow XC Challenge this January. The TT format is concentrated good times for all age groups and categories. Feeling saucy? The pros are lining up for a $5,000 purse. Have fun, test your mettle and win up to $1,000. Not a bad day’s work.

I can’t make the TT this year, but I’ll be out at Ray’s in February to help coach at the Women’s Weekend. Ray has organized a crew of 14 pro ladies in mountain bike disciplines across the board from Trials to DH to get other gals riding with more confidence and having fun on two wheels.

So that’s why you want a ticket to Cleveland. Unless, of course, you’re on parole, then it’s plenty cool to stay in state. With the chance to up your skill and the memories you roll away with, it’ll be a gift that keeps on giving.

Judy Freeman is a pro mountain biker out of Boulder, Colorado. This summer she rode for the Tough Girl/SCOTT Cycling Team as well as represented the U.S. at the World Championships in Canberra, Australia.

Freeman went pro about six years ago. She regularly cracked the top-20 in major domestic races in 2008, such as the Sea Otter Classic and select national events. In 2009 she was a woman to beat in the Colorado Mountain States Cup and a regular top-10 finisher on the Pro XCT.

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