Built into an abandoned department store directly on a main road complete with colorful signage, Ray’s MTB Milwaukee is a bit of a departure from the isolated industrial park of its Cleveland based sibling. Compared with the WWII era complex that is exemplified in the Ray’s MTB logo, the MKE location seems almost new.
Hoping to get the 411 on what’s new for MKE’s first full season, I met with Ray’s PR man Eric Schutt for a tour. Due to building permit issues among other set backs, Ray’s MKE opened late and was only open for about half the season. Fortunately, it’s clear that the 2011-12 season for MKE will be a good one with an improved layout and more options than ever for the novice to beginning cyclists!
Full tour after the break!
After walking through the bright and airy entrance, riders are greeted with a familiar site: the check-in counter/front desk, and a well stocked pro shop. If you need anything – a bike, pads, gloves, bike parts, GoPro, clothes, etc, you can probably find it here. Just like in Cleveland, use of Trek’s own POS software, Ascend, makes the process of signing in quick and easy. New for 2012, is the ability to reserve a rental bike before you make the trip. On the weekends, Ray’s can be completely out of rental bikes which could be a big issue if you just drove hours to get there. For an extra $5 ($18.99 rather than $13.99) you can guarantee that there will be a rental bike available when you arrive.
Once you’re ready to ride, one of the easiest trails to find is the new Yellow Brick Road, and there’s a reason for that. Otherwise, the new 2×3′ signs hung around the building help riders easily negotiate the incredibly dense layout of trails, skinnys, jumps, and berms.
Ray’s MKE definitely has a unique feel compared to Ray’s CLE in terms of layout. While Ray’s CLE has always had a very organic feel due to the fact that it simply evolved over time into the amazing layout it is, MKE on the other hand feels very calculated. I don’t feel that either one is necessarily better, it is just clear that when constructing Ray’s MKE they were able to pull from the over 7 years of experience from creating Ray’s CLE.
MKE is an exercise in space management, with nearly every inch of the 110,000 square foot store filled with nearly every feature you could imagine and then some. Those who have been to Ray’s CLE will be familiar with the beginner, sport, and expert section concept shown above, from top to bottom.
Completely new for this year though, is the addition of the Yellow Brick Road and the Novice room. Thanks in part to MKE’s positioning along side a major road, and Trek’s want to provide the indoor cycling experience to riders of all skill levels, more novice riders than ever are trying out Ray’s. Not to mention the new 1st Timer Deal, where first time visitors will be equipped with a rental bike, helmet, pads, and a day pass, all for $24.99.
So getting new people on bikes is great, but just throwing them into the mix with a bunch of expert trails and riders is a sure way to ensure that they don’t have a good time, and worse – could possibly get hurt. Which is precisely why the Yellow Brick Road was created, which is a dead flat pathway that loops around the entire park, completely out of the way of any of the other areas. According to Eric, even his 4 year old twins rip around the Yellow Brick Road on their Strider bikes! What’s even better, is the option for riders on the YBR to duck into the all new Novice room. Doubling as the season pass holder bike storage room, the Novice room contains a three section skills area to help riders progress. Section one begins with riding on flat ground, and using the self teaching signage to advance to riding the twisty red and blue sections seen above. Once riders are comfortable with section 1, they can move on to section two which involves riding over very simple logs and rocks, and learning how to crash with Ray’s awesome crash pad. At first the idea of learning how to crash sounds terrible, until you check out the crash pad which is basically a big cushy mat with a slot in the center to ride your bike into. After getting that down, you can move on to Section 3 where riders will learn the basics of riding berms and rollers.
All of this in the privacy of your own room! Not comfortable with the self teaching method? Ray’s also has new riding lessons available for $20 per person for a group lesson, or $40 individually.
In addition to the Yellow Brick Road and the Novice room, changes have been made to the cross country trail as well in order to give riders more options. The picture above is a perfect example of the new green trail, in that the green trail always takes the easiest option through any feature. Riders can follow the green trail around the entire park and then work in the harder features to customize their own XC ride. Last year the green trail shown here also had logs, but was smoothed over to provide an easier line, which has been done all around the XC course. I know some of you are still thinking XC course? Indoors? Pfft. Think that all you want, but when I was done on my dirt jumper, I pulled out my XC bike and rode a 10 mile loop in just over an hour. Best of all, it wasn’t boring because every lap was a little different.
In order to improve the flow of both the expert jumps and the XC course, the jumps now flow to the left and result in a closed course jump loop with 3 difficulty levels. Since the jumps no longer empty out into the Expert North Shore section, a new entrance to the Expert section was created by cutting a hole in the container from the XC course that flows into the Expert. This allows you to seamlessly integrate the Expert section into your XC loops, and eliminates traffic from the jump course. At the exit of the Expert section there is a new bridge that collects both the Expert and XC lines and continues the XC course. Above all, the new XC bridge goes over the Yellow Brick Road keeping those riders on the ground out of harms way.
Overall it’s all about more flow, less waiting, and better lines for all. For more info and upcoming events, check out their site.