After 11 years of cycling on all types of bikes, Randy McLain has wrecked his bike before. But his wreck at the Valmont Bike Park a few weeks ago was bigger than usual.
“I was on the dirt-jump section, just doing a medium one, and I was on a cross-country bike, not a dirt jump bike, which was part of the problem,” he said.
McLain went over the handlebars.
“I went from like 20 m.p.h. to zero,” he said with a laugh.
He ended up with a broken rib, a broken transverse process (a part of a vertebra), a concussion and a bruised kidney.
“Breaking a rib is the worst pain ever,” he said.
After his wreck, “the people at the bike park were really, really helpful,” he said. Someone stopped riders above him, and a nice couple even drove him to the hospital.
“When you ride a bike, you are going to wreck sometimes, period,” he said.
Since the Valmont Bike Park opened on June 11, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department has been tracking accidents at the park through reports from the bike park staff, volunteers and emergency calls to the park.
“What I’ve seen this morning is that they’re going down dramatically after the first couple of weeks,” said Jeff Dillon, parks and planning superintendent for City of Boulder Parks and Recreation.
The number of accidents was not made available to the Colorado Daily at press time, but Dillon said the nature of the accidents was “mostly, scrapes bruises cuts, but there have been some broken collarbones, broken wrists.”
The park is averaging 300 to 400 visitors per day, Dillon said.
The accident frequency at the bike park is much like what it was when the skate park opened at Scott Carpenter Park, he said.
“When the skate park opened, initially there was a rash of accidents that diminished over time,” Dillon said.
People are excited when it opens, so more people use it, he said, and there’s a learning curve at a new facility.
“Some people might think they’re a little better than they are, so they might be taking a risk they haven’t prepared themselves for,” Dillon said.
Jennifer Bray, spokeswoman for the city, said that as far as liability is concerned at the park, the city’s risk management staff “has gone over everything with a fine-toothed comb.”
“In the Valmont Bike Park instance, this park, similar to the skate park, is built for an intended use,” Bray said. “And if that park is kept in good condition for that use, the city would be protected by the Colorado Government Immunity Act. So if you injure yourself doing what the park is intended for, it would be covered under that statute.”
Dillon said risk assessment was part of the public process for the park, and it’s why the trails and jumps were designed to international standards and even follow a maintenance plan that meets those standards for continued safety.
Botsy Philips, a city liaison to the bike park at Boulder Mountainbike Alliance, said going to the bike park is like going to a ski area — if you’ve never skied before, you’re not going to hit a black-diamond run straightaway.
“A lot of the responsibility falls on people to know whether a feature is within their scope of ability,” Philips said.
“One of the wonderful things about the park is that it’s built to accommodate that progression.”
In addition to that built-in progression, the park has “squirrel catchers” — features that require a certain amount of skill and will stop riders from getting in over their heads on features ahead.
In the city’s accident tracking, Dillon said a concern was whether one area might have a higher rate of accidents, indicating a design flaw.
“We’re not seeing that,” he said. “But it’s too early to tell.”
In addition to the park’s maintenance staff, a crew of more than 80 volunteers serves as hosts at the park, and the city is working with several small businesses to develop a short safety orientation that will be available to visitors several times a week for free.
Philips, who rides at the park often with his 2 1/2-year-old, said he’s received many e-mails from the park’s website that complement the park, but none that complain about injuries. Rather, he said, many parents have written in to say they’re glad to have a place to take the kids for summer fun, much like a community pool.
McLain, 34, called the bike park “extremely well-built.”
“A lot of people have been critical of the bike park, these big features that are available to everyone, he said. “But at the end of the day, you’re responsible for your own actions.”
McLain said he’s been talking about accidents at the park with friends, and they think that riding their cross-country bikes — which have suspension — on the dirt jumps, don’t work so well.
“That’s what happened with me. And it’s my fault, I screwed up. I take responsibility for it.”
After his accident, he wants to raise awareness about having the right equipment at the bike park. But he’s excited to get back to the park when he heals in the next week or two.
“The cross-country trails are phenomenal. I can’t wait to get back there and ride them again.”