On the fast track

Indoor bike park owner rides his hobby into a career

By Cathy Poley

Originally appeared on CNN.com

When Ray Petro started riding trails on his new mountain bike, he was looking for a way to keep in shape.

Little did he know that he was about to find a new passion and a new career.

Petro owns and operates Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park in Cleveland, Ohio, the world’s only indoor mountain-biking venue.

The bike park is an old converted warehouse that holds a vast obstacle course of wooden ramps, turns and tracks.

Riders zip around the course. Some fly up ramps, perform aerial tricks and land in foam to cushion any falls.

Petro, a remolding contractor, started mountain biking in the spring of 1996 to improve his health. “I was out of shape, and I was nearing 30, and I was like, I’ve got to do something.”

He rode bikes when he was younger and thought cycling would be a good way to stay in shape.

Soon, he was hooked. “I fell in love with the sport. It’s something that’s become a part of my life.”

When fall came, however, Petro realized that his new hobby was very weather-dependent. The trails were getting muddy; snow was starting to fall.

He couldn’t bike – and he needed to find a way to ride in any kind of weather. He came up with the idea for an indoor park.

Petro cashed in his life savings. “I took everything I had and then some and just spent it all on wood for me and my friends to ride,” Petro says. “I wasn’t afraid of being broke. It was like something just said I had to do it.”

“A problem with the sport is if you’re going go someplace to ride — there’s always the possibility that you’re able to get rained out,” Petro says. “So here you can plan a trip for next year, and you know you’re going to get to ride, and nobody’s going to get lost.”

The indoor park is separated into different areas for different riders’ needs. “An average mountain biker can ride 90 percent of the stuff that’s in here,” Petro says. “And then we threw in some stuff that was for an advanced rider.”

Mountain Bike Hall of Famer Hans Rey says he came from southern California to the park because the part of the course designed for advanced riders provides a great opportunity to practice.

“We have great weather [in California] but we don’t have a skills area like this,” Rey says.

Current Mountain Cross World Champion Brian Lopes likes the park because he can get the experience of a large outdoor area in a small space.

“You need big areas,” Lopes says. “You need hills and mountains usually. So it’s pretty cool that [Petro has] put all of this in such a small little area with so many different, very fun, technically challenging obstacles for all different skill levels and just given everybody a place to ride.”

Petro says that along with the sport-level riders, he is starting to get clientele looking for after-work fun.

“It’s really turned out to be kind of like bowling was years ago,” Petro says. “We’ve got lots of people who show up after work, and they ride with their friends and then they go out and have a couple of beers and go home to their families.”