There’s a new — and unique — bike track in town. The Watkins Park Pump Track is located in a historic North Nashville greenspace, and it’s part of an ongoing effort to inspire kids through biking.
First, they have to master the art of pumping through the series of humps and concave turns, which is a lot harder than it looks.
Veteran BMX biker Brian Frelix says it requires “shifting your body weight up and then back down over, over each hump.” Essentially — you’re the pump.
“It’ll get you to gain momentum each time. So you can really get to going really fast without pedaling at all.”
Frelix says he grew up across the street, in public housing. He lives in Clarksville now but had to check out the track as soon as he heard about it.
There are only a few dozen in the country, and he’s proud that one of the newest ones is his old neighborhood, for kids like Aiden Johnson and Myrecc Preston to enjoy. They’re 15 and 12 years old and are getting the hang of pushing through the humps without pedaling.
“You’re supposed to just stand still,” says Johnson.
And relax, adds Preston. Johnson agrees, explaining, “When you go down a dip like that, just turn the wheel straight.”
The pump track — which is free and open to everyone — sits on a field in the corner of Watkins Park. The land was donated by Metro Parks, and it took four years to raise the money to build the track itself, says Dan Furbish, the man responsible for the project.
Furbish has been teaching kids to build bikes for 13 years at the Oasis Center, just two blocks away. The nonprofit offers a range of services to vulnerable youth and helps oversee the track, in partnership with the local branch of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association, which builds all the mountain biking trails in the area.
Furbish also started and coaches the Oasis Center’s mountain bike team. The track is his way of giving young riders a place to hone their skills that doesn’t require being driven to a wooded trail.
Furbish is so excited about the track that he asks every kid who passes by if they have a bike and gives them out to those who don’t. “And they all want to be on the mountain bike team,” he says, “which is awesome.”
The park is also historically significant, Furbish points out.
“Watkins Park is the first established park in Nashville,” he says, “and it was a gathering place for African American families in this neighborhood.”
In large part that’s because from the 1930s through the 1960s, due to segregation, it was one of the only public parks that Black Nashvillians were allowed to use.
The surrounding neighborhood continues to be predominantly African American, but mountain biking is a predominantly white sport. And because pump tracks are so rare, Furbish knows that riders are going to come from all over the city — and beyond — to use it. So it’s important to him that the neighborhood kids feel like it’s theirs.
“That is why I want to be proactive about [making sure] the kids who live literally across the street have the equipment they need to use this, know how to do it and just taking ownership.”
Johnson and Preston both plan to do join the mountain bike team this year. They say they hadn’t heard of the Oasis team before coming to track. Now they’ve got bikes, helmets and gloves, provided by Furbish.
The boys have been regulars here before the track even officially opened, and they acknowledge that it’s been a little frustrating that it’s already so popular, says Johnson.
“It’s been crowded lately. Little kids get out of school at 3 o’clock and they come straight here,” he says.
There are also plenty of adults, and skateboarders. That means waiting in line for their turn to do a loop. But overall, on a scale of one to 10, they give the park a solid 10.
Then, they pedal and pump off. Within minutes, Preston is catching some air.