Dropping in at The Lumberyard

Dropping in at The Lumberyard

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Business partners Michael Whitesel (L) and
Will Heiberg (with his dog Sarah) have created something special
at The Lumberyard.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Before this week, it’d been over a year since I last set foot in The Lumberyard, an indoor mountain bike park on NE 82nd Avenue in the Madison South neighborhood. Since then, business partners Will Heiberg and Michael Whitesel have been very busy. They’ve transformed a barren former bowling alley into a biking playground complete with a pub, full bar, retail and repair shop, event space, and much more.

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Bruce Crisman, a ride instructor, works on his bike in the service shop.
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The Pub @ The Yard features lots of handmade wood and gives customers a great perch to watch the action.

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It’s as fun as it looks.
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All types of rental bikes to choose from.
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The lumber theme is strong throughout.
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Heiberg is the face of the company, while Whitesel
prefers to stay behind the scenes.

On Tuesday I met up with Heiberg to learn more about what they’ve been up to. He was busy building ramps for the PDX Bicycle Show this weekend and getting his thoughts together for a youth group he’d be leading the next day. For Heiberg, a focus on kids and young people has been a major focus.

From their high school scholarship and afterschool programs to spring break and summer camps, The Lumberyard is becoming a big destination for local youth. “We even have the ‘Grom Zone’,” says Heiberg, “It’s just $5 for a youth pass before noon on weekdays.” (Grom is short for “grommet” a term that comes from surfing and describes a youngster who shreds.) The Lumberyard has also set up a scholarship grant program to help lower-income kids gain access to the park. They’ve raised over $3,000 for the fund so far.

The sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with learning how to ride a bike plays out in an even stronger way when you learn to navigate The Lumberyard’s various ramps and paths. Nearly everyone can ride a bike; but learning how to ride a pump track and overcoming fear of dropping down a ramp or balancing on a line over a narrow log is something altogether different.

“You get kids who come in that are social outcasts,” Heiberg shared, “but they come in here, figure out how to rip on their bikes and all the sudden they’re one of the cool kids.”

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Kids stretch before their afterschool riding session commences.

As we spoke, several pre-teen boys bounded around on their bikes awaiting the start of their afterschool class. Talk about being cool, these kids were being taught by none other than Bruce Crisman, a legend in the BMX world and 2001 X-Games gold medalist. Crisman is one of 20 total staffers and instructors that now work at The Lumberyard. After some stretches and a pep talk, Crisman led the kids in several drills and eventually class turned into a game of on-the-bike tag through the ramps, jumps, and other features.

But kids are far from the whole story at The Lumberyard and the opportunities for young riders are just one aspect of their growth over the past eight months.

Every Friday night is “Date Night” where you can get two-for-one admission and free deep dish cookie from the pub with the purchase of two drinks. There’s “Yoga at the Yard” on Wednesday nights, which is also “Newby Night”. Customers have also taken it upon themselves to create informal group nights like “Old Man Night” and “Industry Night”. Sundays are “Family Day” with discounted admission and free instruction.

The Lumberyard has also set up a “symbiotic” partnership with the forthcoming Timberline Mountain Bike Park. The Lumberyard has also quickly become a destination for bike junkies and the bike press has fallen in love with the place. The bike industry has also taken note. So far, major companies like Shimano, Cannondale, and Suntour have held product demo events for their local dealers at the park.

Heiberg says customer projections have far exceeded their goals. While not profitable yet (it’s a very capital intensive business), they are averaging about 90 visitors a day, that’s well over the 60 per day they projected at this time.

As for the riding itself, Phase 1 is almost completely built out. The 40,000 square foot riding area has five different sections or “lines” to choose from. Similar to ski runs, they’re color coded: Brown arrows for the cross-country single-track line; green for the beginner line; blue for intermediate; black for advanced; and orange for the pump track. To keep things interesting and challenging, Heiberg says they make tweaks to the floor plan every three months.

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“Choose your adventure,” says Heiberg.
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You could ride for days and days and still feel challenged and find new lines.

In the basement, Heiberg says they plan to create a “grind room” where flatland, freestyle, and urban trick riders can hone their skills.

Given his background in the video game industry, there’s a high-tech aspect to The Lumberyard. A new video camera system allows riders to pin an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip to their helmet. The chip signals several cameras mounted on poles throughout the park. When you trigger a camera, it shoots a short clip of you going by. When you get home, you can log-in to The Lumberyard website, view your clips and share them with friends. “It’s also a great way to track your progress by comparing clips over time,” says Heiberg. Riders can also rent point-of-cameras that mount to their helmets or that can be docked to mounting stations throughout the park.

I’ve done a ton of mountain biking in my life, but have never done anything like The Lumberyard. Thankfully, Will agreed to give me a private lesson. I suited up with elbow pads, knee pads, and a helmet and we rolled out to the rhythm section. Will took me through all the basics and gave me a great primer on what to do and expect. We tackled the cross-country lines, ramps, and I even learned to ride a half-pipe for the first time! It was fantastic.

Throughout our session, Will shared nuggets of wisdom: “Don’t try and launch yourself, let your bike do the work,” “Watch my hips,” “Look through to your exit point and stay perpendicular to the ground.” The tight, walled turns of the pump track were the spookiest thing. Will stood on the ground below to spot me in case I fell. But it all went well and I’m definitely eager to come back and ride it again.

This May will be The Lumberyard’s one-year anniversary. In not even one year, Heiberg, Whitesel and their crew have become a major bright spot in the community and I’m sure we’ll continue to see great things from The Lumberyard in the years to come.

Check out Lumberyard.com for more info and be sure to check them out at the PDX Bicycle Show taking place at the Expo Center this weekend. They’re building a “mega-ramp” and have other surprises in store!

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