Ride On!

Ray Petro's one-of-a-kind indoor amusement park for mountain bikers is attracting scores of diehards who don't mind traveling for their riding fix.

A careless eye might mistake Ray's MTB for another abandoned Cleveland warehouse. A few pickets marked with Ray's highlighter-orange logo are all that identify the building located at 9801 Walford Ave. But a subtle hint dangles above an out-of-order loading dock: a comfortably worn, rough-and-ready mountain bike.

It may seem strange that the nation's first indoor mountain bike park is here; Northeast Ohio's mountain-biking community doesn't garner much attention. That may be because there aren't many local places they can ride outside — not legally, at least.

"I know people who have gotten seriously injured riding in the Metroparks with all of the families, dogs, children and strollers in those areas," remarks 38-year-old Ray Petro of North Ridgeville, who opened his indoor park Thanksgiving weekend. "There is no place for extremes." (Mountain biking is forbidden in the Cleveland Metroparks.)

The closest outdoor mountain biking trails are Wooster's Vulture's Knob and West Branch in Ravenna. Some bikers travel to Michigan, where parks welcome mountain bikers. Of course, outdoor trails don't help much when there's snow on the ground.

Petro says it was always his dream to create a place where he could bike after work and on the weekends, even in the middle of winter. When fellow bikers learned of his idea, they pitched in to help build the expansive indoor course, which resembles a stunted wooden roller coaster with its mix of jumps, hills and slanted planks.

Dozens of bikes rest in wooden racks lining a wall near the indoor park's entry. A clutter of hexagonal picnic tables with tree-stump stools serve as a living room for regulars, who might spend up to 15 hours each week burning tread on a course that makes our orange-barreled byways look like Safety Town. Adrenaline rock is the soundtrack. It's here that Petro, who runs a redecorating business by day, is in his element.

"This is a labor of love," he says. "Being around folks I like to be around."

The park attracts up to 100 bikers on busy Saturdays. A graffiti-covered wall of fame displays messages scrawled by bikers hailing from as far away as Chicago and Canada. Clans of regulars form casual huddles on the course's perimeter, swapping jump strategies, trading tips and lobbing an occasion "Nice!" to nearby bikers.

"That's as much about the visit as riding," Petro says, pointing to a mixed-age group of bikers on break. Like a roller-rink, bikers burn a few laps and sit out, order in a pizza and hang with friends. "It's turned out to be a bar for cyclists."

Over by the foam pit, a teen-age boy offers Petro a cupcake his mother baked. He left his home in Pittsburgh at 7:30 a.m. to arrive at Ray's when the doors opened. The teen climbs a rafter that hangs over a pit filled with stripping foam that is used to cushion the fall of would-be X-Gamers working out new moves. The boy swings back and forth before throwing his wiry body into the squishy pile to the approval of his biking buddies from Windsor, Canada, and Philadelphia. On the nearby challenge course, a 16-year-old with a haircut as freestyle as his riding uses his bike like a pogo stick, pouncing from one block to another 6 feet away.

But the rest of the warehouse-turned-trail includes courses fit for every level of biker. Most fall in the intermediate category, Petro says, while 25 percent are beginners and another quarter of the biking crew populates the advanced area. Surrounding these three skill-based sections is a quarter-mile lap spotted with berms that bikers can brave or bypass. Beginner lanes are wider with lower obstacles, but routes become tighter and hills grow taller as course levels progress.

Petro grins as he watches a biker shimmy around a berm and move on to the next obstacle. He's already talking about sidelining his redecorating business after summer to dedicate his full attention to the indoor park. Demand and feedback justify his dream.

"I've gotten e-mails and calls from people," he notes. "Some say, 'You stole my idea.' Others say, 'You're living my dream.' "

For more information, call Ray's MTB at (216) 631-7433 or visit www.raysmtb.com.

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