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The thrills of Toronto’s new Sunnyside Bike Park: ‘You have a couple of spills, but it’s worth it’

Israel Ramirez tests out Sunnyside Bike Park, Toronto’s first large scale city-sanctioned bike park.

Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

Toronto's first large-scale, city-sanctioned bike park has opened between High Park and Lake Ontario. Sunnyside Bike Park is the first major effort to bring those who would fly through the air on bikes out of the city's ravines and into the mainstream; there's reason to think it won't be the last.

A narrow strip of land east of Ellis Avenue between the Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard West is now packed with both aerial and ground-based features for beginners to expert riders: serpentine pump tracks, bermed corners, ramps, log "skinnies," a wall ride and plenty of tabletop and gap jumps.

It's the result of a seven-year, $500,000 project with designer Jay Hoots, the B.C. native who was on hand last month to oversee a volunteer work night with local riders.

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Mr. Hoots watched as three riders rolled an 80-kg boulder up a slippery clay and dirt hill to place it at the bottom of a steeply descending wooden ramp.

He might have helped, but he'd separated his shoulder the previous week while product-testing one of his parks in Richmond, B.C.

After getting the green light to test the boulder's placement, a rider rolled down the ramp, over the rock, onto the dirt and gave his approval. The next rider took air off the top of the ramp and didn't make contact with the dirt until well past the boulder. This was met with more widespread approval.

Mr. Hoots is only too happy to see his riding feature reinterpreted.

"We live in a society that is getting more litigious and more about defined recreational opportunities," he said. "We're getting away from nature, but these people are embracing it."

Lubomyr Petrusyak expects he'll embrace it nearly every day. The 15-year-old lives in the west end, but heads across the city every weekend to ride the trails and jumps in the Don Valley. He dusted himself off after coming down hard off one of the elevated and undulating wooden pathways. "You have a couple of spills, but it's worth it," he said.

He thinks the city got it right with his new neighbourhood park. "This is amazing. It probably exceeds everyone's expectations," he said.

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Ricky Corbin agrees. The 25-year-old is recently arrived from Barbados where he rode "renegade" parks, similar to the 20 to 30 unsanctioned jump parks found throughout Toronto's ravines. He said the official park will help new riders into the sport. "There's only so much you can do in a renegade build," he said. "Here, it's all in one spot, from the smallest jumps to the biggest. The scale of this will progress riders a lot faster."

Traffic on the adjacent Gardiner Expressway began to slow as more riders tested the features. Standing high on the park's main elevation, city councillor Sarah Doucette said the sight of airborne cyclists won't be too troublesome for an expressway that is already beset by construction slowdowns and billboard distractions. Besides, she said, the novelty may soon wear off. "Maybe we need to build more of these around the city."

Plans for the next one are already well developed. City staff held a public meeting in May to unveil the design for a similar park in Marie Curtis Park, near Lake Shore Boulevard West at the western edge of Etobicoke.

Scott Laver is an acting supervisor in the natural environment trails program, the wing of the forestry department spearheading these projects. He explained that Marie Curtis already has a renegade bike park. Bike parks, he said, are at least in part an effort to protect Toronto's green spaces by keeping knobby wheels in sanctioned areas.

As for the other part, Ricky Corbin only hopes he's as pleased with the next park as he is with this one.

"I didn't expect something on this scale," he says. "It's awesome."

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