12th May 2021
The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast
EPISODE 275: Pump for Peace with Claudio Caluori
SPONSOR: Jenson USA
HOST: Carlton Reid
GUEST: Claudio Caluori
TOPICS: “The kids were just riding and riding and riding and riding, and I had tears in my eyes.” A chat about Pump for Peace with downhill mountain biker and trail builder Claudio Caluori of Velosolutions, the world’s foremost pump track construction company
Carlton Reid 0:13
Welcome to episode 275 of the Spokesmen cycling Podcast. This show was uploaded on Monday 17th May 2021.
David Bernstein 0:24
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Jenson USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Jensonusa.com/thespokesmen. Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast cycling podcast at www.Fredcast.com. I’m one of the hosts and producers of the Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast. For shownotes links and all sorts of other information please visit our website at www.the- spokesmen.com. And now, here are the spokesmen.
Carlton Reid 1:08
I’m Carlton Reid and today’s guest may sound very familiar to you, that is if you’ve watched any downhill mountain bike videos in the last few years. Claudio Caluori’s course preview videos for Red Bull and others tend to go viral and not just because they showcase his great bike handling skills but because he keeps talking into his GoPro helmetcam even on the craziest of descents. Claudio is also an asphalt artist, known to many as Mr Pump Track. Since 2004, his Velosolutions business has built more than 300 pump tracks around the world. On today’s show Claudio talks about how he got into mountain biking and how his Pump for Peace project fosters community cohesion. He was talking to me from Israel where he’s constructing the first two of four pump tracks for the Bartali Youth in Movement project. The pump tracks are located in diverse communities where Jewish, Druze and Arab kids bond through bicycling. With air raid sirens blaring Claudio is carrying on …
Carlton Reid 2:20
Lots of people …. I know you your your voice, your infectious laugh from mountain bike commentary and my my background was originally in in mountain biking. So tell me about how you got into mountain biking to begin with? Because I heard you were a hockey player originally.
Claudio Caluori 2:42
Yeah, in fact, I was a hockey player in Switzerland as a kid. And my parents bought me a mountain bike. So I could actually go to hockey training everyday by myself, so they wouldn’t have to drive me every day. And well, that was really cool. But it was so cool that it became more interesting than the hockey playing itself. So I soon after switched to mountain bike racing, which at first for me was cross country racing. And only a couple years later, I got into downhill racing.
Carlton Reid 3:15
So it’s a good background to have, you know, if you’re if you’re if you can do both disciplines really well.
Claudio Caluori 3:20
Yeah, yeah, it helped in many ways.
Carlton Reid 3:22
And then I mean, you’re like a multiple Swiss champion. And so yeah, you’re pretty good at this, weren’t you? Yeah. Was that the Swiss champion in XC or
Carlton Reid 3:31
Claudio Caluori 3:32
That was in downhill and dual slalom.
Carlton Reid 3:34
What, what, what kind of time period we’re talking here, Claudio? When, when were you at the top of your game?
Claudio Caluori 3:40
Well, that was somewhere between 1999 and 2005 or so. And then I I quit racing at 2008 when I started my own racing team.
Carlton Reid 3:52
And what happened there?
Claudio Caluori 3:54
Well, I ran the Scott Velosolutions World Cup team for 10 years, up until two years ago.
Carlton Reid 4:02
And then you went at the same time, or before this in fact, you’d already started the pump track building business — was that 2004?
Claudio Caluori 4:12
2004 is when we founded Velosolutions but back then, pump trucks were not really a topic around the world yet. So we were just basically a normal trail building company that did bike parks, like any other trail building company. So the whole pump track thing only came up in 2009.
Carlton Reid 4:34
How long does it take for you to build a pump track does this did obviously depend on on location, the size all these kind of things? Or is there an average where you can say well, an average one is takes this amount amount of time?
Claudio Caluori 4:49
Yeah, obviously it does, it does depend on the size. But we usually as as an average of 1000 square metres, it would take us around three weeks. Now, if we do projects like here in Israel, we try to accelerate it. And, you know, like, just get the maximum efficiency out of it. Also to make it more affordable. But we couldn’t hold that pace throughout the year because I would burn all of my people if we went at that pace all year long.
Carlton Reid 5:29
So when you say your people, how many people does it take, in those three weeks to
Carlton Reid 5:34
build a pump track?
Claudio Caluori 5:36
During the rough shaping of the track we are usually five and then during the asphalt phase we’re between 10 and 12, depending on how big the track is. And obviously, everything is very different in the current situation here in Israel.
Carlton Reid 5:57
Yes, we’ll get onto that in a moment. Now, you mentioned asphalt, because asphalt is your signature material, isn’t it? Whereas most people, well my experience of pump tracks has been they’re dirt. So what why did you go for asphalt? What, what does it have over ever? So why do you prefer asphalt basically?
Claudio Caluori 6:16
Yeah, so up until 2009, all the pump trucks around the world were built in dirt. And I also appreciate that, appreciate it that very much, I loved it. And I was riding pump tracks, and was one of my favourite things. But this is not really something you could do for cities. Because if they buy a pumptrack from you, they might as well just hire two people to keep it in shape, because it’s obviously constantly falling apart. So a friend of mine came up with the idea of mixing cement in it into the dirt. And I then said, well, if we do that, we might as well do it right and build it in concrete, which was the first step towards the asphalt then, which was already a pretty good success; from 2009 to 2012. And then in 2012, a city nearby from where I live, asked me, Hey, we want the pumptrack from you. But we have a suggestion. We give you a road construction company to help you. But we want you to try out asphalt. And so I went to the headquarters of that road construction company. And I’ve built a berm for them in their backyard. And they tried to lay asphalt on it, and it worked. And so we then built the first asphalt pump track in 2012. And it was such a big success that that basically started the whole hype for pump tracks around the world. And by now we’re building pump tracks in every country.
Carlton Reid 8:08
Now, Velosolutions is the name of your company, but then you’ve got pump tracks for peace. And the first one for that was in Lesotho?
Claudio Caluori 8:18
Yeah, so Pump for Peace was basically an idea that we had after seeing what our pump tracks do, what an effect they have around the world, no matter where you are, whether that’s in a rich country, or in a poor country, they always have the very same effect, where people of all ages of all backgrounds of all beliefs, whatever poor and rich, whatever skin colour, they get go, they get together on those pump tracks, and they have fun on it. And we thought, you know what, we really need to make this possible in places where they could not afford it. Or where no one would go because it’s too too sketchy because it’s some war zone or whatever. And that’s where the kids need it even more. So that that’s the idea behind Pump for Peace. And that is also the reason why we’re now in Israel.
Carlton Reid 9:23
Now again, we will we will get there in the end, don’t worry, and I’m gonna I’m gonna like I’m gonna I’m gonna I’m gonna pump you, you could say for for Israel right at the end. But go back to Lesotho because that’s the first one, so that was that was 157 metres long. Is that about the average what’s what’s the shortest and what’s the longest pumptrack that you’ve done?
Claudio Caluori 9:46
Well, the shortest is probably around 20 metres in someone’s backyard. The longest one is around 420 metres in China because that this guy specifically wanted the longest pump track in the world. And that’s probably until we talk to the next Chinese client, because this one will also want to have the longest in the world.
Carlton Reid 10:12
That’d be quite tiring. And that’s really like going out for a mountain bike ride on a pump track that long.
Claudio Caluori 10:16
Yes, actually, that’s why we don’t recommend really to build that long pump tracks because it is really tiring. And it’s gonna be super hard to make it around the full lap. And yeah, so Lesotho was actually our first peace project that was connected to a video project that they really wanted me to be part of. And I said, I really have no time I need to be, I need to build pump tracks in India and in Chile, and I am really booked, I cannot come for a video project in Lesotho unless you can combine it for us with our first ever Pump for Peace project. And there was actually a guy waiting just for that. So while we while I went down there for this video project, we built that first Pump for Peace pump track and yeah, that’s how we got it all going. And by now, we even had qualifiers for the Red Bull pump track World Championships on that track in Lesotho. And we actually have kids from Lesotho taking part of the world championships finals.
Carlton Reid 11:35
Yeah, I’ve I’ve watched that video. It’s fascinating and wonderful. And it’s I guess the thing that that comes across, are the kids smiling. So is that what keeps you fired up the fact, that wherever you build these pump tracks, wherever in the world you do these whether it’s a huge one in China, or a small one in somebody’s backyard, it’s just the kids. Smile. They just love these things.
Claudio Caluori 11:57
Yes, yes. And you can imagine, if you go to a country like Lesotho that effect, when you see hundreds of kids just storming the pumptrack, once you’ve laid down the last tonne of asphalt. I have to tell you a little story about how this whole idea with Pump for Peace came up. It was actually when we were building a track in Thailand, at the Cambodian border right in front of a little village, almost a little slum you could say. And it was for a very rich client. And I kind of felt bad to build the thing in front of the slum, not knowing if these kids living in this slum will even be able to use it, if they even have bikes. And so it was kind of mixed feelings there. You know, we were kind of happy to have this job in Thailand. But at the same time, we were not sure if this was just something super exclusive to the rich, or if the kids that live next door if they would have access to it. But the answer was given right in the moment where we poured out the last wheelbarrow of asphalt, because all of these kids from that slum ran to the pumptrack with what ever they had, you know, like if it was an old broken skateboard or a rusty bike, or even just a wheel to run around on the track with it. And they would not leave. They were just riding and riding and riding and riding. And I had tears in my eyes. And I knew we have to make this possible all around the world.
Carlton Reid 13:54
Let’s define pumptrack as you mentioned a skate park there. So what’s the difference between a concrete skatepark and an asphalt pump tracks? What is it, the flow? The fact that you use … Yeah, tell me what what’s the difference?
Claudio Caluori 14:10
A pump track usually not always, but usually is a track and not a park, which means people are going in the same direction. Obviously you can also ride it in the other direction. But it’s it’s a loop. It’s a track that loops and you can you can go around it as many times as you want and you don’t actually have to pedal your bike on it. And that’s why it’s called a pump track because you use the shapes of the pump track to accelerate so meaning all of the rollers and all of the steep turns. If you pump your bike correctly, you will accelerate with every roller and the better you get, the faster you get and you’ll be able to to jump some of those rollers, or even several of them, and combine the track, in several ways, because we decided in a way where you can jump out of a corner and land on another straight. So in that way, it’s similar to skate park because it allows you to, to be creative with your line choice. But when there’s many people using it at the same time, then people just stick to the same direction. And so it’s not like in a skate park where you have to wait for one guy to finish his ride, and then you can drop in on a pumptrack there’s actually many kids who can ride at the same time.
Carlton Reid 15:50
Mmm. And when you get bare plots of land, you get this blank canvas, does something about that blank canvas say, well, I think we should have, you know, a certain number of berms, a certain number of platforms here. Are they kind of like standardised? Or is every single one going to be be different? What what are the design parameters that you’re you’re considering when you’re when you’re putting in a pumptrack?
Claudio Caluori 16:21
Well, we are around that 270 tracks around the world so far, and I have not designed two of the same ones yet. So literally, every single contract is designed from scratch. And, obviously, we want it well, the biggest parameter of all the solutions contracts is that it must be suitable for both beginners and pros. So we want a beginner to have fun on it. And we want a pro athlete to have fun on it, meaning that all rollers must actually be rollable. And so there’s no gap jumps where a beginner would, would hurt himself if he doesn’t make it over the gap. Yet, the pro athlete must find enough challenges for him for the track to be interesting for him. And so over the last, what is it since 2009, so that’s 12 years, we have constantly developed the designs further that the turns have gone steeper and higher, the distances have gone bigger, the height of the rollers and the combinations. So we’re constantly pushing, pushing it a little further.
Carlton Reid 17:45
You’ve mentioned where you are you’re in you’re in Israel at the moment. Are you in northern Israel? Whereabouts in Israel are you?
Claudio Caluori 17:51
Well, right now I’m sitting in northern Israel. But the two tracks that we’re building are around Tel Aviv. So right where it happens.
Carlton Reid 18:04
Yes, so Israel is in the news at the moment. So how can — everybody’s gonna ask this — how can a pump track have any chance of breaking down the many, many long and intractable problems that that, well, not just Israel, but that part of the world has what kind of pump track do that, say, diplomatic missions and all sorts of different things that have been tried over the years, what can the pumptrack bring to the table?
Claudio Caluori 18:37
Our pump tracks
Claudio Caluori 18:38
are used by any by everyone, no matter age, no matter where he comes from, or comes from, no matter the skill level, no matter how poor or rich you are. And the people just mix on these pump tracks and have fun together. And my belief is that even here in the Middle East, these kids will learn. I mean, in reality, they already do live together. It’s not like it’s not like they’re completely separated, despite what’s going on with all the missiles and everything. But we are working together here with the Bartali Youth Movement foundation, which wants to educate the kids through sports. It wants to show the kids that there’s something else that than just the army. They can do different things in life than a career in the military. And yeah, this is this is why we’re here. This is what we believe in. And this is also why I’m not running home. If even if it gets a little loud here.
Carlton Reid 19:56
So you’re building these in they’re called Youth Villages Yes. So that these are multi faith basicall people for many, many communities, kids from many, many communities are in these these villages. So you’ve got the Jewish kids obviously you’ve got Druze kids you’ve got Christian Arabs, you’ve got Muslim Arabs and some of them so these are kind of like petri dishes these are communities of multi multi community things so is that gonna help with the pump tracks it’s just that there’s lots of different people from all sorts of different backgrounds basically mixing with bicycles or with whatever they using for to get around the pumptrack?
Claudio Caluori 20:44
Yeah, and that’s also why we call it a Pump for Peace project because if it was exclusive to just one one community then we would not call it a Pump for Peace track then then it would just be a normal client but since we had it confirmed that this will be accessible to anyone we put it under the organisation of of contracts and sorry Pump for peace, and the Bartali foundation will also provide bikes to the kids and they will have an educational programme on it and even come up with with a race series on those five or six tracks that it’s gonna be
Carlton Reid 21:37
Okay, if I wanted to have a pump track in my back garden, I had the suitable space How much would I be looking at that to get you to do and not a Pump for Peace one but just a standard pump track?
Claudio Caluori 21:54
Well, how about how big is your backyard?
Carlton Reid 22:00
Let’s just say it say I’ve got a tennis court I’ve got a tennis court that’s not being used — I haven’t by the way — but if I’ve got a tennis court in my backyard and and I just think well let’s let’s make that into a pump track instead.
Carlton Reid 22:13
How much would a tennis court size pump track cost?
Claudio Caluori 22:18
Is a tennis court is right around 2300 square metres, would that be or would it be more?
Carlton Reid 22:29
You really I’m not the right person to ask cos I don’t have a tennis court in my back yard. I’m just I’m just trying to get it like a ballpark figure here, literally.
Claudio Caluori 22:38
They will be obviously that depends on the country you’re in. You’re in the UK if I’m right. So I think the UK pricing is but I might be wrong, I would I would have to call my UK partner that would be around £150 per square metre. So now I already had a glass of wine. Maybe my calculating is is not that good anymore? So 100 square metres times 150 would be 15,000 so we’re talking about £45,000 but I might be completely off. No okay, so for 300 square metres that that sounds right
Carlton Reid 23:31
yeah. And why the difference in in country prices just the price of asphalt the price of labour what’s what
Carlton Reid 23:39
are the what are the things that you’re considering here?
Claudio Caluori 23:41
Yeah, obviously machinery, asphalt and crushed stone and whatever other materials you need local labour. Yeah, that those are very different factors in every country. And you know, like Switzerland, super expensive. UK is also super expensive, then America is also expensive. But then you go to countries like Lesotho or India where you can build things a lot cheaper.
Carlton Reid 24:17
So that might sound expensive. But when you compared to say a playground, I mean playgrounds cost an enormous amount of money when when a local authority or council put one in, they they they cost a lot of money. But these things are very cost effective, because they’re being used 24/7, almost, you know, there’s always gonna be somebody on them, isn’t it?
Claudio Caluori 24:40
Yeah, I mostly compare them with soccer fields because soccer fields are a lot more expensive than our pump tracks and they’re, in my opinion hardly ever used. But now now I’m going to have a lot of haters but you know, like when a soccer field stands there, then it’s mostly empty until the club the local club starts its training in the evening. And then there’s a bunch of people on it but a pumptrack literally, as you say they’re always packed with the kids unless they’re in school but then that’s the time where the way the athletes can get on it because the athletes cannot really use the pump trick when when a million kids are on them.
Carlton Reid 25:27
What are your next plans after you’ve after you’ve left Israel? What do you what do you what’s you’ve got coming up?
Claudio Caluori 25:35
Probably have to go commenting on some on some of the downhill World Cups. But we’ll see. We might have another one in Kathmandu, another Pump for Peace track coming up, then we have one in Armenia coming up. And yes, I’ll stay flexible. There’s actually this summer is going to be quite packed with a lot of video stories as well. And with those videos stories, I’m trying to raise money for Pump for Peace so we can go build more, more of these tracks.
Carlton Reid 26:14
Wonderful. Tell us where people can find out more information on Pump for Peace and Velosolutions, and maybe you on social media.
Unknown Speaker 26:27
Well on social media my it’s just my name Claudio Caluori both on Instagram and on Facebook. I’m not very, very active on Facebook and more active on Instagram, or YouTube as well. Same thing for for Velosolutions, it’s Velosolutions.com. And for Pump for peace, it’s PumpForPeace.com
Carlton Reid 26:50
Thanks to Claudio Caluori there and thanks to you for listening to the Spokesmen Cycling Podcast. Show notes and more can be found on the-spokesmen.com. That’s it for this month, there will be more episodes in June … meanwhile get out there and ride.