By Frank Comstock
Brendon Morfe’s dream is to get kids out from behind their electronic devices and give them a safe place to get exercise and fresh air on something that would be new for Bordentown: a pump bike track that he hopes to have ready for use by July 4, 2018.
Pump bike tracks are not yet common in New Jersey, but thanks to companies in both Europe and the United States, they are becoming more popular. Formed in a continuous loop of round bumps and banked turns, these tracks offer kids of all ages the option of riding by using momentum rather than pedaling all the time. Pumping is the art and science of controlling and managing pressure to generate propulsion.
“They’re a ton of fun to ride on,” Morfe said. “I’ve been on a couple and they are awesome and I really want to bring this to Bordentown. The reason it is called a pump bike track is that with just a series of small hills and turns, you have to use the momentum from your weight to pump down and you actually ride the bike, but you don’t pedal to develop the momentum.”
Bringing a new recreation concept to town is not always easy, although Morfe has been pitching the idea around town for some time and is finding widespread interest.
“What we found talking to people was that parents generally like the idea of a safer place to ride bikes because right now it’s usually on the sidewalk where they have to be aware of pedestrians or in the street where it isn’t always safe,” he said. “So, to have a place where kids could ride safely is generally welcomed.”
Morfe acknowledges there are great playgrounds in Bordentown for the younger children, but he worries that there aren’t enough recreational activities for the older kids.
“When the kids outgrow the playgrounds, there isn’t a lot to do in town,” he said. “They find themselves bored and stuck behind electronics. I believe that any day spent on a bike beats a day behind a screen, so I’m trying to do my part and make something great.”
Building on successful pump bike tracks in Washington state, Philadelphia and New York City, Morfe, with assistance from Bordentown residents Shawn Feeney, Mike James, Nick Schino and Jennifer Kovak, has been making presentations to Bordentown City officials and the public at large.
“I met Mike and Jennifer at a commissioners’ meeting where I set up my presentation and they came up to me and were inspired and wanted to help,” he said. “My hope is that we’re at the cusp of getting permission to build. I’m using a successful project in Washington state as my template to model here. I’ve been working with the city of Bordentown for the last three or four months. It is a newer concept, so there’s been a lot of education. What is this thing? How safe is it? Is it permanent? What does it look like? Where will we build it?”
Using examples of other tracks and their operational experience, Morfe believes he has convinced Bordentown officials the concept is workable, although he acknowledges actual approval of a track and a location are still in the future. So far, he’s looked at space near a playground and the farmer’s market, and some vacant lots owned by the city.
“We’ve gotten past the question of is it safe and what does it look like,” he said. “In this one square mile of Bordentown, I have found nine possible sites that could work. What’s really popular about these tracks in urban areas is that they don’t need a lot of space like a traditional skate park or a traditional BMX bike park.”
Pump bike tracks can fit on small plots that may not be suitable for commercial development, so a town might be able to use abandoned property or a plot that would otherwise go to waste.
“We need about 8,000 square feet,” Morfe said. “That is pretty small, but would allow a hundred kids and bikes on the track. We’re getting there and after receiving permission my hope is that I can concentrate on fundraising.”
Morfe is looking to VeloSolutions of Switzerland, one of the leading pump bike track builders, to guide the construction phase. Fundraising is in progress.
“I’ve asked the city to let me build it, but I’m not asking them to pay for it,” he said. “These tracks can be expensive, about $200,000. My hope is that this will be maintained as a city park. Just like the city owns all the parks and basketball courts, I’m asking them to let me build this and pay for it. There’s not much maintenance on these tracks, so the city would really save compared to a traditional playground.”
The tracks can be built with a dirt surface or a dirt base with a covering of asphalt or concrete. Morfe is strongly in favor of the asphalt method, which is applied by hand and firmed and hardened with walk-behind vibrating machines similar to those used to set a paver patio.
“There’s a ton of maintenance with a dirt track and with dirt, and you can’t ride skate boards or roller skates or scooters,” Morfe said. “I want to make this inclusive for all wheel types and interests. Cement is an option, but it is more prone to cracking. For an all-inclusive surface, asphalt is the best. They are more expensive to build in asphalt, though.”
This would be the first asphalt track in New Jersey. Philadelphia has a dirt track and Doylestown, Pennsylvania just gave permission for a dirt track.
“Kids are riding bikes on the streets and sidewalks, so you have to ask if it is safer to ride in a designated location,” Morfe said. “As a parent of two young kids, I want my kids riding bikes, but I can’t take them on the roads on their own bikes. This is a cool way for parents to reconnect with their kids that is not electronics based and at a minimum cost. There is physical activity and socialization with other kids in their own age group. Kids have birthday parties at these tracks. It becomes a community hub that generally is really good.”
The parents of two young children, Graham and Elinor, Morfe and his wife Anna hope to bring their love of cycling to the children of Bordentown. The couple hail from West Windsor, but chose to live in Bordentown for the sense of community they felt there. Morfe notes that he wants to be a better citizen and contribute to his community now that he works locally and has more time without a long commute into New York every day.
“The reason it’s been two wheels and two pedals for so long is that it’s just fun. Riding a bike is something you can do all your life,” Morfe says. “I’m a bike head, and my hope is that I can share my love of it with my kids and we can do it together.”
Morfe proudly points to a framed quote from President John F. Kennedy on a wall in his home: “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.”
While some fundraising is ongoing now, Morfe will raise funds in more depth once he receives building permission from the City of Bordentown.
“Without permission, we don’t really have a project. My hope is to work with some businesses that believe in this mission,” Morfe said. He is also hoping for some corporate funding from companies interested in health and will work with a friend who is a professional cyclist and an employee of a major pharmaceutical company. “My hope is that anyone who thinks kids riding bikes in a safe environment is a good idea will want to partner with us.”
Morfe notes there will be opportunities for local businesses to donate materials such as dirt, asphalt, hospitality and machines. His group is a non-profit, so anyone who donates time resources or money should be able to get tax reductions.
“We invest in our kids here in Bordentown with several playgrounds, but when they outgrow the playgrounds, which is relatively young, then what?” Morfe said “There are restaurants and bars for adults and swings in playgrounds for the small kids, but nothing much for the 12-year-olds. There’s a need for things for those kids to do.”
“People love living here because there is so much you can do in Bordentown and even walk to most of it. This is a great little community. It was a hidden gem, but it’s getting known. There’s a lot of young families in town and I’m hearing that they want new and safe things for their kids to do in a controlled environment and I’m hoping to do that with this project.”