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BMXers bummed about ban at New Tampa Skatepark

Matt Coplon, who lives in Seminole Heights, says he and other freestyle bikers feel betrayed by the ban at the New Tampa Skatepark.

ATOYIA DEANS | Times

Matt Coplon, who lives in Seminole Heights, says he and other freestyle bikers feel betrayed by the ban at the New Tampa Skatepark.

The gates opened at the New Tampa Skatepark last month, but not to all.

Namely members of the freestyle bike community.

Like Matt Coplon, a Seminole Heights resident who rides at different parks and places nearly every day. He attended public interest meetings about the park and gave his feedback on the design, hoping to make it a place for bikers, too.

"Next thing we heard was that they were breaking ground on the skate park," Coplon said, and that bikers would not be allowed to use it. "After putting in this time and effort we got nothing out of it."

Skateboarders and inline skaters can practice "ollies," kick flips and air grabs at the 15,000-square-foot concrete complex, but freestyle bicyclists have been banned, igniting responses from members of the tight-knit community from around the world.

The city was barraged with angry e-mails from bikers from Oxford, England, Canada and different reaches of the United States in the weeks before the $694,000 park opened, trying to change officials' minds about the ban.

But there wasn't enough money for beefed-up metal coping, which protects the concrete ramps, and for staffers to accommodate more users, said Brad Suder, project manager for the city's parks department.

Suder said craters can be caused by the metal pegs that bikers put on wheels to perform tricks. He saw that damage up close when some bikers broke into the park before it opened and ground down some concrete ledges.

"We weren't even finished with the park," Suder said.

The decision to restrict the park to skaters was announced during a second round of public meetings, he said.

Although some have questioned whether the city was influenced by Team Pain, the Orlando company that constructed the facility, Suder says that's not so.

"It was not their decision. It was ours as a department," he said. "Bikes do cause more damage than skateboards."

Suder noted that bikers can ride at two other city facilities: Desoto Park in Palmetto Beach near Ybor City and the "Bro Bowl" at Perry Harvey Sr. Park in downtown Tampa. Bikers also can use ramps and rails at the Skate Park of Tampa on designated bike days.

But a brand-new park with a bike ban did not sit well with the BMX community on Internet message boards.

A Web site, thecomeupbmx.net, has a message board section with a post titled "Get bikes in skate parks," "Save this park" and "Save this Tampa park 2." The messages include Suder's e-mail and phone number.

Suder created a general reply message to respond to the overload of e-mail.

"Several issues affected our ultimate decision to not allow BMX bikes at this particular facility," the reply stated. "They included increased construction costs to protect every edge with oversized rails, the types of damage bikes and their pegs cause, safety issues, maintenance issues, and decreased ability to provide adequate staff to allow both kinds of users."

Riding is Coplon's life. The 31-year-old has worked at Profile Racing in St. Petersburg, a freestyle bicycle parts manufacturer, for nine years. He said the freestyle BMX sport depends on parks being built and bikers being able to use them.

He and other bikers said they can remove the metal pegs. At least one suggested using plastic ones. Bikers also asked to have biker-only days.

The city is looking into both options for the New Tampa park, Suder said.

About 30 kids a day use the park during the week and about 60 a day use it on weekends.

Zack Yankush lives in Ohio and is the host of a BMX show on Fuel TV and of X-Games competitions. Known as "Catfish" to bikers, he has ridden for more than 20 years.

He sent an e-mail to Suder after hearing about the ban from a friend who lives in St. Petersburg.

"I know a lot of BMX riders travel to Florida and this new skate park is one more reason to hit up the awesome city of Tampa. Please ... don't exclude a ton of good kids ... just looking to stay out of trouble and ride their bikes," Yankush wrote.

Randy Myhre, 38, has owned Oliver's Cycle Sports near the New Tampa Skatepark for about four years. He had hoped the park would increase the bike business.

But now "they are basically dangling a carrot in front of these riders," Myhre said. "They are going to essentially turn them into criminals.

"There are things they could do to make the park more accessible, but they don't want to talk about it."

Yankush wonders how bans like these will affect the future of the sport.

"It absolutely kills me when communities don't let kids in," he said.

"How many potential riders are going to give up for not being let in?"

Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 269-5314 or jleone@sptimes.com.

BMXers bummed about ban at New Tampa Skatepark 05/20/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 21, 2009 2:07pm]
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