Ray Petro on Cleveland, mountain biking + saving his life

September 17, 2013

Kristin Butcher

Ray Petro made his dreams become a reality by building Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park in Cleveland, OH. (Photo: Ray Petro)

When you think of Cleveland, Ohio, mountain bike mecca may not be the first three words that come to mind.

At least not yet.

But spend some time chatting up Ray Petro, the Cleveland native and powerhouse behind Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park, and soon enough you?ll understand how one man completely transformed the mountain bike scene in this industrial outpost. Ray’s vision?110,000 square foot warehouse-sized spaces filled with wooden trails, jumps, elevated structures, and everything in between?has become reality in Cleveland. Better yet, the massive undertaking didn’t just influence Ray’s life. It saved it.

On discovering mountain biking?

After getting my driver’s license, my whole life became about beer, girls, and partying. By the time I was 30 I was really overweight, out of shape, and smoking cigarettes?I was just a pathetic mess who was addicted to drugs and alcohol.

I was sitting in a bar, and a guy came in with a copy of Mountain Bike Action. A few days later, in one of my drunken stupors, I dreamed about bicycles and when I woke up, I decided I was going to get healthy. So I bought a $200 Nishiki mountain bike.

On not-your-average first ride?

My first ride was pathetic. I had an ounce of cocaine and a fifth of Stoli with me. We rode about a mile, then I pretended I had to pee, so I could go behind a tree and snort some more coke.

But something clicked while I was out in those woods. It made me realize that I was in trouble?I was going to die if I kept up this lifestyle. I spent the summer of 1996 riding my bike and going to AA meetings. It was a magical, magical summer. Every waking moment I could, I was on my bicycle.

On falling down and getting up?

When fall came, it started raining more, getting dark earlier, the trails were muddy and people weren’t riding as often. A few days before Thanksgiving weekend, I was getting a bit depressed, so I decided to go out for a beer. I started thinking that maybe I didn’t have a problem after all, but by the third day, I had a bag of cocaine, I was bleeding from my nose, and had blood in my urine. I thought I was going to die. So I called my sponsor and I?ve been sober ever since.

I realized that I couldn?t get wasted any more, but I could ride my bike.

On the dream that started it all?

While I was detoxing for the second time, I had this crazy dream about an indoor mountain bike park and I couldn?t stop thinking about it. The idea kept my mind occupied and gave me something to do instead of getting in trouble. When I was bored or depressed, I?d sit down and draw pieces of this imaginary park.

Ray’s vision of an indoor mountain bike park has inspired a wave of other indoor bike parks throughout the country. (Photo: Ray Petro)

On turning dreams in reality?

I was talking to this older friend of mine, and he was going on about things he wished he?d done in his life. Then he asked me, ?What do you wish you?d done?? When I told him about the indoor park, he said he thought it was a great idea and that I should do it.

On the way home, I picked up a paper and found an ad that said, ?large space, low rent.? So I called the number and met Suzy, whose father used to manage the building. She walks me into the space and it’s perfect. Every other building owner didn’t want a bunch of people inside riding bikes?they wanted a factory or a big store?but she loved the idea.

When I realized it would take every nickel I had to build the park and that there would be nothing left for rent, she said, ?Don?t worry about rent for the first year. Just leave the place a little bit nicer than you found it, and if it doesn’t work, you can sweep up and we?ll part as friends.?

On anniversaries?

My sobriety date is Thanksgiving weekend of 1996. Seven years later, the park opened on Thanksgiving weekend. And now we’re coming up to the 10th anniversary of Ray’s Indoor Bike Park.

Kristin Butcher is a freelance writer based out of Boulder, Colorado, she spends her time writing about people, the outdoors and, of course, bikes. You can read her column, Butcher Paper, in BIKE Magazine.

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