What image does the term bike park conjure up for you?
In my mind, I saw miles of peaceful paths winding through glorious Bavarian forests. I realized my mistake when I arrived to test BMW's new bicycle and was handed a full-face helmet and body armor.
The countryside may have been stunning. I could not tell - my terrified gaze was fixed on the rocks, earth banks and tree roots leaping out at me from every angle. The bike path sometimes disappeared from under my feet almost vertically - and that was just the warm-up track.
I knew things were getting serious when guide Horst Blochl led the way to the main trails via a chairlift. BMW uses ski run names for its bike trails. My first trail was Red Run, which was 720 meters long with a 70-meter drop. I loitered nervously at the top as one lemming after another launched itself into the abyss. I had nearly summoned enough courage to start the descent when the rider in front of me fell off his bike. In a shower of dust and stones, he tumbled over the rocks for 10 meters before a steep banked corner brought him to an upside-down halt.
It was my turn now. Only sheer embarrassment stopped me from walking down the trail. Children and teen-agers thundered past, some of them flying by me at head height. But I was in no hurry. I carefully negotiated my way around anything that looked vaguely like a launch pad.
Eventually, I grew overconfident. On the last stretch, I picked up too much speed and, before I knew it, was powering up the nearly vertical approach to a massive jump called The Table. Taking off was easy. Landing was somewhat more difficult. I came down heavily on the flat top, then fell sideways and slithered down the grassy slope on my back. Luckily, my pride suffered more damage than my body.
Less daunting than the shorter, steep tracks was the 20-kilometer Free Ride. A mix of rough forest and bike track, it gave me a chance to appreciate the finer points of the Q bike's suspension system.
By the time I reached base, I was exhausted and exhilarated. Though I was a relative novice, BMW's course was the best two-wheeled challenge I have ever had. The skill required to control one of these things is immense, and the involvement in the ride is total.