Interview and Intro by Jeremy Ball
Photos by Chad Ruhl
One of the best parts about living in the Midwestern part of the United States is the summers. Just as summers are amazing, winters make riding a challenge for everyone, from the weekend warriors to the most dedicated of riders. Some lucky people are able to migrate south for winter, while others do not have that opportunity.
Fortunately for those that stay in the Midwest, Ray’s MTB in Cleveland is there to help fix the winter time blues. Recently I took the opportunity to sit down with Ray’s Cleveland manager and rider, Keith Miller, to help give some background information on himself, the new ownership of Ray’s, and the park as a whole. Continue reading and see why Ray’s Cleveland is a must visit for riders of all levels and abilities. (Don’t forget to check out the Photogallery that goes along with this after the interview.)
Let’s start with the basics Keith, name, age, and birth location?
Name: Keith Miller
Born: Sarasota, Florida
What is your job title at Ray’s Cleveland?
General Manager. I guess you could say I’m the boss/decision maker.
How did you come to Cleveland?
Well, I was a beach bum, not really working a whole lot. I was in-between jobs and my dad called me and wondered what I was doing. He suggested that I come north to the Cleveland area and stay for a couple of weeks and try to get some things in life figured out.
I flew up and stayed on my dad’s cattle farm. Straight from the beach to the farm…culture shock to say the least…haha! Once I got here, I began to get my life together and I got some real jobs doing various things.
So once you got to Cleveland, coming from Florida, what did you do?
Once up here, a couple of my buddies were riding motocross, so I bought a dirt bike too. I ended up getting hurt a couple of times. Around the same time, I met a girl and we started dating. She had two kids and one was 5 and wanted to race motocross. He wanted a dirt bike, but I wasn’t going to put him on one, so I bought him a BMX bike instead. From there, it fired up the old school feelings that I had with BMX and it took me back to the original roots of my youth.
So then, what is your background in BMX?
I raced BMX from ‘74 to ‘81 in Florida. My first bike was a Schwinn Sting Ray. I still remember it. It was school bus yellow.
In ’74 I was only 5, so the first one was a smaller version of the Sting Ray with smaller bars and the block seat instead of the banana style one.
Any good stories from that time?
I always thought it was interesting that there were no real BMX bikes. Everything at the time was a converted Sting Ray with a coaster brake. I just remember the coolest thing ever was to finally get a free wheel set-up. You were cool if you showed up to the track with a hand brake and a free wheel. It was all converted from other styles of bikes, road bikes etc., whatever had a free wheel at the time, to fit a BMX bike.
What I do know, is that the stuff that you do a long time ago sticks with you. It is just engrained in your mind. It was natural when I got back into BMX because of what I did when I was a kid. With that being said, I’m not really into old school stuff. I’ve transitioned into a more modern style of riding.
Right, you’ve switched over to a Mountain Bike, care to explain why?
I switched because of Ray’s. I came here on a Standard Cruiser and there was a GT Demo going on. Along with the mountain bikes, they also had these 26” one-gear style jumping bikes. They were kind of an evolution of a mountain bike mixed with a cruiser. It was a bike that was more functional for other things and styles of riding. As soon as I got on it and started riding around I was hooked. I tried to go back and forth from my cruiser to that, but I couldn’t do it.
Let’s get to the talk of Ray’s, can you explain who currently owns it and how that happened?
Do you want the short story or the long story?
Give me the short story please.
So, Trek Bicycle Corporation owns it currently. Ray sold it to them. Even though Trek owns it, Ray is very much involved in everything. He has the say in how the park feels, looks, and a lot of the building that goes on. When everything first went down, I remember sitting in on a Trek board meeting, at the hallowed halls of Trek, where there is bicycle history everywhere. The quote that came from Trek’s director of marketing was “We don’t want to mess it (meaning Ray’s) up.” They don’t want to change anything. They want to back off the process. They don’t want to fix anything that’s not broke. They are looking at Ray’s as a developmental location to promote and market their goods, kind of like a big name sponsor for the park.
It is important to note that even though Trek owns it, when you come in here, you are not overwhelmed with Trek. We have a ton of sponsors that help out other than Trek. We have Subaru, Oakley, Red Bull, Profile, and tons of other people that help make Ray’s a reality. Ray’s is still its own business. We are completely self-sufficient apart from Trek. If we are not a successful business, Ray’s does not exist.
Do you think that there is a corporate feel at Ray’s Cleveland or do you think you have been able to maintain the original atmosphere that was created?
I think, from a customer’s point of view, nothing has changed. Every change has been behind the counter. We have become more efficient with better services. It is important to note that all of the people that work here ride. It is not like a big corporate skatepark where people aren’t vested into the sport. We are able to keep the local feel because Ray’s isn’t a job for anyone. It is a way of life, and that feeling transitions into the park in many ways.
What does your typical day of work involve?
Me? Well, I am responsible for everything that happens at the park. That includes the look, the feel, the cleanliness, the ramps, the building, and the parking lot. All of the operations of the park are my responsibility in making sure they get done.
I think the most important part of my day is the customer experience. Our number one goal is that people walk out of here with a smile. My day at work involves and revolves around making sure people are happy with what they get from here.
As far as the physical layout of the park is concerned, what changes have you made this year?
Well the major change this year was in the rhythm room with the addition of “Transferland.” That was probably the most notable change that we did this year that is easily visible.
The second thing is the new design of the pump track. It was a lengthy process, but it was totally worth it though. We also did some tweaks to the cross-country course (XC Loop). We gave the Subaru Park a new paint job and fixed some odds and ends around the park.
There are some notable things that we have done, but there are some things that we took out that people may not even notice. There is so much stuff here that you may not even realize that there were changes. That’s why it is rad. There are so many things to ride or do that people don’t even know things are missing from last year because they are replaced by more sections, lines, or obstacles.
Do you have any plans for any specific events this year?
We have a couple of things coming up called, one being called “Home of the Stars.” It starts in January and goes through April. Once a month we are going to have two pros come into the park and hang out for the weekend. No contests though, maybe next year.
(Keith told me that there are two very big legends coming in March that I have to keep under wraps. If you want to meet two of the biggest names in the history of BMX, visit Ray’s in March and be amazed.)
What about the “Odd Couple?” Are you going to bring that back?
Umm, we would love to bring it back. It was probably the most successful contest in my eyes. The vibe was great. There was no controversy because if everyone had a great time, how could there be controversy? Maybe… I would love to have it back. It was so kick ass. It was awesome to see what people did.
Care to explain Squizgarr? I don’t think most people know what to expect when they come to their stuff and see a cat nuzzled up on their coat.
Haha! Squizgarr is our feel good mascot. Unfortunately she is one-of-a-kind. If we ever lose her, it would be nearly impossible to replace her.
She just showed up one day. At that time, Nina worked here. Nina took her in and started feeding her. Then she just started living here. She has lived here ever since.
There is no purpose to her or reason other than she is awesome. She loves the park though. She loves the attention, the heaters, and the coats. This year we even made Squizgarr specific shirts for her. Buy a shirt and help support her cause.
What’s the best part of your job?
The job itself? Probably the riding aspect. It has allowed me to be able to ride my bike whenever I want and it has allowed me to live my dream of working in the business of bicycles.
If you have something that you are really passionate about, whatever it may be, chess, remote control cars, or anything, you always ask yourself: “How could I work in the industry in some way?” It was the same thing for me. Now I am able to work in the industry and do what I love every day for a living.
Getting my job was all by happen stance. I am lucky and I know that. I was in the right place at the right time and I am thankful for that.
It is still a job and I still have goals that I want to accomplish in whatever I am doing at work or on my bike. I get to deal with the behind the scenes type stuff, which can be good and bad. Work is not a party every day. But it is something that I can recognize that whatever was to happen during my day; there is no way I can complain about my job.
What’s the worst?
I really don’t have any bad parts with work. There are some small things, but overall it is all good. Come to think of it though, plowing the snow out of the driveway is the worst. Especially getting rid of the snow by the bottom part of the drive, by the entrance, that is terrible. This year, we don’t have a snow plow service. I’m dreading it. It is going to suck.
What’s the best thing you have ever seen done at Ray’s?
Taj’s line jumping through the rafters during the first Odd Couple contest was amazing. It was either that or JD Swanguen beating BMX and mountain bike legend Brian Lopes in the three-ride contest. During the contest, in the Subaru Park, he did an air and did this huge moto-whip. He ended up busting the fluorescent bulbs out of the ceiling in the Subaru room. It shut down the whole contest. I had no problem cleaning up that mess. I would gladly clean up messes like that anytime…haha!
I just can’t believe what people do when they find original lines here. Anything original is amazing to see. Stuff like Justin Simpson doing that crazy wall-ride in the Odd Couple. That just didn’t make sense. It was so rad.
Is there anything that you want people to know about the park? Are there any misconceptions that you would like to clear up?
Um, I think the term skatepark is used loosely to describe us and I don’t feel that we fit into that mold of being a skatepark. Ray’s has its own description and place and I don’t think we fit into the typical anything. We have elements of a skatepark, but I’m worried that it keeps people away. We are also not a mountain bike park only. We cater to all types of bikes. BMX bikes can ride anything here. If you come and visit, as long as you are open minded, you are going to have a great time.
I want everyone to know that each year when we rebuild the park, we make a conscious effort to ensure everyone that comes in here will be able to ride. We build ramps for every one of all levels.
We try to make it so that riders at all levels can have fun, from the professional to the weekend warrior. Our goal is to bring people together to ride bikes. We want to bring all levels of riders together to bring, regardless of what they ride.
Awesome Keith, thanks for you time.
Don’t forget to check out the Ray’s MTB Website to learn more about the park.