Q&A With Johnathon Allen, Author of “Ray’s: The Inspirational True Story of the World’s First Indoor Mountain Bike Park”

Ray Petro
Ray Petro

For hardcore mountain bike riders, Ray’s MTB Indoor Park in Cleveland is a legendary destination. Built out of the necessity for a place to ride during the long Ohio winters, the park is the brainchild of Ray Petro, a man who saw the potential of such a facility, and pursued that dream even when everyone around him said it was a foolish endeavor. The story of how this place first came together is the subject of a new book entitled Ray’s: The Inspirational True Story of the World’s First Indoor Mountain Bike Park by Johnathon Allen; it shares the tale of how Ray was first saved from substance abuse and addiction by his love for mountain biking and later came up with the concept that would eventually become the MTB Indoor Park. It is an inspirational story filled with wit, charm, and humor that is sure to entertain readers – whether they are mountain bikers or not. Recently, we sat down with the author.

Johnathon Allen
Johnathon Allen

THE CLYMB: How did you originally meet Ray? When did you become friends?
JOHNATHON ALLEN: The first time I spoke with Ray was in 2008 when Mountain Bike magazine asked me to write a profile on him. But we didn’t meet until 2010 when I went to the Cleveland park to do a story on Women’s Weekend for Bike. We’ve always had a natural rapport.

THE CLYMB: What initially drew you to Ray’s story? What made you want to write a book about his life?
ALLEN: He’s had such a crazy unique life. He’s really one of the last people you’d expect to change mountain bike culture. I think that’s what makes his story interesting. When I did the profile for Mountain Bike I knew there was a great book there—one that would be appealing to addicts and entrepreneurs alike, not just mountain bikers.

THE CLYMB: What did you find more interesting—the story of Ray’s life or the tale of building the world’s first indoor mountain bike park?
ALLEN: Given the sordid cast of rock stars, mobsters, coke dealers, and FBI agents … this is not your typical mountain bike story. The two are almost one and the same. But if I have to make a distinction, the story of how the first park materialized is pretty amazing.

THE CLYMB: What traits do you see in Ray that you believe helped make him a successful person? 
ALLEN: Ray is relentless at whatever he sets his mind to. And he’s very committed to his vision. Once he gets an idea in his head, he obsesses about it in a way normal people don’t. It’s a quasi-manic trait common to a lot of the successful creatives I’ve known. 

THE CLYMB: You’re a mountain biker yourself. What was your reaction the first time you heard that someone had built an indoor mountain bike park? 
ALLEN: Actually, a friend in Cleveland told me about Ray’s the first year it opened. My friend suggested I come out and do a story on it. But I just shrugged it off since I live in Oregon. We have world-class trails. Why would I want to ride inside a factory building in the Midwest? How interesting could it be? I was very wrong.

THE CLYMB: And when you rode the park for the first time? What were your thoughts?

THE CLYMB: In writing this book, did you discover the secret of what makes a successful indoor mountain bike park?
ALLEN: I like to think so. But there’s something ineffable about Ray’s. If you’re going to reach the kind of cult-like status that entices people to drive cross-country, I think you need more than just a cool product people really want. You need soul.

Ray Petro
Ray Petro

THE CLYMB: Why do you think no one else has been able to replicate Ray’s success? Is he the secret ingredient?
ALLEN: I wouldn’t rule it out. But the fact is, usually others trying to do the same thing settle for a building that just isn’t big enough. The Lumberyard in Portland is a good example. You can only pack so much bike wattage inside a former bowling alley. Ray was very fortunate to happen on the Cleveland rayon factory when he did. It gave the idea the room to grow.

THE CLYMB: What is the most inspiring aspect of Ray’s story for you personally?
ALLEN: If a crazy, off-the-rails cokehead party animal can change his life so radically that it changes the world, then anyone is capable of anything.

THE CLYMB: What has the response from readers been over the book so far? 
ALLEN: People love it. It’s a great story.

THE CLYMB: What message do you hope readers take away from the book?
ALLEN: I guess that depends on who they are. If they’re an addict, I’d want them to realize they have the power to radically change their lives for the better. If they’re an entrepreneur, I’d want them to feel inspired to keep pursuing their crazy dreams. If they’re a mountain biker, I hope it makes them want to ride the parks. There’s nothing else like them.

THE CLYMB: What’s next for you? Any other books in the works? New projects?
ALLEN: I have some fresh pitches making the rounds. We’ll see what catches. I’d love to do another non-fiction biography. Few things are more intriguing to me than telling real stories about real people. 

You can get a copy signed by Ray himself on the book’s official website