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