It’s a drizzly January evening as I step out of my car at the end of a long gravel driveway in rural Whatcom County.
I can make out a handful of vehicles, each with a bike rack, although there’s no one in sight. Occasionally a faint whoosh tha-thump echoes in the distance, the sound of bike tires on wooden ramps. Not far off, an old horse arena is ablaze with light in the winter darkness. Welcome to the Bike Ranch, a lighted, covered bike park open to the public—the only one of its kind in the area.
The man behind this horse-farm-turnedbike-track, Steve Vogel, greets me at the entrance. Known as Vato Steve to most (the slang term means “bro” or “homie,” and the nickname was bestowed upon him years ago by a friend due to his affinity for lowrider cars), he is ever-present any time the track is open.
With a shovel, broom, or hose always close at hand, he keeps the dirt in tip-top riding condition, brushing away stray pebbles or patching divots from occasional crashes. All the while, he finds time to stoke the fire on chilly evenings or socialize with riding buddies new and old. Every so often, he’ll pull out his trusty dirt jumper for a few quick laps.
A Bellingham native, Vogel lived with his family in Mexico for a number of years before moving back to the area after high school. Regardless of location, bikes have long been part of his life. “I’ve always loved bikes,” he says. “I was one of those kids in the ’70s building plywood ramps in the driveway.”
Moving on to digging dirt jumps in the ’80s, he stuck to BMX, doing a bit of racing and even taking some early Galbraith laps on his 20-inch wheels. In the late ’90s his brother-in-law finally convinced him to get a mountain bike. To this day he spends time on both, and at the Bike Ranch it is common to see BMXers mixing it up with riders on larger-wheeled dirt jumpers.
Beyond bikes, Vogel’s other passion is cars. Specifically, the lowered, chromed-out, brightly colored, hydraulic-sporting beauties known as lowriders. Perhaps drawing from his youth spent in Mexico and the culture it imbued, Vogel felt drawn to the style. He began by making small modifications, before eventually moving to full-on custom rebuilds and the car-show circuit. His builds have been featured in Lowrider Magazine dozens of times.
An entire wall of his garage is covered in car-show trophies, and the floor space is packed with cars parked in tight formatio — otherwise they wouldn’t all fit inside. Each car has a name and is built to fit a theme. In front is El Gato Negro, a shiny black ’67 Chevy Impala with color-shifting undercarriage lights. To one side is Peanut Butter and Jelly, a jam-colored ’74 Chevy Caprice with a tan roof, its custom chrome grill sparkling under the garage lights. In back, almost overlooked, is the real showstopper: Poison Ivy, a poison-green ’95 Nissan Stanza decked out in mirrors, velvet, custom murals and ivy-leaf light covers. The place is pure car show.
Despite the dialed pump track and car shop, Vogel and his wife Selena have only owned the property since 2016. “We knew right away we wanted to buy it,” he tells me. “As soon as I saw the arena, I told my wife, ‘I’m building a pumptrack.’ She was on board with it from the start.”
Vogel sketched up some designs and started digging as soon as they closed on the property. With help from friends Scott Scamehorn, Spencer Baldwin and Andy Grant, among others, work progressed quickly. The first no-dig riding session took place about two months after the project started. Vogel still considers the track a work in progress and he’s constantly tinkering with flow or adding new features. He’s currently in the process of adding the Ranch Room, a covered area for group events or parties.
Sharing his track with the public has been Vogel’s intent from the start, and riders of all ages and abilities can be found there anytime it’s open. The Ranch offers reprieve from the rain, especially during the gloomy winter months, and becomes a place to congregate with friends and enjoy warm evenings in the summer. Former Olympian and perennial Queen of Crankworx Jill Kintner is a regular, as the Ranch helps her keep her pumptrack skills sharp.
“The Bike Ranch is such a great riding spot to get bike time in when it’s wet, dark, or you just don’t feel like climbing any more hills,” Kintner says. “Steve has meticulously hand-sculpted and sifted rocks out of the dirt for hours upon hours and has created a real work of art for the community to enjoy. For me, it has also been a great training zone to dial in my skills for all the pumptrack events at Crankworx, or to teach people fundamentals. I love getting creative and finding new lines with friends out there; we just play and have fun, which is what riding bikes is all about.”
The Bike Ranch is open to the public from 6-9 p.m, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Private parties and clinics can be arranged. To learn more, visit https://www.facebook.com/Dirtbmxplayground