How a Swiss Trail Builder uses bicycles to bridge cultural divides in war zones

Claudio Caluori, a former mountain-bike pro Claudio Velosolutions , is on a mission: to get children on bikes. They don’t even have to pedal, they just pump. That’s how they pump their arms. Caluori’s 17 year-old Swiss company makes pumps tracks. These smooth, fast asphalt roads are kid magnets, with their curvaceous, skate-park-like appearance. Children of all ages can “pump” themselves on the bumps or rollers. Velosolutions has built more than 270 pump tracks all over the globe, many of which are for commercial clients.

Caluori’s latest venture, however, is philanthropic. Pump for Peace installs pumps tracks in areas of the world where they are most needed or where the community could benefit from the cohesion and – perhaps bizarrely – that a pump track brings.

He was installing one of many pump tracks in Israel when I spoke with him via Zoom in May. Because of rocket attacks by Hamas fighters from Gaza, he had sent his employees back home to Europe. He decided to stay. He believes that pump tracks, with their banked turns and jumps, can build bridges.

He said, “This is why it’s not why I’m running home, even though it gets a bit loud here.”

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I was curious how a bicycle track with a short course could possibly solve the multi-generational intractable problems of this most fractured part of the globe.

Caluori stated, “Our pump tracks can be used by anyone, regardless of age, no question where they come from, and no matter what their skill level is.”

“People mix and have fun together.”

Pump tracks can bring together warring communities where diplomatic missions or peace conferences have failed. Although it won’t happen immediately and certainly not directly, bonding over bicycles could pay dividends in the future, especially for those communities that aren’t used to mixing and don’t often play together.

He’s building the Pump for Peace tracks in Israel in residential schools called Youth Villages. These agricultural educational communities are home to many children from difficult backgrounds, some with learning disabilities.

Dr. Siegfried Lehrmann, an immigrant to Europe, established the Youth Village concept in 1927. The establishments–part-funded by the Israeli government–are open to all children, not just Jewish ones.

One of the pumps tracks is located at Ramat Hadassah Youth Village. I spoke with Moran Betzer the general director of the community.

She said that “Sports, specifically bike riding, can connect people and make us a better community.”

“Our village is multi-cultural. We are celebrating Ramadan tonight – the mother tongue of many of my children is Arabic. Many children from Ethiopia speak Amharic.

Other Youth Villages include Druze children and Arab Christian youth from Israel.

These Pump for Peace tracks were funded by the Bartali Youth in Movement program, which was founded two years ago by Ran Margaliot. Margaliot, the mercurial Margaliot, was previously the co-creator and leader of the Israel Cycling Academy. This professional team is now called Israel Start–up Nation. Chris Froome has been a four-time Tour de France winner.

Bartali Youth in Movement is a program that is based at the Ben Shemen Youth Village in Tel Aviv. It has equal numbers for Druze, Jewish, and Arab children.

An Arab-language video shows Addan, one the program’s Arab youths, explaining the concept to Lian. Lian is a young Arab woman who hails from Sha’ab in Lower Galilee, where a Bartali Youth in Movement centre will soon open.

Caluori stated that if the Bartali Youth in Movement (pump track program) was only available to one community, we wouldn’t call it a Pump For Peace track.

“Then they’d be just a regular client but because this track [we built] will be easily accessible to everyone, it can be a Pump For Peace project–the Bartali Foundation will also provide bikes so that any children can ride it.”

Unlike soccer–which in Israel can be intensely partisan, with some teams attracting far-right supporters–bicycling isn’t political, said Bartali Youth Leadership’s director Eran Zohar.

“If you meet me in the mountains riding my mountain bike and you have your helmet and sunglasses and I have mine, then we are equals. Together we would ride and have lots of fun together, before we find out who is behind the glasses and helmet. We use it as a tool to bring kids from all parts of Israeli society.

Caluori’s four pump tracks in Israel, which he has built or is currently building, are all-weather facilities. They are also smaller than soccer or baseball fields and compact.

Bicycle solutions

Caluori, a Swiss national, got into cycling through his first sport, hockey.

“My parents bought me a mountainbike when I was 15 to allow me to go to hockey training without having them drive me. It was so cool, that cycling was more exciting than hockey.

He started as a cross-country mountain biking racer and then switched to downhill, winning seven Swiss national championships from 1999 to 2005. He was fourth at the 2002 UCI World Cup in Mont Sainte Anne in Canada.

Caluori retired from competition in order to start and manage the Scott Velosolutions professional Mountain Bike Race team. In 2009 Caluori started laying trails in bike parks and he also built his first pump track from mud. Caluori’s order book exploded after he added asphalt to one of his first creations in 2012.

Caluori stated that “pump tracks have the same effect no matter where you live, in rich or poor countries, but they are always fun for people of all ages, all backgrounds, all faiths, and all skin colors.”

Pump tracks from Velosolutions cost $212 per square meter, which is an average of 1,000 sq. meters. This puts them out of reach for those communities that would be most likely to benefit.

Caluori stated, “We thought, what do you know? We need to make it possible in places that they cannot afford it?”

He added that it could also be used in places like war zones, where it is difficult to access. This is where children need it more.

Although a town in Lesotho was first to receive a Pump for Peace track in its inaugural year, the idea was born in Asia.

Caluori recalled, “We were building track for a Thai client, at the Cambodian frontier, right in front a poor village.”

It was like a little village, and it felt terrible building this track. I don’t know if the kids in the village will ever be able use it. All these children from the slum ran to our pump track after we had poured the last wheelbarrow with asphalt. They brought whatever they could, a broken skateboard, a rusty bicycle, or just a wheel. They refused to leave. They just rode and rode and rode and rode and rode. It brought me to tears. It was clear to me that we must make it possible for everyone around the globe.

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