Mountain biking is for the mountains. Or so goes the argument against ‘Dirt Factory’, the project looking to crowdfund the indoor bike park in Manchester which would be the first in the United Kingdom.
That said, the protestors against the project are few and far between. In some ways it’s actually quite surprising. After all, we’re talking about a sport where blood can be spilled over the size of a wheel.
"Is Dirt Factory looking to replace the great outdoors? No more than an umbrella is trying to prevent you from looking at the sky."
It seems that when push comes to shove though, even a bunch as opinionated as us mountain bikers can see eye to eye. Sure, the odd shout of blasphemy pops up in the comments section when Dirt Factory is mentioned online, but the drops of negativity are washed away by the floods of optimism and calls to arms that follow.
And so they should be. It’s not as if the people behind Dirt Factory have come from another planet to destroy mountain biking and enslave Steve Peat. This isn’t Space Jam. These are mountain bike people – and they know that they’ll never replace the great outdoors. Put simply, that isn’t the point.
“We’re never going to replace the outside," tells Mark McClure, one of the directors behind Dirt Factory. “We don’t want to.
“We’re trying to provide somewhere that’s fun and safe to access. Somewhere that gets people into riding and gives them the confidence to explore the outdoor trails. Somewhere that more advanced riders can come and have a go at riding in wind-free, dry, controlled trail conditions."
Mark has been riding a mountain bike for over 20 years now. His colleague and Dirt Factory founder Daniel Makin has been cycling for 19 years.
They both have a passion for mountain biking; Dan travelling the world with his bike and taking on trails from Whistler to the Alps, Mark working in bike park construction across the globe, introducing hundreds of kids to the sport through a non-profit business and even working as part of Andreu Lacondeguy’s dig team for Red Bull Rampage and beyond.
These are bike people; people who love the outdoors, the mountains, the dirt, the trails, and love mountain biking for what it is – a damn good time.
The reasons behind the project make perfect sense. For those who live near or next to the trails, great, you might get to ride every day, but for those who live an hour or more drive from their ‘local’, this kind of park could make all the difference – and think of how many more people would be keen to get involved in the sport.
Mark continued: “It’s a great way to introduce people to mountain biking and BMX; to grow the sport through people who aren’t already a part of it, and also to grow a scene within itself.
“There’s already been several successful indoor bike parks in the US and what I really like about them is that sense of community. We want to make an approachable place where anyone can come along and be part of the experience."
“The thing is as well," added Dan, “we’re using real dirt. So that allows us to change the track layout to customer needs.
“We’ll need between 10 and 15,000 tonnes of dirt. It’s a lot of dirt, but that’s the beauty of it! We’re stacking up shipping containers like giant LEGO bricks to build hills, but we’re going to have real trees, real grass and we’ll be able to accommodate all kinds of riding, from singletrack to dirt jumps, pump tracks, a kids area..."
School trips would be a regular feature. And just imagine the impact that would have. Kids would be desperate to get to the trails to tone their trade and show their parents, to hang out with their mates, and then to get up to the real mountains to show off their skills.
And in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s really freakin’ dark outside the majority of the time in Britain. During winter we go to work in the darkness and then leave when it’s darker. It’s like walking into the dressing room for ‘The Matrix’ and then never being able to leave.
Sure, for the hardened amongst the mountain biking community, night rides are a thing of legend and a thrill like no other. But it’s no way to learn, and it’s pretty damn difficult to practise in those conditions. Indoor bike parks would mean that you’d never find yourself in a situation where natural light decides the only time you’ll be riding is the weekend.
Is Dirt Factory looking to replace the great outdoors? No more than an umbrella is trying to prevent you from looking at the sky.
“What was really annoying us was all the poor weather that you get over here," admits Dan. “Especially all the rain in Manchester!
“There are a lot of cyclists in the city, but Manchester is renowned for its rainfall. There’s 234 days of rainfall a year. It lends itself well to somewhere you might want to be inside on a bike!"
Mark adds: “Indoor snow centres haven’t detracted from skiing or snowboarding, have they? In fact, more people are going because they’ve learned those skills in a controlled environment and then they can go and learn more on the mountain."
It’s a fair point, and a good comparison. Snow domes have become common through the UK, and the increase in the numbers of people skiing and snowboarding as a result is absolutely wonderful.
Perhaps if mountain biking followed suit, it could become the next big trend. Either way, for both Dan and Mark, the accessibility of the project is key. “You could just come along for a couple hours after work the same way a lot of people go to the gym after work," continued Mark.
“We’re going to have changing rooms, showers, other facilities, plenty of places to leave the bike. So you could just head along after the office, jump on the pump track and go home feeling happy!"
If the crowdfunding campaign is a success and all goes to plan, the first Dirt Factory would begin construction around May and look to open its door in late 2016.
"Winter in Britain is like walking into the dressing room for ‘The Matrix’ and then never being able to leave"
From there, the sky is the limit. The team are already in talks with the DMR Dirt Wars to host events, and if the project is proved a success in Manchester, the team would look at opening more centres around the United Kingdom.
How can you get involved? Head over to the Dirt Factory crowdfunding page, live from 1 February, and donate some of your dollar. It’s not as if you’ll get nothing in return.
“We’re using the Crowdcube platform," tells Mark. “So rather than just buying entries or shirts, we’re actually selling shares in the business. People who support Dirt Factory will own a little piece of it, and we’ve got opportunities from £10 upwards.
“What we’re offering is an anticipated 320% return on investment after five years on that. We think it’s important that if people are going to come and use this, why shouldn’t they own a little bit of it?
“And it’s giving something back to the scene. People are financially compensated for their investment as any investor would be, but it’s also a great opportunity for people to invest back into the world of mountain biking."
It sounds like a good idea to us, and with any luck in a few years time, we’ll be looking back laughing about the extra riding hours we’ve had and the boom of the sport, all thanks to a brightly lit warehouse in the cold British winter.
For more information about Dirt Factory and to learn more about contributing to their cause, visit the official Dirt Factory website here.