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For Better or Worse? | Indoor Trail Centre Dirt Factory Could Revolutionise UK Mountain Biking

Dirt Factory could do for MTB what Snow Domes did for skiing...

The nights are dark and full of terrors. The afternoons are pretty much the same. The mornings are even worse, and things are especially frigid if you happen to live north of The Wall.

Welcome to winter in Great Britain, circa 2016.

Now, we know you’ve got your thermals, windproof jackets, lights and everything else you need to ride your mountain bike in every condition imaginable.

We also know that you love winter mountain biking – the puddles, the rain; the mud, sweat and beers. If you didn’t, you’d barely get out on the trails between September and May.

But let’s be honest for a moment. When was the last time you got out on your mountain bike during the week? If you’re lucky enough to live in a setting surrounded by hills and teeming with trails, the answer to that question may very well still be ‘yesterday’, and there are a lot of people that will be very envious of you if that is the case.

For many people though, the ‘local trails’ can be a solid hour or so away and not accessible without a tedious drive. This can limit riding time to weekends, but what if there was a way to go and take on some trails under a roof in the middle of a city, no matter what the time, visibility or weather outside?

Well, that may be about to become a reality in Manchester, where Dirt Factory are hoping to crowdfund the cash to become the UK’s first indoor mountain bike park – with donations opening February 1.

The park would feature progressive, flowing, indoor bike trails, skill areas, jumps and even foam pits. It’d also use real dirt as much as possible to try and duplicate the experience of the trails and allow the team behind the park to mix up the features every now and then.

Now, you probably need a bit of a time out after hearing all this. We can hear you rushing to the comments section to shout “it’ll never be the same”, “it’ll ruin mountain biking forever”, or “f*** you u d*ck stop try1ng to ki11 the 5port”.

Yes, you with the keyboard. Calm down. Hear us out.

No, an indoor bike park will never be the same as mountain biking on the trails, and there’s a whole host of experiences that you can only truly get a grip of when you’re riding out in the great outdoors.

But that’s not the point, and Dirt Factory know that. The ‘about’ section of their website reads: “We know you can’t replicate the outdoor experience. Our aim is to make mountain biking and BMX more accessible by bringing high quality trails to a highly populated area.”

We’re all for getting out to the trails at every available opportunity, and never letting a substitute come between a mountain biker and the mountains, but spare a thought for the impact this kind of accessibility could have on the popularity of the sport.

Dirt Factory could become a new hang-out for kids that spend every day mountain biking. The sport could even become the subject of regular school days out, and mountain biking as a whole could boom as a result.

Imagine your kid coming home after a day at school and begging to get up to the trails to show you that new cornering technique they’ve been learning about. They could even learn how to dig and sculpt trails and all about trail etiquette from an early age!

In 20 years time, the Brits could be dominating downhill mountain biking – we’re not half bad at it already – while also challenging the likes of Brandon Semenuk and Brett Rheeder, who will probably still be baller aged 40-something, in slopestyle, and flying high in Enduro and XC too.

The more time people spend on the fake trails, the further their fervour would grow to get back on the real ones. You hit the Dirt Factory and work on your skills, then get back out to the trails at the next possible opportunity to put your work to the test.

“The Snow Domes springing up around the UK in recent years haven’t deterred anyone from skiing or boarding in the mountains. Quite the opposite.”

For some purists of course, even the sheer amount of bike parks being built at all – indoor or out – is diluting mountain biking from the origins of raw forest riding, but the existence of trail centres has indisputably grown mountain biking, and the existence of an indoor set up would grow it also. If you still want to ride raw – good on you. Do it and send us the footage! But don’t forsake beginners for honing their skills on purpose-built features as well as in the trees.

Think about the artificial snow set ups/Snow Domes springing up around the UK in recent years. They don’t deter anyone from skiing or snowboarding on the mountains. In fact, their limitations mean that most people that go along for a ride are seriously eager to get back on real snow as soon as they’ve finished their session.

It would be the same with the indoor bike park. It’d be great for working on your skills and so forth, but the limitations; the crowds, lack of trail diversity or simple lack of bitchin’ scenery surrounding you on every side would mean that you’d always be rushing back to the trails after a session.

It could even pave the way for downhill mountain biking to get involved in the Olympic set up if it was a major success, though that’s another debate for another time.

So, what’s the status of Dirt Factory at the moment? Well, the park has already gained significant investment towards its planned target, but it will be relying on that aforementioned crowd funding campaign from the start of next month to raise the rest.

The target on Crowdcube will be £300,000, which is a lot of money, but hopefully with some good support and backing Dirt Factory can become a reality.

If you live in the Manchester area, or just like to see mountain biking booming in Britain, we’d recommend keeping a close eye on the Dirt Factory website and getting involved in their campaign.

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