Chances are, if you're a mountain biker in the UK, you've heard of the Dirt Factory and what they are trying to create. It has been a long time coming and after years of sacrifice, the team has finally secured funding to put their plan into action. We caught up with Dirt Factory founder and director, Dan Makin to find out more and what comes next.
First of all, congratulations on reaching your funding target, it's been a long time coming, how long has it taken to get to this point and how do you feel?
Many thanks! Yes, it has taken a good few years and a lot of hard work has been put in, but we have not forgotten how fun it is to ride bikes so that thought has kept us all going. The stoke levels are high at the minute and we intend to keep it that way.
For those who don't know, what is Dirt Factory and who is behind it?
Dirt Factory will be an indoor bike park aimed at all types of off-road cycling. There will be trails, zones and features for all ages and abilities, whether you are a pro or a beginner. Our main aim is to provide a fun indoor experience where riders or people trying the sport for the first time can develop their skills and feel more confident. We are not here to replace the outdoors, that’s just crazy. We want to create a place where people can have fun, hit some sweet lines and jumps and get some practice in, which is great especially when you are short on time or when the weather is a bit grim.
The team behind Dirt Factory includes Andy who is the marketing and communications guy, Mark whose job it is to build trails and bike parks overseas, Ian who is a fun loving community liaison man, Gaz who takes charge of operations and myself (Dan Makin) who pulls it all together and keeps us moving forward. We all work together very well and chip in to all aspects of the development. There are also a few other key players and advisors involved.
I know you guys have been working tirelessly for years to make this happen, what's the whole process been like?
We see it more as a journey, of which we are still on. We all love riding bikes, so setting up Dirt Factory is all about having fun and riding bikes, the ‘process’ is way more enjoyable. There have been frustrating times, but we all keep positive and keep moving forward - life is too short.
Did the go-ahead for the project rest solely on the funding campaign or was there a Plan B?
We are passionate about turning Dirt Factory into a community project, so going down the crowdfunding route was an obvious choice. We had other options too. Grant funding, debt financing and a plenty of other routes were explored but private investment was the most logical step. We could have gone on Dragons Den too.
Where are you with the project at this stage, what's the next step?
Right now we are getting ready to close the crowdfunding round. The next big step is to secure a premise and make sure we get planning approval - once we are comfortable with all that we can start building the bike park.
One of the proposed venues for Dirt Factory
Are you hoping to be open all year round?
In terms of the design, was it all done by the Dirt Factory team or did you bring in outside help from other riders or industry personnel to discuss ideas?
Trail building is all designed in-house, we love digging and shaping dirt just as much as riding. We have some really creative and experienced people on board to design and build the trails. We also plan to collaborate with some mountain bike and BMX legends to help put a special touch on certain features. We will also be running community and volunteer dig days, which a lot of people have already signed up for.
Why do you think it's taken so long to get to this point, I mean if you think about the weather in the UK and look at other successful indoor parks - Ray's in the US being one example - it seems a no-brainer, so what obstacles have you encountered along the way?
The main reason is because a dedicated indoor bike park has not been done before in the UK, we are like the lab rat. This has made attracting funding much more difficult. The business model, services and product have to be spot on to attract enough people and increase footfall. Once the first centre has been proven, no doubt other facilities will follow.
Alongside the riding, what kind of facilities do you hope you hope to have onsite for visitors?
There will be a bike shop as well as pop-up retail outlets and rental spaces for other businesses and social enterprises. We will have media and technology features around the tracks, café and chill out areas = a space where people can kick back and watch classic biking videos. We plan on showers and changing rooms, a performance and recovery room, a bike crèche and many other development plans. The most important thing is that our core service and product will be fun, friendly and inclusive for all ages and abilities.
Are you guys planning to have any kind of membership fee, how it is going to be operated once you're open?
Yes, membership will start from £100 per year. We are currently working on the structure of this with support from an organisation we met at Eurobike. The plan is to make a slick system, which may involve contactless cards and membership benefits based on different tiers. Either way, we will make sure that customers will benefit from being a Dirt Factory membership in many different ways.
Looking to the future, say about five years from now imagine looking back, in a perfect scenario what would you like to have achieved with Dirt Factory in that time?
As a team, we are planning to have more Dirt Factory centres opened around the UK and Europe. In five years we would aim to have opened at least one or two more centres. We would all like to see the mountain bike and BMX scenes even bigger than they are now. On a personal level, I would love my Dirt Factory office to be within a transformed shipping container stacked three high. Then whenever I have done some business stuff, I can drop in and ride some sweet trails.
What would you say the best and worst parts of the whole project has been?
The best parts have been doing this with a group of friends who love bikes. Individually and collectively we have learned a great deal and had lots of support from the mountain bike community and people from many different professions. The worst bit has been not riding our bikes as much as we like.
Finally, what can we expect from Dirt Factory once it's open, and when are you hoping to open?
You can expect a super rad time riding sweet trails which we can change every now and again to keep things fresh. Dirt Factory will be the place to hang out with your friends, meet other like-minded people and make new buddies. We hope it will get lots more people stoked on riding bikes off road.
We don’t want to get everyone’s hopes up, but if everything goes to plan we forecast October 2016 - but please don’t take this as concrete, there is a lot of work still to do. Be sure that as a team we are putting all our efforts into opening Dirt Factory as soon as possible and most importantly, to a standard that all our supporters are hoping for.