Dirt Art Down Under
9 Mar 2013
By David Scorer
First up in the Trail Builders Feature Series is Simon French, the Director of Dirt Art in Tasmania. Here's a brief intro in their own words, about who they are and what they do...
Dirt Art is one of Australia’s most experienced and renowned trail design, construction and management companies having extensive experience across all facets of the recreational trail and open space planning industry. In its 6th year of operation under the Dirt Art banner the company is now working across Australia designing and building projects from pump tracks and bike-specific trails through to walking trails and planning projects.
Dirt Art was founded by industry veteran Simon French, who has been heavily involved in the Australian mountain biking for the past 15 years as an athlete, event manager, consultant, trail designer and builder. French founded Dirt Art after successfully designing and constructing a number of now nationally recognised Tasmanian trails as a volunteer.
We caught up with him via e-mail, and here’s what he had to say...
WBP: What are some of the projects that you and Dirt Art are looking forward to working on this year?
SF: We are really fortunate this year to have a full schedule of some really exciting projects, which will see us travelling all over the country. We are developing Australia's biggest school-based mountain bike facility next month, which will include helping the school integrate the sport into their curriculum. This is a really exciting project for us, and a great step forward for the sport in Australia. We are also pretty keen to get back into Western Australia to finish a gravity cross country project of ours in the Perth Hills, which is going to include some pretty funky steel and timber pre-fabricated trail features. On top of this we have the rest of the year booked out with a bunch of other great mountain bike and BMX projects and a big workload of design and consultancy projects.
WBP: Describe some of your past/ongoing projects that you are most proud of?
SF: We have a very dedicated team who take a lot of pride in their work, so we are quietly proud of all our projects in their own ways. In saying that there are some standouts; at the moment we are developing a bike park and trail network on the banks of the Murray River on the Victorian/New South Wales border. This area is almost dead flat bar a few small fault line ridges, so we are getting creative building hills, adding technical features, funky terrain and rocks to deliver a 'real' mountain bike experience to riders who would otherwise have to travel two hours to ride.
WBP: How did you personally get into the industry?
SF: Like many of my peers I slowly moved into this industry from a background of volunteer trail construction, driven largely by a huge passion for the sport. We are now running a couple of works teams, I am flat out between our construction projects, consultancy and design work, and an event management contract we still hold- but life has never been better!
Image: Four Hills Photography Trail: Glenorchy MTB Park
WBP: Do you think park and lift-access riding has become more popular? Why/Why not?
SF: I think it has grown and will continue to grow, though in my eyes the focus and demographic will change - I think the era of the descending cross country/all mountain trail is here. Not to say DH will diminish, but I think there is soon to be a huge increase in demand for long distance, gradual descents. In fact the demand is already there, and will be driven further by the popularity of gravity enduro events around the world. I know for us, we are steering many projects towards gravity-focused cross country trails- it's all the fun of downhill without the high level of danger, and all the good bits of cross country without the gut busting climbs.
WBP: How has the gravity side of mountain biking evolved since you first started racing?
SF: I think trail wise, it has remained relatively static, aside from the rise in the development of groomed flow trails. On a racing front I know in Australia downhill racing is nowhere near as strong as it was five years ago. I suspect this may be a cyclic thing and will pick up again, though it may be due to a far higher availability of trails meaning the impetus to race for recreational-based riders is no longer there. The rise of the all mountain bike may also result in few people buying a DH-specific rig.
Image: Dirt Art Trail: Trail Designing, North East Tasmania
WBP: How is working in Australia different from somewhere like BC or the UK? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
SF: Working in Australia in the trails business we are going through a time where the sport is taking off and finally being recognised as a way to boost local economies and drive tourism in its own right. I think this is something the UK and North America (and New Zealand) have understood for some time, Australia has just been a bit slow to catch on. There are a few larger companies here in Australia building quality trails, and lots of smaller start-ups, some good and some pretty bad. We are advantaged in that we are a while away from other countries, meaning we keep our work in house for the most part. The disadvantage is our country is so damn big- to get our gear over to Western Australia from Tasmania meant a four-hour drive, a nine-hour ferry and then a 36-hour drive! We are now at the point where we have a container and a vehicle in four states, which makes our lives much easier.
WBP: Where do you see influences from other sports blending into the mountain bike scene?
SF: I think many sports have influenced mountain biking in a range of different ways, but never to any huge extent. The great thing about mountain biking I think is it is still quite unique, it has its own roots and it isn't over-commercialised.
WBP: What do you envision the future of park-based riding will look like?
SF: The future of bike parks will see more access to urban and peri-urban riding opportunities as cities swell and demand increases. This is already happening in Australia, and will continue to grow- people want to be able to ride or drive a short distance from their home/work and get into some trails. I think we will see more unique trail features, as riders demand 'something new'. I know we are working away on some cool pre-fabricated stuff that we will be rolling out later in the year. Lastly, I think in Australia there is going to be a growth in the development and marketing of more iconic, epic longer distance rides.
Simon scoping for ideas at Whsitler. Image: Four Hills Photography Trail: Ride Don't Slide.
WBP: What is your favourite mtb-related memory/story?
SF: I've been in this sport for 18 years- this is a hard question! I've had so many epic rides and travelled to some amazing places to ride, it has always been an adventure. I remember eight years ago we just finished building our first local bike park, we hosted a round of the National Series that same year. I built the DH trail with my brother and a few mates as volunteers and then managed the course for the event and raced- it was a great feeling, hearing positive vibes for the trail after the event and sitting back exhausted but satisfied. That day really got the ball rolling for where we are with the company now.
WBP: Any further comments/thoughts?
SF: I'd just like quickly thank our team- without them we would not be doing what we are doing. Thanks for the opportunity to get involved in the site- it's a great looking page, you've done well!
Interview by Matthew Lee