Pete caught up with Dan Makin to find out where Dirt Factory is in their quest to open an indoor MTB facility in Manchester.
It’s been a few years since we checked in with the Dirt Factory team, so after they announced the successful Crowdcube campaign, we sat down for a virtual chat with Dirt Factory CEO Dan Makin to get up to speed.
Last time we spoke, you had a £300,000 Crowdcube campaign running, what’s happened with Dirt Factory since then?
After the crowd fund we had the perfect space lined up, but unfortunately the landlord decided to demolish the building even though we had raised the capital. After that bombshell we decided to purchase an air bag and modular pump track for the indoor facility, but without the building we were kind of stuck, so we quickly started to hire the equipment to schools and event organisers to promote not only ourselves but the benefits of MTB and cycling.
Our event work is still a big part of Dirt Factory, but the core mission has never changed, which is to open up a world class indoor MTB centre. Over the last three years we have viewed so many buildings, and three of those sites we have followed up with serious intent but they broke down due to planning rules or agreeing commercial terms.
In 2018 we met with U+i (a London based developer) who were starting a major development project in an area we knew about in Manchester. We knew they owned various spaces and after some negotiation we agreed a mutually beneficial partnership which involved us opening a scaled down version of our bike park plans, which we called the Dirt Factory Pop-Up Indoor Bike Park.
Where were you at before COVID hit?
Our pop-up operation was in full swing and we had lots of exciting events booked in. Our whole team was buzzing because we were told the pop-up would be there until the end of 2022, longer than anticipated. But COVID definitely changed that plan because the development got the go ahead much earlier than planned due to a COVID recovery fund.
Was the pop up track always going to happen or was that a response to the pandemic and other issues?
The pop-up was never planned. Since our first site fell through, we have always kept an open mind about leasing, purchasing or building a bespoke space, what we never considered was anything less than a 60,000 square feet space. After having several setbacks securing a bigger site, we approached U+i about a huge space they owned, but they already had plans for that.
They then showed us a 30,000 square foot building and at first we were like it’s too small. But after lots of thinking and some design and operation compromises, we went for it, and it has proved to be a great move for us.
How did the success of the pop up track influence what you will do going forward?
The pop-up has further validated the need for a permanent indoor MTB facility, and we’re excited to take everything we have learnt with us along with even more motivation to help us achieve what we set out to do.
You’ve just closed the pop up track, what’s the next step for Dirt Factory?
We have been very busy working on our relocation strategy, our team is working hard behind the scenes to open a Dirt Factory Indoor Bike Park in a new and bigger building. We are exploring all options from new build to lease and purchase. You can check out our premise search criteria over on our website. If anyone knows of any land or buildings that meet the criteria, please do drop us a message.
We’ve also just set-up our own Dirt Factory Bike Shop at Farmer Johns Bike Park. We’ve known John for years plus we owned everything you need to run a bike shop from the pop-up, so the idea made sense and we’re looking forward to seeing how the shop develops.
Have the people behind the Dirt Factory project changed?
Three out of five of the founding team live overseas, but we’ve got the same love for mountain biking and trail building as we did at the beginning, and it’s been amazing to see how much the sport has changed over the past seventeen years or so when we first started riding. Two of our team are professional trail builders and have found themselves to be a lot busier these days due to the demand in new MTB trail infrastructure. But we’re still the same dudes.
How has what you do changed over the course of the project?
I’ve had to morph into a CEO, which comes with lots of roles and responsibility, but it’s a role I am enjoying – I’ve become quite fast at typing, and probably a bit slower on two wheels.
That’s a difficult one. The crowd fund was an amazing achievement for sure and the pop-up and air bag and pump track hire projects would not have happened without that. But for me, it has to be seeing our pop-up indoor bike park operate and seeing kids on balance bikes and 20” wheels ride next to an e-bike or a steezy shredder all having a good time. I get a lot out of watching other people have fun on something we’ve created.
I suppose not getting the pop-up extension and being closed for so long by COVID which knocked us off course a bit but we’ve adapted quite well so far.
People to thank?
I have a very long list. First and foremost we’re forever grateful to all our crowd investors, supporters and customers who have supported us since 2016. A massive shout out to our pop-up operations team, they did an amazing job and will definitely be missed.
Thanks to all our past and current volunteers who gave up their time to help us build and run the pop-up.
Thanks to all the people who have provided us with advice on dirt specs, health and safety and marketing. A final thank you to our previous partners, U+i, Trek, Parkitect, BigAirBag, WeRide and Swifty Scooters.
You can find out more about Dirt Factory on their website here.