The enormity of the Dirt Factory project is quite staggering. If you’d not heard, plans are well underway to open what would be the UK’s first indoor trail centre just a stones throw from Manchester’s city centre and it’s pitched as “like an indoor snow park, but for bikes.”
It’ll feel real, with water from the roof irrigating the trail and grit stone from the Pennines shipped in to replicate the outdoors near perfectly.
Inescapable from the attention of any city dweller and bang in the Northern heartlands of the BBC, among other big media, the Dirt Factory is the brainchild of a pair of bike industry trail enthusiasts – Danny Makin and IMBA representative Mark McClure.
The proposals will see the build become the first in the UK of its kind, hosting a 32,294 square foot XC flow loop, 14,424 square feet of dirt jumps, a freeride area of some 9,150 square feet, two pump tracks at 6,889 square feet for the adults and 979 square feet for the kids, as well as a foam pit and proposed BMX and trials areas. And these are conservative estimates, BikeBiz was told. Two locations – a 86,000 and 160,000 square footer are being mooted as you read this. Both can house the pair’s proposals and are city centre based.
We can hear the trail of thought – shall I keep dry weather tyres on a little longer?
From a rider’s perspective, it’s a dream come true. Finally, the UK winter can’t touch us. But from a business angle, the opportunities are equally as exciting. Retail space totalling at least 4,198 square feet will all be part of the framework. With shipping containers making up the bulk of the terrain’s height change, the Dirt Factory have a lot of storage space to play around with and that presents opportunities for both long and short term lease business.
“We’ll have leases starting from just six months,” explains McClure. “Rents will be available from around £10,000 a year with electricity included, so that’s incredibly good value given that your customer is delivered to your doorstep daily.”
With a funding goal of £500,000, both Makin and McClure have been busy rallying support from the industry and there will soon be a CrowdCube, start of February, to see the pair hurtle down the home straight.
“We’ve already £240,000 in the pot from private investment and Eurobike has potentially seen that stack up further. We presented our plan to a financial advisor at Deloitte and received his personal backing, so we’re expecting to hit our investment target and be ready for a May 2016 opening. There are loose ends, but they’re tying up nicely,” explains Makin.
“Once we’re open, the project becomes about so much more than just revenue generation. We’ve both got a background in cycle training and are qualified to train others in coaching. We expect to open with 20 part and full time staff and many of those will be manning
the courses, making sure everyone’s safe, but also offering personalised advice. We’ve previously done tutoring with special needs kids and kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. There will be a big social element and it’ll all be very inclusive. I’ve a background in trail building, so we’d like to offer classes on that too. Your membership or entry fee will offer real value for money.”
With such installations as a foam pit in the building, progression will not only be natural, but scientific, says Makin.
“We plan to have an interactive display that will allow users to review their riding and where they’re going wrong. Cameras linked to TVs will without doubt help talent flourish, that’s another goal. For those coming in from out of town, another plan is to offer accommodation. We’ve tossed around plans to offer day trips to trail centres for anyone who wants to explore outside our walls, so in a sense we become a holiday package for serious mountain bikers.”
The attention to detail in the business plan is comprehensive. Avenues as diverse as opening some of the walls up to graffiti artists and hiring out GoPros are being explored. Parents will be able to use a viewing area free of charge, while younger toddlers will have access to an adjacent balance bike area, which doubles as a playground. It’s a family day out, whether you cycle, are considering slinging a leg over, or simply fancy watching with a coffee.
ABOVE: Danny Makin and Mark McClure - Dirt factory
Research has been key to the planning, however.
“Throwing together a project that’s not been done before requires knowledge, where available. We found out that Manchester’s snow centre gets 450,000 visitors annually. Our very conservative estimate is that 25,000 mountain bikers will come through our doors in year one, but the mountain biking population in the UK, particularly in a radius around us, is obviously quite large. We’ve seen the figures from the UK’s larger indoor skateparks, many of which are declared as charities and so we’ve some good insight into our potential. Our demographic doesn’t mind spending the money if it’s worthwhile too.”
An annual membership will come in at £100, allowing riders to come and go at will, while single entry fees start at just £5. Everyone passing through will have access on a card system, which will also grant access to changing rooms, showers and even physio. Weekends are expected to be busy times, so the Dirt Factory plans to make use of weekdays by opening up access to educational facilities, corporate fun days and bike industry events.
All sounds very ambitious, right? That’s not the half of it.
“If all goes to plan, we hope to extend the Dirt Factory. Two more, likely set for London and Edinburgh, would ideally be our goal and we’d like to move on that by the end of this decade, at the latest,” conclude the pair.