Interview: Trail building legend Dafydd Davis
The man who changed the face of mountain biking
In MBUK 291, our 25th anniversary issue, we have an interview with Dafydd Davis as part of a wider feature about the changing face of the places we ride. The wasn’t enough room for the whole of the interview, so you can read it in full here.
And don’t for get to check out the feature itself in the mag, which is on sale on 31 May!
Dafydd was introduced to mountain biking in the late 80′ after taking part in a televised off-road adventure race and winning a Raleigh mountain bike “that weighed a ton”. He was instantly hooked.
His first trails were started with just £700 and opened in 1997, while the famous Red Bull trail was sponsored for just £2,500, which he spent on getting journalists down to ride it, buying them beers and making the first maps of the loop. What was left he used to replace worn-out tools.
Since then Dafydd has designed and built thousands of miles of trails from Israel to Japan and everywhere in between, proving that you can build fun and sustainable trails.
The data showing the income mountain biking can bring in to a community had been used as a blueprint throughout the UK to persuade forest owners, local people and local government to provide funding and support trail building in there area.
Dafydd received an MBE in 2004 for services to forestry.
How did you start building the first trails at Coed-y-Brenin? Was it on your own or did you have any support?
The first trails and waymarked routes that I built took about six months, mostly on my own and were actually made by the reopening of existing trails that had been forgotten for years – Coed-y-Brenin has been a managed forest since the 14th century – but it became apparent quite quickly that I’d be better off building trails from scratch.
How did you go about building those first trails? Did you just ‘have a go’ or had you had some experience of trail building before?
My first job was in Devon as a conservation assistant. Part of that job was building footpaths so I had some idea, but I also tried to look at older paths around my area, the way that they’d built paths on old country estates and tried to learn from them, from what had worked in the past.
I was also very lucky at that time to work alongside Will Jones who was a road engineer and foreman for the Forestry Commission, and he gave me loads of ideas about how to build the trails from an engineering perspective and what might work”
When was your lightbulb moment? When did you think that this could be the future of mountain biking?
I don’t know about lightbulb moment, but I do remember when I knew it was working! It was Good Friday in the Easter holidays in 1997. I drove into the old visitor centre, it was absolutely full to overflowing with cars and I said, ‘F**k me, this works!’
So when you first started building the trails at Coed-y-Brenin you had no money to build the trails – how did you manage, where did you get materials from?
Well I guess you could say I used to ‘reappropriate’ stuff! I used to shovel aggregate from piles left by the side of the road in to the back of my van and then take it to the trail. We also used to dig out burrow pits near the trail and take stone from there.
Back then we used to pack the trail down with hand tampers until we could afford a whacker plate (it does what it says it does, it compacts stone and rubble by bouncing up and down on it) and used a wheel barrows until we could afford a mechanised one.
Since then, what has really stood out for you as a trail builder since then?
I think a project that I finished in 2010 in the Czech Republic really stands out, it was ground-breaking work, having to change land management policy before we could build.
I guess the other one that really stands out we only finished last week – a new trail centre in Rostrevor and Castlewellan in Northern Ireland. It’s a significant project in how much influence it can have in the area, and also how much, and the variety of trails that have been built, from very mellow trails to full-on downhills.
Finally Dafydd , what do you think of the current state of trail building in the UK?
Well…. I think that there’s so many is amazing and that so many people have started and enjoy mountain biking because of them, but I do think that sometimes there’s a lack of thought on how they fit into the landscape or the sense of space , that maybe it’s a little heavy-handed, not everywhere by any means.
Some trails are fantastic, I just think that there’s no need for trails to have a negative impact if you plan them properly, if you put them in with the right spirit and maybe not as over engineered and sanitised. The best trails feel like they haven’t been built, they just feel like they have always been there.
At the end of the day, whether you’re riding a mountain bike or a wheelchair or walking a dog, trails should connect you to the landscape around you.
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