15.11.12. Jared Watkinson  PIC © Andy Lloyd
15.11.12. Jared Watkinson PIC © Andy Lloyd

Carving arcs, fashioning flow within the country’s varied slopes and soil structures, the unsung heroes who handcraft trails where root and rock still play a major role.


Words by Steve Jones. Photos by Andy Lloyd

Described locally as a, ‘genius of creating intricate shit–house little sections that are very difficult to master’, Jared Watkinson is a great one for building trails which you cannot ride on a cross country run. If a rider could, well, that would make him beat the grass with his spade. In the Mendips there has to be absolutely no place but space around jumps. Big holes. Jump or Keep Out. Master of concealed entrances, the locals say this year he’s been amazing, so here we have…Jared Watkinson.

Dirt: Background?

Jared: I only started riding about 12 years ago, as it was a fun way to get a change of scenery and to do something other than making electronic music and DJ’ing. I guess getting into biking with a lunatic skateboarder and a bunch of competitive junior DH racers was always going to have me either building or racing. It's not that I don't have other things to be doing with my time. Because I don’t have much time, when I do ride it's gotta be on my doorstep and it better be worth riding.

About eight months ago I moved away from my hometown out to the Mendip hills, effectively resetting the counter to year zero. It was a big decision, as it meant leaving behind all the old–skool DH trails, my personal secret bikepark, including trails that are short but insane to ride, plus the best dirt jump spot, which had grown over the years and even included a pump track and a short 4X trail for the nippers to get involved with. The quest to fortify the seed of my purpose had begun again.

Need mountains?

Of course not, but as soon as I fail to make my trails feel like mountain descents, then I'll be upping sticks and off to live with me mum in Utah. The shortest trail can feel like you’re descending an alpine epic with plenty of spade work, it’s all about linking up those interesting natural sections, whilst keep it high octane.

Much time building?

The joy of a day’s ride on a fresh track is serendipitous to returning day after day, to an unshaped pile of dirt. If I ain't gonna head out for a shred, then it's punch–out at two, on the hill by three. Despite cloaking it to others as an outdoor gym, new members will usually last a day or half. This ain't down to the lack of equipment in use, more a shortage of mirrors and camel toe.

What types of trail you been building?

Besides getting involved with council sanctioned projects for the nippers, it's all about a high level of race style practice for myself and the rest of the seaside mafia. The hardest element to include has to be an open interpretation of how the track will be ridden. I'll often build little berms on the wide line to lead people away from the fun lines. Strangely, builders with the least experience can sometimes gift you with a wide–open, multi–lined gem.

The work I've done recently has been on a bunch of tracks intended for all to find and ride. Kind of like a reminder to others of how different your local can be with just a little selflessness. I'm also currently planting seeds around one of the many XC groups that meet in my local pub of building a basic skills style mega loop.

What’s your view of freeloaders?

Freeloaders find it hard not to show their real colours. Unless a demo of track building converts them, it just allows me to keep the people I have least respect for even closer. If I build it to ride with my homeboys, then natural selection normally takes care of unwanted glory hunters. Not that I intend for people to get hurt riding, that wouldn't look good to the forestry. To quote me homies, “just build a no mincer device" and allow fear to work its magic.

Can riders maintain tracks?

This can be an emotive subject. I meet builders whose tracks are classics. Then in the name of maintenance it's turned into a rootless, dug–down motorway. How can it be beyond people’s reckoning that instead of debating what root makes them look like a struggler, put spade to turf on the new line.

Erosion problems?

I always prefer to put a little more spadework in if it looks like it'll be taking some abuse. If I'm not wanting a big rut to appear then I'll make the dig hole deeper, and get down to some hardcore material. As for the long term, any resistance I try and make will be futile and not long after I stop riding it'll be lost.

Any bust ups?

Only the odd busy–body or ill–informed RSPCA inspector. A few summers back I did have to teach English manners to three generations of Frenchmen on Pleney.>>



15.11.12. Jared Watkinson  PIC © Andy Lloyd
15.11.12. Jared Watkinson PIC © Andy Lloyd

Unfinished projects?

It ain't just on whim that I eek away each day at such mammoth tasks. What drives me on to see things through is mostly a sense of counterbalance between working eight hours a day for beer tokens and working for my own personal interest.

What went wrong?

Recent tree clearance had left the Mendips with only a handful of tracks up and running. I did get a bit cocky trying to build whist this was going on but ended up having to rebuild some nice switchbacks that kept getting flattened.

Views on uplift?

It’s the only way to cram a day with nothing but enjoyable descents. I ain't spent a single weeks holiday in seven years without chairlift access. But here, as in Morzine, putting in serious graft and cutting in new lines is what makes it proper. And before any money moguls try and set up shop uplifting on the Mendips off the back of hard work of others, there's only one area of track that can be shuttled by road and that's remained secret for years.

Any top racers tried your handiwork?

Over the years I've been involved in building stuff all over the south–west and Wales normally in pursuit of a free entry. Having buddies who can just about ride a bike can bring some alright rides and some even better banter. Some of this banter often perpetuates the rumours amongst fan–boys as to who's built the least trails. I guess I'm just pleased to be able to help build a couple of ‘Brendog tracks’, a few ‘Richie Tee's eternal shredders’ and countless ‘Ben Baker's new track’.

Current bike?

I'm riding a Specialized Demo that's large, slack and not very lightweight for anything I can possibly get loose on or razz off. Otherwise it's me old skool Santa Cruz Blur with its air springs, flexy forks, skinny semi slick tyres and a non–adjustable seatpost height. I actually just want to keep my DH riding feeling limitless and my XC riding feeling like XC, with my saddle smacking me in the chest, as I hang it off the back.

Do you still need to visit Wales or the north?

By choice I'd never be riding my local, other than on a school day. Being not even an hour away from south Wales means that it's totally worth heading there for a little build session one day, then finishing the weekend off with a proper good shred. I'm in no way averse to exploring the northern scenery it's just that I follow a lot of building antics of friends from in Falkland Scotland, Morzine, Nuremberg and The Donkey MTB club of Sinalunga Tuscany. These are the big road trips I'm looking forward to doing.

You can't get lost on the Mendips?

Searching for new spots with good up–route is always a discovery session. Scrabbling through virgin forest or over seemingly inaccessible tree felled areas hoping to find that perfect natural feature. As for exploring the larger rural Mendip area I managed to make the horizon do a 180º spin just the other week. Whilst trying to make out to The Doris, that I knew where we were heading.

The skill is in flat corners right?

With pine forest loam I'd have it all flat corners. Unfortunately, although we have the loam, we don't always have the biggest descent. This is when the spadework is needed. What puzzles me is when I leave my rake lying about, some fool goes and rakes over all the natural sections I've tried to include. Hence a lot of what I build may well just be a red herring, keeping the herd off my loamy pleasures.