Carving arcs, fashioning flow within the country’s varied slopes and soil structures, the unsung heroes who craft hand–built trails where root and rock still play a major part. Starting with Surrey’s finest, Tattoo Dave – hard labour and love building some of the finest beads in and around the M25…HAND CUT LEGENDS OF THE BRITISH WOODS
From Dirt Issue 130 – December 2012
Words by Steve Jones. Photos by Steve Jones.You don’t need mountains to ride bikes do you?
No, you definitely don’t. The maximum elevation in my area is 960ft. It is all about how you use the elevation you have, so obviously you don’t want to go straight down. It would be nice to have mountains, but the powers that be didn’t design Surrey with them!How much time do you spend building?
As much time as possible. Most weekends, all weekend. Evenings if the light permits. I actually enjoy building trails more than I do riding my bike sometimes.Does it matter that there are freeloaders out there happy to ride your trails?
You get freeloaders in all walks of life, whether it be in the pub, the bookies, etc. Everyone is looking for something for free. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It’s good to see people enjoying my trails. I have had people leave me the odd case of red wine in Pedal & Spoke in Peaslake as a way of thanks. And the odd pint and meal bought for me in the Hurtwood. It is good to hear people talking about my trails and saying how they ‘did this and that’ on the trail, whether it be a jump, a drop or just a steep section.Do you think riders know how to ride your tracks?
I think a lot of riders don’t know how to ride certain tracks. Some of them are over–biked and under–skilled. I have seen it loads of times when I have been building, they ride the trail first time with way too much speed, over–shooting the corners and ruining my berms rather than building up over a couple of runs. As the old saying goes, sometimes to go faster you have to go slower.What’s your view on uplift at the moment?
I think if you have a 15/20 minute descents in proper mountains, then uplift is all well and good. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t used uplifts but I think it is a bit pointless when the trail you are going to do is only about two minutes long and the ride up is about 6/7 minutes. I know it pisses off the locals where I am and other users of the area.World Cup riders Brendan Faircloth and Andrew Neethling have all ridden your tracks and loved them?
Yeah, Brendan comes out riding when he is in the country and if Needles is over he comes as well. What more can I say? They both love riding the tracks. Needles couldn’t believe how much riding there was and it’s good to see World Cup riders riding my trails with a smile and saying how much they liked them.What type of trails have you been making?
Because of lack of elevation, I try and make the trail with as much flow as possible with very little braking. I try and maximise the whole hill rather than just going straight down. I had built doubles and jumps before but these tend not to last unless you build them in the deepest darkest parts of Surrey.Do you still need to go Wales and the North?
Yeah, it’s nice to get away and ride different areas. I try and find out who the local builder is through word of mouth and they are usually up for showing you all their little gems, but there is so much riding in my area if you are prepared to get off your arse and explore. If I lived another 50 years I don’t think I would get bored of my own manor.How about your current bike. Discuss the right bike for 90% rather than the right bike for 10%?
Back last year, I discovered the joys of the 29er wagon–wheels and realised that I had been riding the wrong bike for too many years. What I found out about them was how much more efficient they were and the stability and cornering was amazing. I am not saying it is everyone’s cup of tea but it took me about 20 minutes to get it.You cannot get lost in Surrey?
It still amazes me after all these years of how many little hidden areas I keep stumbling across. I tend not to use a map, just rock up at an area and go exploring. Often if you are out riding and you see a hill and you think there must be something in there, 9 times out of 10 I have built a trail in it or I have something on the go. And yes, I still get lost in Surrey.You worry about the day you cannot ride quite the same?
Every day I don’t ride, it is a wasted day. I try and ride every day, whether it be for thirty minutes or eight hours, and I do worry when the day will come that I can’t ride. Maybe not the same ability as I have now, as I have always enjoyed riding bikes from a very early age. I’ve always enjoyed the simplicity and efficiency, so even if it’s riding to the shops when I’m older, I’ll be happy with that.Camping with the dog and big fire. Tell us more?
Last year, I wanted to try out some bike packing in the Alps but before I went, I thought I’d try out some gear that I’d managed to blag, i.e. tent, sleeping bag and whatnots. I couldn’t get anyone to go with me so I thought ‘I know what, I’ll take my little Staffordshire Bull Terrier’. Anyway, we went out late afternoon and was digging ‘til about 8pm when I decided to set up camp. Had some food and when I decided to go to bed, the dog couldn’t get her head around being inside the tent (a one man tent!). Every 10/15 minutes she would want to get out, walk round the tent and then get back in. After about two hours of this I decided to get out and build possibly the biggest fire the Surrey Hills has ever seen. It got so hot that I stripped down to my boxers. What a picture! Me and the dog sitting there at 2am sharing a packet of digestives. Even the dog had a look of confusion about the surrealness of the situation! When I got home the following day my Mrs said to me, ‘it looks like you’ve had a sunbed’. I said, ‘no’, it must have been the third–degree burns from the fire.