Dan Clifford on biking and building

All round nice guy and UK transplant Dan Clifford was asked to write about the sport he loves …BMX , Dan was and is a sh*t hot racer , always repping flat pedals and racing with a certain amount of style!!! he has backed away from the race scene in the last year and is concentrating on Trails riding, building trails and generally enjoying bike riding.
Here is what Dan had to say.

“My company asked me to do a little interview about BMX and if there was any crossover from the work I do here into what happens at the track and down at the trails.

I was stoked to speak about BMX, the sport and culture that has afforded me the best friends in the World, amazing opportunities to travel and to have experiences that will stay with me forever. I think it came out all right!

What’s this sport called?

BMX, or bicycle motocross. And under that banner, you have racing, freestyle, vert ramp — but what I do is just called trails, riding trails. Or dirt jumping.

I’ve been racing BMX since I was in my early teens. It’s an amazing sport that has allowed me to travel the world and even represent my country on the world stage. It’s been a huge part of my life.

When I moved from London to Sheffield back in 2002, I worked for a contractor building BMX tracks. Even after I signed back with Arup in Sheffield in 2004, I would finish my day job and go to the track and work maintenance or construction, pouring the concrete, placing the rebar, building the courses. We even had an indoor facility for the winter months. We have to build everything that we ride. It’s all shovels and pick axes and wheelbarrows. All of those things that you see, all of those great ramps, the turns, are all built by hand.

And I guess there was a direct link to my work here. Before Arup, I’d look at a building and, whilst appreciating it, wouldn’t know what allowed it to stand, or what was beneath the ground that would stop it from sinking. And on a much smaller scale, the jumps and the BMX track are the same. We have to build the foundations, we have to have a sub-layer that we build up from. The materials we choose allow us to construct these ramps and for them to stand and survive the weather conditions during the winter months, and then be able to be ridden hundreds and hundreds of times.

Our focus is sustainability. We want our spots to look good, ride well, and function for years. We harvest water for the dry summers, we replant trees, we install drainage. Because we don’t want the space to flood, we lay pipes beneath the ground. We lay grates and build the land to fall so that water drains off naturally, but not in a fashion that creates gullies or ditches. All of this water is collected and reused though the dry seasons. This is all knowledge that I’ve gained from being here. I guess you’d get there eventually, with experience, but it definitely speeded up that process.

The places that I dig out here in the US are on Long Island and in Pennsylvania. People travel from all over the world to ride these places as the northeast US has one of the best trail scenes in the world.

I wasn’t aware of the sport.

It’s a pretty small community, but BMX as a whole is getting bigger and more widely recognized. BMX racing is an Olympic sport now. It made its debut at the 2008 games in China. Dirt jumping features in the X games and the Dew Tour and those big events which are now televised by the main networks, like NBC and ESPN. So there’s definitely a lot more recognition of it now, which is great, and people are genuinely more interested. There are definitely more people coming out to the trails to see what’s going on.

But for me, the construction of the spots and the trails is as much fun, as rewarding as riding. Sometimes I don’t feel that way when it’s -10 outside and I’m waist deep in a wet, soggy pit shoveling clay for 10 hours, but you know that all the hard work that you put in during the winter will allow you to have an amazing spring, summer, and fall, and that people will want to come and ride your spot. That’s ultimately what we strive for. We want to make a space that is not just amazing and fun for us, but that people get stoked to come and ride.

Is trails a relatively new thing?

BMX started in California. That’s who takes the thanks for it. That was the early ’80s.

I guess kids were always doing tricks and doing jumps in a way, putting a rock on the floor and putting a piece of wood against it. It was just kids’ natural intuition to want to get off the ground on their bicycles. I think that that is slowly what developed into BMX and eventually BMX racing and trail jumping.

And in the last five or six years the level of riding has just come on so much. People are getting incredibly creative with their trail spots. Before it was just straight jumps, and now you have huge turns, bridges, rollers, and all of these features running through the woods — and it’s all built from hand. It’s pretty incredible, the things we can put together.

How often do you go out?

I’m out at the trails every weekend. Now with the weather and time drawing in it’s more difficult. But during the summertime I’ll go out to the closest spot, which is just out on Long Island, four or five times a week, even if it’s just for a couple of hours. It’s just nice when you finish work to go out and build or ride for a little while. It’s a good escape. I don’t have to spend too much time out at the gym or running around the park. Digging and riding are things that I like to do — it’s a great way to expel some energy. It’s good fun.

And it’s just a good place to be. The woods, I just love it. Getting away from the madness of the city, and yet still being so close. Within an hour or so, you can have this serenity.

Photo Credit and copyright Charles Aydlett + Dan Clifford


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