Written and photographed by Cary Kanoy
Pack it, shape it, wet it, dust it, slap it, ride it, and repeat until perfect. Freshly groomed and prepared, terra cotta waves rise, fall, and flow like a river of clay, displaying the artistry of these dirt digging denizens.
Bike parks have been popping up all over major cities, yet in Davidson County unsung private tracks have been here all along, paid for not in municipal dollars, but in sweat.
When there were no trails, Doyle Loflin and his friends would navigate tobacco roads, sewage right-of-ways, and power line passages to ride from one end of Davidson County to the other—as he boasts, “without ever touching a paved road.” He rides fat wheels, he rides skinny wheels. He appears to have an affinity for all things with wheels, especially the ones that go fast and off-road.
Jeff Burns used to load his toddler son, Ethan, into a Retro J MTB bike stroller and hit the rolling greens on the local golf course. It came as no surprise when Ethan competed in his first BMX nationals when he was just six years old.
In Brad Newby’s house, you’ll find a faded picture of him at the tender age of five, perched on a bicycle atop a small dirt pile in his grandparents back yard. Things haven’t changed much since.
Each and every one of these guys is a real Dirtbag. It’s what they jokingly call themselves. And quite frankly, whether it’s rolling, digging, or obsessing about dirt, they have a singular passion for the terra beneath our feet.
For years, local mountain bikers traveled long distances on weekends up and down the East Coast to get their riding fix. Locally, there were no designated places to ride so they found it necessary to take matters into their own hands—and shovels too, as it happens.
Doyle Loflin is constantly building, tinkering, and biking. After years of having to travel to get his biking fix, he decided to build a small backyard track on his land just outside Thomasville, N.C.
Loflin’s property is a combination of low “bottom land” and rolling forest hills. He has embraced the challenging topography, carving a one-and-a-half mile long network of bridges and boardwalks woven in a winding single track that flows into his next door neighbor’s property. He built it all from repurposed salvaged materials.
Greg Waddell, owner of Cycles Your City in Winston Salem, built his dirt jump line in Midway, N.C., as a training ground. Waddell used to travel to areas that had jumps, but says “they were just too big and came with serious repercussions if you messed up.” Waddell set about constructing his home track with similar features.
Brad Newby started building his own personal dirt mecca ten years ago on a piece of family land in Wallburg, N.C. Newby constructed not one, but two tracks—a dirt jump track and a pump track.
They are not randomly placed piles of dirt. Tracks are precisely spaced and carved. The track must be ridden at certain stages while building, not only to calculate the geometry of flight patterns, but also to take stock of the soil’s moisture and consistency. In addition, the strength of the centrifugal force affected by wheel size, bike, and rider weight act as a compass for shaping the curvature of the berms. Through experience and research, these diggers understand soil erosion prevention, proper drainage, soil and clay quality, berms, rollers, and jump angles. One part experience, one part art, and all science.
“Many times you haul a bunch of dirt in wheelbarrows and pile it up and it doesn’t rain for weeks, so you have this pile of cat litter there,” Brad laments. “Then when you have a good rain, you mix and pack and shave the features and then ride it in and see where that takes you.”
According to Jeff Burns, “Brad’s got clout. There are tons of shredders from all around that have been out there. Part of the reason that Brad’s place is such a draw—apart from his welcoming personality and incredible builds—is that you get not one, but two tracks.”
Dirt bikers from all over the state have visited Newby’s spot. They come to ride but also to lend a hand with any repair or building projects that might be needed—dirtbaggeretiquette. You are welcome to ride, but you also contribute to track maintenance by digging, hauling, or packing dirt.
Jeff Burns set about building a small bike sanctuary for himself and his now teenage son to enjoy and share with friends. He started out with a single jump line on family property which evolved into his own uniquely designed pump track.
While working on his track, Burns invited friends and their kids to experience his new line. These moments inspire Burns to wax poetic on the virtues of bringing everybody together around the subject of dirt.
“The first people that show up are my close friends with their children. Some of their skills are limited at this point, but what I see is people coming together, creating a much needed social forum for adults and their kids. The younger riders ride it lap after lap while constantly improving their confidence and skills. I see the smiles on their faces and it makes me feel great knowing that I created this.”
According to Waddell many tracks are traditionally given approval (or just built) on transitional areas like empty lots and vacant properties. Inevitably the land transitions to a new owner and the bikers have to search for a new place to build and ride. After Burns' track was completed, the property was sold and he found himself searching once again for a new canvas.
Digging and biking, it’s a modern day barn-raiser that builds community space and relationships. As Burns puts it, “We are very capable of making big things happen and can bring communities together in the most positive way.”
“It’s definitely a labor of love.” Newby explains, “Sometimes it’s lonely to maintain when you have an isolated track. But when you get a group of folks out to dig and sweat together, everyone then enjoys the fruits of their labor with an awesome ride. That makes it all worth it."