Alan Hayes, Haldon Freeride

Haldon Freeride

Southerndownhill popped down the pub to have a chat with Haldon Freeride front man Alan Hayes to tell us a little more about the organisation and what's going on in the woods overlooking Exeter…

Southerndownhill popped down the pub to have a chat with Haldon Freeride front man Alan Hayes to tell us a little more about the organisation and what's going on in the woods overlooking Exeter…

 Haldon Freeride 

SDH: Alan, thanks for taking the time out to chat to SDH. First up can you tell me a little bit about Haldon Freeride, how long it’s been going?

Alan: Well it all began with a few of us building some *ahem* kind of shore up at Haldon which shall we say wasn’t taken too kindly to. The next time we went along someone had fixed up a sign saying if we wanted to do any official building to give this number a ring. Tentatively we got in touch, and this was just at the time of the whole Haldon Woods visitor centre upgrade project, and since they were looking for volunteers for the official trail building we sorted it all out. As a result a team of us became pretty heavily involved, up there almost every Sunday wielding spades and building trails.

SDH: With Haldon Woods being owned and managed by the Forestry Commission, are there any major difficulties with building new trails in the woods and creating structures, such as the Helter Skelter and other North Shore type obstacles? Has insurance been an issue?

Alan: In some respects yes, but in the time we have been working with them, the FC have become very trusting of our judgement and engineering skills we put into building some of it, with regards to the structural integrity etc, but at the moment we are having to strictly adhere to their guidelines over things like liability insurance and the real nitty gritty aspects of it. But the vague restrictions they put on us in terms of the height of the Shore and we’ve got to have certain sized fall zones either side of any North Shore trails so nothing’s going to impale anybody.

SDH: All the kind of regular workplace Health and Saftey regulations really then? 

Alan: Yeah that sort of thing, but at the end of the day they all make sense.

SDH: Yes I guess so, but some of them seem fairly nit picking. I remember the trouble they had at Esher Shore shortly after they opened and someone fell off one of the high ladders, Health and Safety Executive came in shut the place and said they had to have metre high railings on anything more than 1.2 metres above ground level or something along those lines, but takes away the whole North Shore aspect of it.


Alan Hayes, man with the Haldon Freeride plan

Alan Hayes, man with the Haldon Freeride plan


Alan: True, and until recently there hasn’t been any legislation for North Shore style trails, it’s all fallen somewhere between the regulations for workplaces and adventure playgrounds and none of it precisely fits the bill. The FC themselves have applied slightly different rules in all the different places that things have been built. Take the differences between what has been built here and at Okehampton just down the road. Their North Shore is totally different to ours here, theirs has to be all free standing so the structures are quite low and wide in comparison and they can’t actually put posts into the ground or nail anything to trees, and this is down to their local forester. This difference in guidelines has made it quite frustrating for quite a few people really, especially the likes of Esher as they’ve been hit with it so hard whilst others have been getting away with much more.

SDH: Couldn’t agree more, I’ve seen plenty of “unofficial” North Shores being built, some in Southampton where I’m from originally with the locals building things without permission and the FC have come in and chainsawed everything into little bits, after many hours or work and often a lot of cost of wood. I guess it’s lesson learned there and something we lacked in Southampton is the terrain that’s here so there definitely wasn’t the popularity of Haldon. So how many members does Haldon Freeride have at the moment?

Alan: Not a huge number at the moment, we have only really constitutionalised ourselves very recently, up until then it’s been a loose collection of like minded people interested in riding and building new trails up at Haldon. But in terms of people who are regular trail builders there’s about 10 or so of us. We’ve put feelers out for new membership recently, because up until now everything’s been coming out of our own pockets. We’ve obviously had land made available for us by the FC but other than that we’ve not had any help from them in terms of materials. They’ve backed us with other things but for financials it’s all been us. Whatever we can make from selling t-shirts has gone back into supporting the trails.


North Shore style berm

North Shore style berm


SDH: I went riding up at Haldon a couple of weekends ago and even for early January it was very busy with all types of mountain bikers, as summer approaches do you envisage any problems with trail maintenance and massive crowds showing up?

Alan: It’s hard to tell really. When the MBUK shoot came out it was crawling with people the weekend after that, and after the new year we’ve seen another influx of riders so I can see us being pretty busy, yeah it’s got the potential to be very busy so *laughs* I think we’re going to be flat out up there between now and summer. The storms have ravaged it up there, the main berm section had about 14 trees down on it, and it’s all ripped up massive holes it just looks like a bomb site right now.

SDH: So if it’s downed trees are you planning on cutting straight through it or building ramps over them?

Alan: We don’t know exactly yet, we could put a few little Shore bits in, have a bridge gap sort of thing in, either that or just divert tracks around them, might be a good excuse to tweak a few lines. But it’s an evolution we could have done without really. *Laughter

SDH: Are there any other local companies involved with the organisation in terms of advertising or supporting the trail building at the moment?  

Alan: We sell some t-shirts in Sidwell Cycles in Exeter, I suppose it’s a bit of back scratching going on, I know the guys who work there so they help us out by selling t-shirts sort of thing. I wouldn’t be adverse to anyone else selling them but no one has approached me about it yet and we haven’t really approached anyone else about it. But it gets pretty hectic when you’ve got to keep track of all the t-shirt sales going out.

SDH: How often have you had people up in the woods wielding spades and saws then?

Alan: Ah pretty much every Sunday we get people up there, but not much recently because we have been sorting out the insurance with the FC, but usually there’s somebody there if not all of us. With the days getting longer we’ll be up there in the week as well. I’m quite lucky I guess I work at a school so I finish quite early and it gives me a good few hours to get up there and do some building.


Riding in Haldon Woods

Riding in Haldon Woods


SDH: I guess at the moment the focus is on repairing the winter storm damage but after that are there any plans to increase the number of trails there?

Alan: Unfortunately at the moment the main effort is indeed on rebuilding but we have some plans for new trails. We’ve started extending a couple of sections, one with a new drop and a few more bits of shore. The end plan is to have a run which has around 1 to 1.5km of shore along its length.

SDH: Blimey, that’ll be a serious run then eh?

Alan  *Laughs, yeah it’s gonna be a lot of building.

SDH: I’m sure we can get a few members off the forum to come up and help out. The Haldon Live and Kicking thread is one of the most viewed and replied to threads we've ever had on the site. I think it’s got 28 odd pages going.

Alan: Yeah once we’ve got the insurance sorted we’re trying to organise kind of Live Aid thing for the Haldon trails. Get as many people together as possible, have some music going, some food on and just keep people there all day really so we can get all the storm damaged stuff out the way. Then we can get all this stuff cleared up in one go and get back to actually doing good stuff up there.

SDH: Anyway, a little bit about yourself, how long have you been into mountain biking?

Alan: I’ve pretty much been on two wheels all my life. Started off racing BMXs when I was about 6 until 12 I think. Took up mountain biking at 15 when the whole cross country thing was the rage and everyone was going round in bright lycra. After that I let it go for a while after having done some really heavy racing, National Champs type stuff and everything, and I think the whole competitive side of things killed it for me a little. Didn’t ride for quite a while and took up surfing but didn’t really love the sea either, so came back to the whole biking scene when the downhill side of things was kind of becoming more freeridey oriented I suppose. Especially for me, without sounding too clichéd it’s all about just being in the forest, not so much about the competition side just about riding for riding’s sake and being out on your bike and having a laugh. The building of trails is all a big part of that as well, just being in the woods is a nice place to be, and it’s great to have an excuse to be there.

SDH: Finally what direction do you think mountain biking is going in the next few years, especially with the explosion in popularity freeriding has seen lately?

Alan: *Laughs, freeride, *more laughs. I think more and more shore is going to be built all over the place and people will be doing mind boggling things with riding North Shore, but in terms of bikes I think a lot of the time, it’s like television we are influenced quite heavily by the industry, in terms of what we are allowed to have. Specialized for example at the moment, by not bringing the Demo 8 into the country. Sort of holding out the market, suggesting we have different sized rocks than they do in America. I mean the massive ones are smaller but we’ve still got the same sized ones on the trail, it's just like saying they ride much more monster trails so they warrant having the bikes. We haven’t got the elevation they have but riders are still taking monster drops, riders like Chris Smith for example are always pushing the boundaries of what’s being ridden over here. The skills are definitely with the riders but without the machinery to do these drops we simply wouldn’t be doing them. Things wouldn’t have pushed as far as they have, I mean I can’t see myself doing any of this on my old Stumpjumper with 30mm travel you know. The industry has enabled that progression and they can halt that if they want.

SDH: I’m sure there’s a deep philosophical meaning in there somewhere.

Alan: *Laughter

SDH: Thanks for taking time to talk to us! See you up at Haldon soon.

For more information about the trails and conditions check out the Haldon Freeride website. Stay tuned for more information about sustainable and responsible trail building from the Haldon Freeriders!

Interview by Tristan Veneer

Photos courtesy of Alan @ Haldon Freeride 

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