This feature first appeared in Issue #1 of Flow. We still have a handful of copies left so head over to the shop to grab the very last of what will soon be a collectors item.
While you’re at it, why not become a Flow Royalty member and for the price of a few fancy burgers with-the-lot you’ll get 4 issues of Flow devlivered to your door.
With the Mont 24 hour just around the corner let’s hear from the people who have helped sculpt the forests of Kowen and Sparrow Hill.
The Kowalski Brothers, the keepers of Kowen, are trail builders of unrivalled productivity. and as anyone who’s sampled the fruits of their craft will tell you, the Kowalskis’ passion and dedication seeps up out of the hardened ACT soil and straight into the rider– Flow with a capital F.
Just who are the mysterious Kowalski Brothers?
‘Des,’ ‘Reg’ and ‘Steve’ are the names we go by on the trail… If we told you our real names, there’d be no bloody mystery.
Is there a motto that the Kowalski Brothers work by?
We’ve got a bunch of them:
In berms we trust. Go with the Flow. Thou shalt not cut corners. One good turn deserves another. No token shit bits. Surf every hillside. Hand-tooled rules. Every rock is a berm. There is no such thing as too much rock.
‘Go with the Flow’ made it onto our first run of Brother Hoodies, in 2011.
‘In Berms we Trust’ is going on the next one.
When did the Kowalski Brothers begin building trails?
We have been building track since 1990. Our first tracks were at Stromlo but our most memorable early work was in Greenhills (now part of the National Arboretum). There were some legendary trails in there, and being able to ride through there on your way to work or to a beer at the top of Stromlo was pretty close to perfect. But the fires in 2000 and 2003 buggered all that well and proper.
Is it just here in Kowen that the Brothers ply their craft, or do you build elsewhere? Greenhills is our ancestral home but over the years we’ve built trail right across the Canberra region — Stromlo, Majura, old Kowen, Sparrow and now East Kowen. We have been prolific in East Kowen over the past two years. But, you know, there’s a new place we’ve got in mind to work next, and it will blow people away.
I’m sure it pains you to tally it up, but how many hours of your lives have you poured into these trails?
Thousands of hours. Easily.
What is the biggest, hardest day of trail building you’ve ever put in?
That’s really hard to say. Most weekends we come home covered in scratches and feeling shredded. The work we did in Sideshow, Beer Garden and Big Wednesday has been some of the hardest, but lately it’s a blur of one massive day followed by another.
The sessions we’ve been putting in at East Kowen are pretty epic, and we’ve had some immense rock-hauling days recently. We might not get a lot of distance done on a day like that, but we do get a kickarse corner or two.
Do you have a favourite trail building tool and why?
Des has a few – he could never have just one favourite. There’s Thor’s Hammer – a big block- splitter with a fine hickory handle. Des can smash rock relentlessly with one side, then chip out roots like a surgeon with the other. Dirty Hoe – that’s an amazing tool for benching into hillsides and chipping through grass, a do- anything tool. Ace of Spades (see below) – Reg converted Des to this brilliantly simple trail tool. It is the best tool to carve berms with.
Reg loves the Spade – a post-hole shovel with an uber-long handle and the perfect head for carving trail. It’s the tool he starts with for cutting new lines and its one of the last ones he uses when smoothing out the lumps.
Steve’s favourite tool is Betty the Mattock. Betty makes Steve a better man.
We drool over new tools. Every time one of us gets a new tool we’ll take it out back and get familiar with it. We’ll pick it up, fondle it, swing it about to feel its balance, brag about its prowess for building track and then, if we really like it, we’ll give it a lick. Mmm, tools…
Tell us about the history of the trails here in Kowen?
East Kowen is all new. There were no mountain bike trails before the Kowalski Brothers and Paul Cole started building trail here. What we’ve achieved in just a couple of years is pretty amazing, and there’s more where that came from, baby. Lots more.
What is your idea of trail perfection? Have you achieved it here?
Trail perfection for us is all about flow. It’s hard to describe, but good trails have a certain feel about them – the way you go into and out of a corner, how you transition into the next, how the jumps feel and how big your smile is. Have we achieved it here? Yes, but only in part – a series of corners, a little bit of magic here and there. We’ve come close a few times, but we’re always going to critique our work and go back in to rework those trails to get closer to perfection. Singletrack is a work in progress, and we’re always changing and refining.
What trail or section of trail is your favourite creation?
There are many we are pleased with, but Sideshow is a particular favourite. It was
an ambitious bit of track and shows what’s possible with hard work and monumental amounts of rock and soil. After Sideshow was completed, it inspired us to go back
and rebuild much of Beer Garden, and that transformed the Beer Garden into an awesome piece of track too. It’s got beer in the name, too, which makes it even better. We reckon Big Wednesday and Love You Long Time (yet to be opened) are right up there too.
What has trail building taught you?
Respect. Respect for the work people do, respect for what a small group of people can create. Trail builders are a tight-knit community, being part of something special. Trail building is a true creative outlet and quite a cathartic activity. It is honest toil and we never tire of it.
When is the best time to build trail?
Any time really, but we’ve been building right through this winter, which is a new one for us, and we’ve really liked it. The soil has good moisture, which is great for building berms, and there are fewer bears out. One thing is for sure – you do not get cold while building trail the Kowalski way.
What is that keeps you out here digging and moving rock?
We all like to ride nice trails, but riding something that you built is quite special. What keeps us out there? We love building trail.
How has trail building changed your life?
We never just look at hillsides anymore. We look for lines, turns and smiles. We don’t wonder what to do with our spare time, either. (Whatever that is.) We are known to get more than a little excited when we walk down the garden tools aisle at Bunnings, too, but we haven’t been asked to leave as a result.