Mountain biking wouldn’t be mountain biking if we had no trails. And we wouldn’t have any trails without individuals who spend countless hours on the business end of a shovel and others who work with land managers to negotiate access and formalisation of community-built trails.
Specialized Soil Searching is an initiative to give these unsung heroes of the mountain biking community the recognition they deserve.
“As an industry, we’ve done a hell of a good job of sponsoring athletes and bringing athletes through the ranks. But none of that could happen without trails. With Soil Searching, we wanted to provide a platform where there is a connection, and the people who are building the trails feel like the industry gives a shit and is paying attention,” says Fanie Kok, Founder of Soil Searching.
Soil Searching sponsors trail builders, hosts dig days, backs trail fundraising efforts and provides grants for trail development and maintenance around the world.
And so we’ve teamed up with Specialized and Soil Searching to give away a limited edition Specialized Stumpjumper Evo — one of about 50 in the world.
Soil Searching is a global advocacy program run by Specialized Bicycles, that is all about trails and trail building. Spearheaded by Kok, the early stages of the program came from an effort to better connect with local mountain bike communities.
“We’ve done a lot of things really well in the past, supporting some of the best athletes in the world and building some of the best products in the world. But along the way, we started losing a little of bit of that connection to the core riders,” says Kok.
Core riders is a term that gets thrown around all too often and has been co-opted by marketing teams to mean a lot of different things. For Kok, he sees core riders as the folks who embrace the lifestyle and ride for the sake of riding — not necessarily to compete.
“In surfing and skiing people move to specific places because there is good snow or a good wave, and that’s started happening in mountain biking,” he says.
“The whole connection of Soil Searching started with the soul of mountain biking — which is the trail, and everything and everyone who comes together to put that trail there. So trail builders, trail advocates, product developers, every single person and stakeholder who comes together to put that trail in the ground,” Kok says.
Here in Australia, we have a trio of Soil Searching ambassadors. You might have heard of these fellows: Glen Jacobs (left), Ryan De La Rue (middle), and Evan Winton (right).
“The commitment Specialized is putting in to acknowledge trail building globally is amazing and it’s shedding light on what it takes to build and maintain sustainable trails” says Soil Searching Ambassador, Ryan De La Rue. “Being involved in Dig Days across the country allows us to share our knowledge of trail building with riders on their local trails”
As Kok explains, Soil Searching seeks to put trail builders like these three up on a pedestal, and make them the heroes of our industry. The goal is to have riders young and old look up to them the same way they do folks appearing in mountain bike flims and standing on podiums.
But this initiative is about more than just pumping up the tyres of a few high-profile trail builders.
“A lot of these trail builders are trail builders because they want to get away from people and go out in the forest to work in the dirt. Not necessarily just writing cheques or donating money or bikes, or whatever else, but just a high five, saying thank you for that amazing trail. It sounds very basic, but that sense of appreciation can make it all worth it.”
Then of course there is the community component. Through Soil Searching dig days Specialized is also empowering these trail builders to get out in the riding community and spread their knowledge.
“When you have the community there, learning from someone like Ryan, or Evan saying this is drainage, this this flow, this is how you shape a berm. The 20 kids you have out there aren’t going to make a massive dent in the trail that day — the point is not about finding cheap labour, it’s to build the community,” says Kok.
Since 2021 Specialized Australia’s Soil Searching Program supported 20 dig days, 394 volunteers for a combined 36,400 volunteer hours. The program also raised $43,500 AUD for trail advocacy around the country.
Tim Webster from Specialized Australia tells Flow it hosts two Soil Searching dig days a month at trail networks across the country, and is looking to hold a trail summit here in Australia.
“The aim would be to bring trail builders together to develop skills, generate conversations and provide them an opportunity and platform to meet and share knowledge,” says Webster.
There are quite a few facets to Soil Searching, and since it was launched, Specialized has come at it from a few different avenues.
Beyond the ambassadors, and hosting dig days around Australia — and the world — the brand has also leaned hard into raising money to fund trail maintenance and development.
This has come in the form of beers brewed by our friends at Bridge Road and those tan-walled Butcher, Eliminator, and Ground Control tyres launched not long ago.
“Basically, each of those tyres that is sold, a portion of the proceeds go into this pool which is then distributed back into markets like Australia, which can be used to host a dig day, or support an ambassador or make a film or whatever,” says Kok.
Another aspect of that has been the Soil Searching bikes. Initially, these were just made for the global ambassadors as a thank-you for their work. Then Specialized decided to produce more of these bikes, but with the caveat being they were only available for fundraisers — so you can’t buy one, even if you wanted to.
We are teaming up with Specialized to give away this Soil Searching edition Stumpjumper EVO to thank the trail builders and advocates who donate so much of their time to make the trails we ride possible and keep them running well.
So, we want you to nominate a builder or trail advocate in your community who deserves recognition.
This could be the trail builder who is out there every weekend filling in holes, clearing drains and fixing worn-out singletrack. Or, it could be the trail coordinator from your local club, who has spent countless hours in meetings with National Parks and the local council of Forestry to ensure you have legal access to the trails you love. Or even someone who from the local community who donates their expertise to help with writing grants, planning approvals or environmental surveys.
Two weeks after nominations open, we’ll select 12 local heroes to be voted on for their chance to win a Soil Searching Stumpjumper Evo in size S3.
Nominations have now closed, voting will commence on 6/12/2023.