Life is not Hollywood: ‘build it and they will come’ does not always work in reality. In business there’s almost never a time when you can sit back and rest. Build-it is only the start.
‘Yes, the real work starts now’, agrees Stuart. ‘Because now we’ve got to make it work. We’ve got to be marketing it and in these early days, gauge it right so we don’t over-stretch ourselves with the limited resources we have.’
As it happens the start has been very encouraging. And, of real interest to the wider industry, it’s been significant that some 30-40 per cent of the attendees so far have been female.
‘Because there’s no noise, no gears, no clutch, it’s not that dissimilar to riding a bicycle, so anyone can ride these things.’
Not that Stuart’s suggesting girls don’t ride dirtbikes - of course they do - but he’s well-aware of the fact that dirtbiking is a male dominated sport, so as Stuart points out ‘where maybe they’d be petrified of a petrol-powered bike, within five minutes they’ll get to grips with this and realise it’s just like a bicycle - only they can go faster by twisting the throttle. Once they’ve got that, they’re fine.’
Aside from the unisex approach, Stuart’s been clever to identify the family market and he’s been sharp enough to understand that too much training and not enough fun can kill a concept. On the other hand, he’s shrewd enough to ensure that everyone – beginners and experienced riders alike – must first complete a familiarization/training with the electric bikes before being set loose.
Stuart and his assistant Jack Machin (a young student, about to graduate, who over the past 12 months has himself committed heavily to the project) have both become qualified ACU instructors. But as Stuart points out, the training is just about providing the basics: ‘get them started safely, basic off-road skills are all we’re looking to achieve.’ And this approach is paying off. With a simple familiarization process, riders can quickly progress out onto the well thought-out and beautifully constructed courses - carefully planted with various grasses and trees so the tracks are almost invisible at ground level (except for the track you’re following). There’s an easy programme for progression and return visits are common.
‘We’ve had many families come in, not just dads and lads, but mothers and daughters, and mothers bringing their kids in for a birthday treat. It’s great because with the 6-12 age group there’s more interest from girls, our Saturday lunchtime short circuit club is all girls!
‘It’s a great feeling to take someone who doesn’t have that big an interest in off-road riding, and to see them come off the track buzzing about it and wanting to go again - to have converted someone. I think it’s good for the sport in general and I’m hoping we will see quite a high conversion rate of people who hadn’t even considered off-roading before, and are now considering it. The girls who come at the weekend lunchtimes… it’s fast becoming a new hobby for them.’