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Specialized Soil Searching: Glen Jacobs
Build, and They Will Come
Specialized Soil Searching: Glen Jacobs
Build, and They Will Come
Sparrows are still in slumber when the violet horizon teases our freezing faces with the promise of first light looming. Then it happens. Dawn cracks like a whip. “G’day mate! Air Ya Garn?”. The Aussie accent of North Queensland provides harmony with perfect pitch.
The accent, accompanied by a smile wider than the Great Barrier Reef, belongs to one of the greatest living legends in the world of mountain biking, Glen Jacobs. With over 400 trail designs and constructions in 20 countries, his trails have been featured in the Olympics, Enduro World Series, UCI World Cups, UCI World Championships, and Crankworx. From Four-Cross to Dual Slalom, Cross Country to Downhill, and everything in between and beyond.
As the world’s first official mountain bike trail builder with 30 years of dirt sculpting experience under his Akubra felt hat, Glen still emanates with a pure passion for trail creation as if he’s only just getting started. His positive energy is contagious, and his optimism is second to none. Whenever he talks about a trail, it’s as if he’s talking about a dear friend. He has a righteous love and respect for the trail that could only be defined as sacred.
This sacred affection was instilled in him from an early age by his grandparents, who told him stories of how the aborigines used the trails to trek through the rainforest behind their house, down the mountain to the ocean to get yams and other forms of “bush tucker”. His mum even accompanied them on one such excursion, which upon telling him many years later, left an indelible mark on young Glen.
“The story and mystique of trails run in our blood,” Glen claims as he recounts some of his earliest memories of where his deep connection to trails was formed. So much so that the first picture he ever drew, at the age of six in first grade, was that of a trail spiraling down a mountain. “The thicker the bush, the thicker the scrub, the more the trails have to be defined.” The aborigines cutting these natural corridors through the thicket not only served as a vital source of life but would have a profound effect on Glen’s perception, appreciation, and understanding of the soul of a trail.
Then came Mud Cows…
Jacobs, along with the entire mountain biking congregation of Cairns, banded together, and all eight of them took to the hills. It started as a bushwhacking exercise through the brush, clambering over roots and rocks with bikes on their backs to find old logging roads. These rambunctious adventures had to get filmed, obviously. “Otherwise no one would’ve believed us!” Glen exclaims. He invested in a small Panasonic camcorder to capture any and all of their shenanigans, which mostly consisted of “kumma-gutza”, the Aussie vernacular for “crash my guts out.”
Next thing, they were driving shuttles to the top of the hill to blast down these logging roads. But when that, and the seemingly incessant barrelling over the bars through the bush, lost its appeal, the crew made a trip to their local Bunnings (hardware store) to stock up on some whipper snippers (garden trimmers), whacker packers (soil compactor), shovels, mattocks, rakes, hoes, and chucked (threw) it on the back of the ute (pickup). After a quick stop at the servo (gas station) to fill the esky (cooler) with some coolies (beers) and grab a few snags (sausages) for the barbie (barbecue), they set out to create what would be the first purpose-built downhill mountain bike trail in Australia. The infamous Kuranda Downhill was born.
After the first unofficial race in July 1990, Glen and his crew were cordially asked to formalize the event by the local Cairns mountain biking club. The second time around, the cordial ask turned into a stern request, with a warning of consequent repercussions and ramifications if said request should be ignored. A meeting was scheduled, a referendum was held, and with the Kuranda crew outnumbering the club 22 to 7, Glen was inadvertently sworn in as the new president of the Cairns Mountain Bike Club.
It was the perfect storm. Acca Dacca (AC/DC) just released their hit single Thunderstruck, which was to serve as the anthem to the newly elected governing body of Cairns Mountain Biking. This council was as ready as ever to bring a dirt revolution to the town and, ultimately, the world.
As the dream materialized, mountain bikers from all over Australia flocked to Cairns. Word got out (along with VHS copies of their films Ice Cream Heads from Outer Space and Mud Cows) to the international race scene that something was cooking in the far northeastern corner of the land down under.
In 1994, Cairns hosted a mountain bike world cup, followed by the UCI World Championship in 1996. Things escalated like a tropical thunderstorm, and for the next few years, Glen traveled the globe as UCI’s official race track builder and designer. However, it was not until the Sydney Olympics in 2000 when hit home.
“It’s sunrise, and we’re driving through downtown Sydney to the venue. As the sun started peeking through the skyscrapers, we turn a corner, and right there, it hits us. Hundreds of feet up on an 80-story high-rise was a huge mountain bike poster taking up half the building. The image on the poster was a young Michael Ronning, the first Australian rider to secure a sponsorship on an international team, ripping through the forest on a muddy track in a phone advertisement. Sitting there at the intersection, everything went in slow motion. The penny dropped just then, goosebumps, and a feeling of ‘this mountain bike thing is so real and has just come of age.’ Ten years before, Michael was a young sprog in Cairns, and now here he is, pasted to a skyscraper, in an international advertisement. We are in an official Olympic car all kitted out in the official Olympic uniform, my mum in the front seat, driving to the race site to watch everyone race on a track I’d just designed and built…one of the proudest moments in my life.”
Every climb promises a glorious view, followed by an exhilarating descent, as the very nature of mountain biking would have it—the reward. Sometimes that climb is a sneaky adversary, waiting around a blind corner at the bottom of the descent to punch you in the gut and leave you winded.
Shortly after the Sydney 2000 Olympics, the mountain bike industry hit that blind corner and wasn’t in the right gear for the climb. What followed the brief winded moment and a few leg cramps would ultimately cause a shift in mountain biking—from racing to recreation and from a sport into a lifestyle. This was when Glen founded World Trail.
It was in 2015, when a phone call from Otis Guy, founding member of the Marin Museum of Bicycling, would be another one of those “viewpoint” moments for Glen. Otis informed Glen that he would be inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame for trail building. “It’s all about the ripple effect,” says Otis.
In this case, “the ripple effect” resulted in some of the most iconic mountain bike trails on the planet. Every single trail is a work of art, and every builder is an artist. It’s not just the way it rides, but the way it looks and where it takes you. It’s a culmination of Glen’s creativity, vision, work ethic, leadership, and passion that have shaped some of the world’s best trail builders and thousands of riding memories.
World Trail now employs thirty to forty trail builders throughout the year, with multiple projects running simultaneously. One such project is the development of Europe’s next premium mountain bike destination in Högevarde, Norway, not far from a place called Flå (pronounced “flow”). Lead trail builder on the project, Max Connor, is an artist who understands how to reveal the hidden secrets in the subsurface by letting his own subconscious take the reins during the building process. Like drawing with charcoal or shooting a photograph on film, Max submits to a unique in-the-moment style of trail building. Some might say it’s a bit of a gamble, but right there is where the magic comes to life. He has a surrealistic approach to his craft, which has yielded some of World Trail’s most celebrated creations.
Trail building not only provided Max with a purposeful, passionate way of life, a platform to express himself creatively, but also a partner by his side to roll the rocks out of the way, literally. Millie Cafe is the female stronghold in the World Trail contingent. She moved to Derby in “Tassie” (Tasmania) for the mountain biking, worked a couple of odd jobs, and ended up landing what she calls her “dream job” at Word Trail. Rumor on the trails has it that Max won Millie’s heart by bringing her dad to tears, twice. Both occasions were on trails that Max built. First on Big Chook (Big Chicken/Emu), as it was apparently what he’d been waiting for his whole life to ride. Secondly, on Deadly Bugga, when the stoke got a bit high and he broke his elbow, ending up in the hospital. Needless to say, Millie’s dad shreds harder than ever, her mum adores Max (supposedly Maccas and a tub of ice cream had something to do with it), and between the two of them, Max and Millie make a formidable team.
The rest of the World Trail crew of craftsmen, engineers, and botanists are all testament that trail building is not just as an art form, a hobby, or a profession, but a combination of all of the above. A vocation and lifestyle that is alive and thriving. Youngsters can now look up to people like Glen, Max, and Millie with very real aspirations of becoming professional trail builders.
When Glen is asked whether he could have ever predicted the ripple effect of mountain biking and building trails, he reflects on a photograph he took during an epic build at Mount Buller, Victoria, of this trail weaving through and blending beautifully with the natural landscape. It was only later on that Glen noticed the magpies and kookaburras in the foreground of the photo sitting in the perfectly raked trail foraging for grubs in the subsoil. At that moment, it occurred to Jacobs that these birds probably couldn’t believe their luck in scoring all this feed. He reckons they probably thought these trail builders must be cooked in the pip (crazy) to go through all this effort to turn the soil, but don’t even scoff (eat) the grubs! Through this encounter, Glen realized that trails serve a purpose beyond the means and needs that only serve mountain biking, providing exciting opportunities for those who acan see the food from the dirt.
“We know what mountain bike trails are going to do for mountain biking, but we don’t always know what mountain biking is going to do for the people outside of it.”
Yes, we feel the same. Whenever Glen is ready to say something, you just want to whip out your field notes pocket journal and frantically start scribbling. Because of his sage-like wisdom and the fact that half of the Australian language consists of words and phrases that only they bloody understand!
As for the future of mountain biking—these okes reckon she be alright, no wukkas.
See you out there on the trails…in a place called flow. And remember to pack some vegemite sangers (sandwiches) and biccies (biscuits) for smoko (smoke break/lunch).
Glen is one heck of a legend. He had such a great ripple effect on mountain bikers from around the world…
From building the Australian scene in the early ‘90s to making some of the very first “Freeride” films before the word Freeride was adopted by mountain biking. Bringing international races down under, inventing and spearheading the 4-Cross discipline to creating one of the greatest trail building companies, their work has inspired many others and has proven that mountain biking can be better. Many great trails and destinations have been inspired or created directly or indirectly by Glen.
Hans “No Way” Rey
G’day mate – Good day friend
Air-Ya-Garn – How are you?
Aussie – Australian
Bush tucker – Food in the forest
kumma-gutza – Crash my guts out
Bunnings – Hardware store in Australia
Whipper snippers – Garden trimmers
Wacker Packer – Soil compactor
Chucked – Threw
Ute – Pick Up
Servo – Gas station
Esky – Cooler
Coldies – Beers
Snags – Sausages
Barbie – Barbeque
Acca Dacca – AC/DC
Land Down Under – Australia
Tassie – Tasmania
Big Chook – Emu
Bugga – Bad luck/Oops
Maccas – McDonald’s
Feed - Food
Cookes in the Pip - Crazy
Okes – Blokes/Folks
No wukkas – Not to worry/No problem
She be alright – Everything is going to be fine
Sangers - Sandwiches
Biccies - Biscuits
Smoko - smoke break/lunch