Squirreled away in Rotorua amongst the geothermal activity and rich Māori culture is a New Zealand-based company that has gained global recognition for its innovative designs and unique approach to creating mountain bike riding experiences that push the limits of what is possible.
Empire of Dirt specialises in creating world-class mountain bike pump tracks and trails. Founded by Adam King and Chris Martin in 2013, the once fledgling company has now grown to be a full-time gig shaping and maintaining some of Aotearoa’s elite pump track and mountain bike courses.
The biggest and most well-known client in the company’s roster would be Crankworx in Rotorua which attracts the best riders from New Zealand and around the world. Huge crowds are drawn to the yearly event to line the course and cheer on riders whilst marvelling at their speed and aerial wizardry.
Yet behind all the screaming fans, and determination on the riders’ faces is a small humble company that just likes to move dirt and put the course together. Two blokes who just like to get on with things really. They call themselves Empire of Dirt.
It all started thanks to Nanna
It was early in the 2000s when inseparable cousins Chris Martin and Adam King were overseas adventuring together on their Big OE. Having grown up in Rotorua the pair were familiar with nature, the outdoors, forests, and downhill racing. It was no surprise they ended up with jobs trail building outdoors on sites like Whistler’s Bike Park. Their experiences together during this time would give them build skills and instil a love of designing trail courses that would eventually take them around the globe and earn the pair respect from some of the world’s top trail riders.
Before the lights would shine brighter, a $10K loan from Adam’s Nanna was needed. “We’d been back from overseas for a while and I had fallen into my trade job of being a fitter-turner. But after all the trail work, it no longer held my interest,” chuckles Adam, “so I packed it in and borrowed $10K from Nanna to get an excavator and went contracting. I would do any earthworks job involving trail maintenance
that I could get my hands on.” The odd contract from DOC and bike park contracts would come through but it was inconsistent and fickle work. “I was crapping myself as I had to pay Nanna back and in those early days I was working hard long hours trying to make it all work.”
Adam had invested the $10K in a 1.7-tonne Kubota with an A2 Single Ram Tilt hitch package recommended by his dealership. This is what Attach2 refers to as a performance package – any A2 hitch and several buckets designed to fulfil the needs of the operator’s excavator jobs. Eventually requiring more tilt for the creation of his courses, Adam would later upgrade from the A2 Draw Pin hitch to A2’s Mini-Tilt and then the Heli-Tilt, “but in those early days, that’s where I started, only just scraping by.”
Johnny Cash covered ‘Hurt’ and EOD was born
Working tirelessly around the clock would eventually pay off. After two hard years, referrals were coming in from other trail parks around New Zealand that had heard about the quality of Adam’s work. His business was growing, and it was time to reassess things. After a few beers with Chris, Adam’s contract business was wound up with the two cousins deciding to create their own trail and track-building company. Their dilemma? What to call it.
“It was 2013 and we often listened to Johnny Cash’s cover of the song Hurt originally sung by Nine Inch Nails. There’s a line in there where he croons, ‘… my empire of dirt’. We loved the song, loved the line, and thought it was catchy. So that was it - Empire of Dirt was born!”
Soon Crankworx was calling
The pair would fulfill contracts from their community or local councils. They’d tow gear – by this time upgrading to a 5.5-tonne excavator – anywhere they needed to or hire it if required. Something they still do to this day. They also employ locals wherever they go. Often young, keen guys who want to pick up the skills or learn the trade. Referrals from new bike clubs combined with repeat track maintenance requests from existing clubs kept the business steady. The big break came when they built The Skyline Bike Park in Rotorua. “It really put us on the map,” says Adam. “When Crankworx arrived in Rotorua in 2015 we were in the right place at the right time. We’ve been involved since the start as one of their main contractors in New Zealand, and 2023 will be our ninth year together.”
The inaugural Crankworx event began in Whistler in 2004 and it has since become the biggest event in mountain biking. A field of the world’s most elite riders race against one another for individual dominance, accumulating points for the overall prize. The 2023 Crankworx World Tour visits Rotorua, Cairns, Innsbruck, and Whistler.
EOD use Attach2!
Okay. Attach2 were there from the very start. But we won’t make a big deal about it. “It was more by chance,” laughs Adam, “as it’s what we were recommended from the dealership when I originally started with A2 Draw Pin coupler and then the A2 Mini-Tilt.”
When it came time to upgrade to the Heli-Tilt, EOD did initially shop around. “I asked other operators what they’d recommend and was told the Heli-Tilt was pretty good. So we went with that and it was happy days!” he grins.
“The 90-degree tilt each way allows me to get better angles. It’s a real timesaver and a game-changer for me. I can leverage the edges of my bucket to pull out stumps. It’s durable and there’s no chatter.”
“I use the Heli-Tilt with an A2 Wide Bucket (900mm), an A2 Trenching Bucket, and a customised A2 400mm bucket. The Heli-Tilt’s great for making batters (receding earthwork walls) either relaxed or steep around the track edges. I’m also rarely working on level ground so I find it’s also perfect for getting in the exact position that I require.”
“The 400mm bucket I made by cutting down and rewelding another A2 Wide Bucket (originally 900mm). I made it my own as 400mm is an ideal size and I wanted smoother edges and a very smooth base that wouldn’t leave any line marks in the dirt. I even adjusted the curvature slightly on the bottom to better suit the optimal position that I shape in, and it works a dream!”
Success is in such details
Final course finishing and shaping is done by hand using rakes, the flat end of a shovel, and brooms.
“We pride ourselves on quality. We don’t rush. We take our time, and we’ll fight for what’s right. We love being challenged and always try and do the best job within the constraints we’re given.”
The team is experienced and prides itself on its processes and efficiencies. “Time and budgets can easily blow out if you’re not on to it,” says Adam.
“We use technology like GPS on a stick so when we create batters and rollers, they match up exactly to the plan we give to clients. That way everything a client sees when visiting the site will match exactly with the plan in their hands and meet their expectations.”
“Our Attach2 gear serves us well. The buckets are hardwearing, and the fabrication is good with good welds. We’re so used to how they work with the Heli-Tilt, that Attach2 is our go-to source for attachments.”
Doing it for the love and passion
“Before founding Empire of Dirt with Chris, I used to always dislike Sunday nights,” reflects Adam, “because I had to go to work on Monday. It would make me anxious. But I don’t have that anxiety anymore,” he smiles. “I love what I do. I’ve found my passion.”