Words by Will Shaw, Flow | Images by Flowtographer

Riders who frequent Manly Dam either love it, hate it or find the challenging terrain a bit off-putting. The incredibly popular trail in Sydney’s Northern Beaches around the old water reservoir just a few km from the vibrant Manly Beach has long been in need of some care and maintenance. Judging by the number of hire bikes we see also around The Dam, it’s also a must-ride destination for beginners to the sport and visitors to Sydney.

Manly Dam is the most used trail not just in Sydney, but Australia, with approximately 150,000 uses a year, and up to 500 passes in one day! Despite this, the iconic 10km loop has seen better days. Eroding trail, track widening and confusing line choices are all features of the loop that riders have had to face for some time.

It’s rough, it’s bumpy, muddy and scratchy out there, it’s a fast ride, with loads of fun, swooping turns and drop offs everywhere.

The Sydney sandstone terrain exists in one of two surfaces, either hard steps of rock or soft patches of sand under your tyres, making it a serious challenge to ride, maintain and reduce massive erosion after rain. It’s also so unique and localised to a small area, so its hard to find anybody with experience working with the

Enter Trailscapes, the South Australian trail building and maintenance team headed up by Garry Patterson, a longtime and passionate mountain biker himself, with massive experience internationally and domestically in the business of trail building. The crew are currently hard at work in two areas; Manly Dam and across the road at Bantry Bay in Garigal National Park.

Whilst the work at Manly Dam is exciting news, what’s possibly even more exciting is the new trails being cut in across the road from Manly Dam at Bantry Bay. National Park? Yes, mountain bike trails are being constructed from scratch in National Park land, marking what is hopefully the beginning of a more positive relationship between mountain bikers and National Parks. For a long time there has been advocacy efforts to get trails at the site, NPWS is committed to providing quality, sustainable mountain biking experiences in selected New South Wales parks and reserves a commitment articulated in the NPWS Sustainable Mountain Biking Strategy. A priority project in the Strategy is the provision of a quality and sustainable mountain bike track in a northern Sydney NPWS reserve. With clearance from what we hear is the top level of state parliament, two brand new trails are being built, a blue graded trail ‘Bantry Bay West’ looping from the Currie Road Trail to the Cook Street Trail and a blue graded trail ‘Bantry Bay East’ looping from the Bluff Trail to the Engravings Trail. For more information click this link.

Warringah Council, which manages Manly Dam, has been a great supporter of the sport and has taken a collaborative approach to ensure the mountain biking community had input into the project.

The first stage of upgrade works costs $95,000 showing a real investment in mountain biking and protecting the environment.

Council has committed more funding over the next four years to continue the trail upgrade works that were identified during in the trail audit process.

Flow dropped by to see how the work is going, and meet the trail fairies in their office.

  • How have Trailscapes come to be working at Manly Dam?

We were contacted about four months ago by Warringah Council about doing some restoration/repair work on the trail, and then we started work about two months ago.

  • Why the need for a big operation like this?

As Manly Dam is one of the most popular mountain biking destinations not just in Sydney, but Australia, it gets worn down greatly. There has been a need for some time for more sustainable trail features to be put in place to accommodate the high traffic the area receives.

  • What can Trailscapes offer in contrast to regular Manly Dam/National Park maintenance teams?

Trailscapes can offer a better standard of work, as we are a professional trail building/maintenance company with vast experience in the specific industry of creating and maintaining mountain bike trails.

  • What is the main focus for the work to be undertaken?

There are four sections that we are focusing on. Putting in official A/B lines at the section known as ’19th Hole’, making A/B lines on ‘The Sniggle’, and finally we will be removing unsustainable trail features and replacing them with more future-proofed materials.

  • Are there any working conditions that effect the work being done here?

Well there’s a rider that comes through every ten minutes, even on a weekday (laughs).

  • What is the best part about working in the Manly Dam area?

The terrain here is just so unique. It’s amazing, and unlike anything else I’ve seen in Australia.

  • What’s the timeframe for the work to be completed?

Manly Dam: Late July

Bantry Bay West: Fire trail green with single track section blue (IMBA difficulty rating). Expected completion by October 2014

Bantry Bay East: Fire trail green with single track section blue (IMBA difficulty rating). Expected completion by February 2015

  • Will there continue to be more work done in the future or is this a once off operation?

The work we’re doing is predicted to have a ten year lifespan. Despite this, there are plenty of avenues for work to be done on the Manly Dam trail so we will most probably be back. With the complementing trail network being developed across the road at Bantry Bay, this area is about to become even more popular for mountain biking then it already is so who knows if we could be building more trails in the near future!

Manly Dam

The bulk of the work will include:

  1. Introducing signposted A and B lines at technical sections of the trail. These include ‘the 19th hole’ and the steep roll off located on before the golf course lookout.

  2. Putting in more sustainable trail features, like using locally sourced Sydney sandstone instead of the previously used Dutch Ladders to prevent erosion of the trail.

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The Dam is littered with sensitive sections with moist surfaces.

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Cya later Dutch ladders! We won’t miss you.

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Garry’s favourite tool.

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“If you build proper trails there’ll be less illegal stuff-it’s that simple”

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When Elliot isn’t working on the trail, you can find him backflipping at the dirt jumps. All the crew ride the trails the love to build.

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This is what 80 riders in one hour can do to sandstone.

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“When you start from scratch with a trail everyone says ‘that’s great’, but if you tamper with existing trails it’s easy to get people upset, so you’ve got to consider your impact”

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Sandstone materials handpicked from Gosford Quarries just north of Sydney are being placed over the soft patches of the trails to armour the surface for longevity.

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Gary proudly unveils a new ‘B line’.

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“The work we are doing is mainly remedial, as well as putting in some A and B lines” said Gary. “We want a first time rider to easily identify the easiest line choice, and more experienced riders to have a more challenging line to ride”.

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Two New Trails For Bantry Bay

The Bantry Bay trail locations are yet to be revealed, but do get excited it’s going to be a great addition to the existing trails of Manly Dam to provide a bigger loop network.

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Trail building is serious business! Tony suits up for battle.

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Tony Nolan, who’s been riding Manly Dam since 1995 and is currently working on the new trails at Bantry Bay, couldn’t keep the grin off his face discussing the future of the new trails at Bantry Bay and remedial work at Manly Dam.

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Yet more protection. It’s tough work day in, day out.

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“You just don’t use a wheelbarrow of dirt and you’re done”

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The Bantry Bay Trailscapes crew. Just one happy family.

 

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The surfaces are capped with only locally sourced materials, under strict guidance from National Parks.

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It’s going to be a nice riding trail, quite tight and twisty through the beautiful National Park.

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Maite Petrement, full time trail builder with one of her favourite sections of trail.

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The trail work at Bantry Bay isn’t easy, the location is so remote that helicopters have been used to drop supplies such as rocks and dirt near the site.

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The time has come Sydney. Fresh, legal trails on the way!

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Watch your head! These bags aren’t light!

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Trails don’t build themselves! Tony showing his team how it’s done with the mattock! “All of these trails are going to be amazing to ride,” said Tony.