Crackers track - no ordinary bike trail
By ALEC SMART
Marty Coss at the Crackers mountain bike track in St Ives Chase. Photo: Alec Smart
The renowned Warrimoo downhill bicycle trail in St Ives Chase bushland, affectionately known as the ‘Crackers’ track, was created many years ago by an enterprising local named Marty Coss. We followed Marty into the bush to learn about Sydney’s first legally-recognised mountain bike track.
Crackers downhill track, 932 metres in length and, at its steepest, descending on a 26.8% gradient, essentially began following a few well-worn paths for bushwalkers and youths on camping expeditions. Those routes may have adopted historic Aboriginal trails and Victorian-era pathways to long-forgotten sandstone quarries.
Prior to the arrival of the BMX all-terrain cycling craze in the 1980s, youths customised their bikes into ‘bush-bashers’ to withstand rugged off-road conditions. St Ives’ kids, including Marty Coss, took to the bush behind Warrimoo Oval and widened the wallaby tracks or hacked new trails among the steep, rocky terrain. These were often obliterated in extreme weather events like bushfires or torrential rain, or quickly reclaimed by the fast-growing bush.
Marty, who still lives in close proximity to Warrimoo Oval, remembered the thrill of making off-road paths for early two-wheel adventures.
“When BMXs arrived – with crazy plastic ‘tuff’ wheels for performing tricks – they fuelled kids’ minds for riding jumps. This captivated our imaginations and we began digging them - with tools, spades and picks - until we successfully built ourselves a series of dirt jumps from a sloped section beside North St Ives scout hall.
“These saw action after school and weekends, sending riders airborne, and we measured who could land the bike the furthest distance.”
Screenshot from a YouTube video of riders descending Crackers.
Marty makes The Moo
Fast forward another decade and dedicated off-road bicycles for adults, called mountain bikes, were now prevalent, some with sophisticated suspension to take the jolt out of landing heavily from a height.
In the absence of dedicated off-road bicycle trails, and the reluctance of councils to consider sanctioning them, riders took to the bush surreptitiously, carving out fresh courses that were advertised by word-of-mouth only.
Inspired by one such trail in Oxford Falls, known as ‘Oxy’, Marty set about extending the faded BMX tracks by Warrimoo Oval that he helped construct in his youth, part-following the Rural Fire Service’s burn-reduction lines. “The sport of mountain biking at this juncture of time was for the most part in its infancy in Australia,” Marty recalled.
In 2007, Marty decided to adapt the old criss-crossing paths and make a designated downhill course that would attract serious off-road riders. With the use of conveniently-cut sandstone slabs as reinforcing material, sourced from what he suspects was an old quarry in this part of the bush, Marty, with help from a friend called Skidd Marks (!), created a hardcore mountain bike trail. They nicknamed it The Moo.
“From its beginnings, the Crackers trail was known as The Moo - short for Warrimoo,” Marty revealed. “We created jumps, landers, corners, berms and technically-difficult drop-offs, with two different tracks. The start was behind the Warrimoo tennis courts, winding down to its lowest point by Ku-ring-gai Creek.
“It connected with wallaby tracks and aligned with other trails, via rock escarpments, but was created with the downward flow of gravity in mind. They’re made to ride fast, so that when you come upon the jumps, you’ve accumulated enough speed to clear them.
“We never advertised this trail location, just enjoyed the riding and keeping it low key, but soon word got around and The Moo proved to be a riders’ Mecca, more popular than Oxy!”
Rocks to negotiate on the Crackers mountain bike track in St Ives Chase. Photo: Alec Smart
So how did its name transition from The Moo to Crackers?
“It was named in honour of my partner, Claire,” Marty said. “Nine years ago on 9 April 2013, she had an aneurysm, a haemorrhage of the brain, and passed away suddenly.
“The word ‘Crackers’ is a term that Claire used a lot, a quirky number she would say at times to describe something absurd or humorous: ‘that’s crackers!’
“During Claire’s wake, while we were honouring her memory, Hugh, a carpenter, said, ‘why don’t I knock up a Crackers sign to hang at the trailhead! What do you think about naming the track in honour of Claire?’
“We all thought it was a fantastic idea.
“Claire had a funny, upbeat, quirky nature, never holding back. She gave so much of herself, always flowering in full bloom.. We both shared a loving relationship.. I’ve reflected on it through grief for many years.. Her wonderful presence is greatly missed.”
And so Marty’s track, built with a labour of love, is also a tribute to a much-missed love.
He still spends an average of three days a week maintaining the Crackers course, unpaid work that underlines his commitment to a living memorial to Claire.
Closure and resurrection
Over time, Crackers’ two main tracks were modified and enhanced to avoid erosion, with regular riders establishing trail-care maintenance days.
On weekends up to 80 riders would be hurtling along the course at any one time.
International competitors, drawn by its legendary reputation, tried Crackers as a ‘warm-up’ prior to competing in high-profile races elsewhere.
However, word eventually reached Ku-ring-gai Council in 2015 that there were unauthorised cycle tracks on the edge of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Parts of it were found to cross ecologically sensitive Coastal Upland Swamp and in June 2017 Council erected fencing around a large section to deter bikers.
According to NSW Dept Environment, Coastal Upland Swamp is the name given to the ecological community associated with periodically waterlogged soils on sandstone plateaus. Threatened species recorded in Coastal Upland Swamp include the prickly-bush tree, giant burrowing frog, red-crowned toadlet, Rosenberg's goanna and the endangered green and golden bell frog.
Working with Council rangers, Marty diverted the cycle tracks away from the vulnerable habitat.
In 2019, Ku-ring-gai Council took the bold step of employing professional off-road track builders DirtArt to construct a legally-recognised course that steered away from environmentally sensitive areas, which faithfully followed large sections of Marty’s 15-year-old designated downhill trail.
DirtArt also added an uphill walking track, illustrated with intermittent signs informing passers-by of the wildlife resident in the surrounding terrain.
Part of the Crackers mountain bike track in St Ives Chase. Photo: Alec Smart
In September 2019, Crackers was formally opened by Ku-ring-gai Council, the first legally-sanctioned mountain bike trail in Sydney Metropolitan Area.
Council have since liaised with riders on several other off-road trails, restructuring unauthorised paths into dedicated mountain bike zones, including the ‘Jubes’ Golden Jubilee track in North Wahroonga.
Other councils have been inspired by Ku-ring-gai’s community-minded approach, and sent researchers to Crackers to liaise with representatives on creating their own tracks. In recent years this has seen the opening of Hornsby Mountain Bike Trail in a former quarry, and Bare Creek Bike Park in Belrose.
Marty admits he preferred it when Crackers consisted of interconnecting tracks not a single downhill run. He is hopeful the Council will sanction at least another trail in the vicinity – like the three tracks in Hornsby graded for beginners, intermediate and advanced riders.
“More tracks would also bring in more tourist income to St Ives Chase shops,” he added, “plus bushwalkers, who could link-up with the St Ives Wildflower Garden trails at Ku-ring-gai Creek.”
Meanwhile, Council employees have marked out an additional up-track, so riders can cycle back to the start without getting in the way of either cyclists descending the main downhill run or bushwalkers on the footpath. In spite of the torrential rain of summer 2021-22 causing erosion and limiting its use, the Crackers track upgrade is back on track.
Trailforks, the online database for cyclists, skiers, walkers, horse riders and assorted off-road vehicles, describes Crackers as: “The first legal freeride trail in Sydney. Crackers is a Downhill track full of jumps, berms, drops and chutes, which winds its way down to the creek and finishes out at the weir. Lovingly crafted by locals many years ago, it received a huge upgrade by Dirt Art before being formally legalised in late 2019.”
Ku-ring-gai Council mountain biking
Marty Coss visits Crackers bike track regularly for maintenance. Photo: Alec Smart
Marty wishes to thank the Moo Crew: The Smith brothers, Dirty Dave, Mad Mick, Braddo, Chucky, Chancy, Justin, Troy, Vinc, action Cam, Tristan, Crazy, Skidd Marks, Leon, Greenie, Nath, the 2 Damo’s, Turkey, Gab, and Simon at Trailcare for their assistance over the years of maintaining the track.