Matt Niswonger

A recap of the 2017 Downieville Classic

By Stan Lattin

Ron’s House of Big Air. Photo: Matt Niswonger

When a destination becomes a part of culture and folklore, everybody wants to go there. That’s the beauty of Downieville. It’s hidden away enough that only the devoted and deranged find their way to this majestic gem in the Lost Sierra. I returned to the area August 5-6 for the 22nd Downieville Classic Mountain Bike Race and Festival. I probably should have bought a few event shirts to sell, because all the cool kids will want to say they were there.

The first Downieville bike race took place in 1995 as a collaboration between Greg Williams and Santa Cruz Bicycles. In 1998 the Downieville Classic would get its name and the seed was planted. The town, bike culture and race started growing just like the woods that surround it. The race and community continued to thrive and in 2005 the race became a two-day event.

Day 1 is the Classic Cross Country Race. This point-to-point event starts with a traditional fire road climb one block up from Highway 49 in downtown Sierra City. The 3,000 ft climb is known for draining the strength of riders making the technical, fast 15 mile descent ahead even more difficult. Bike choice is key in this race. The same bike must be raced both days and it must weigh the same with the same components. Riders hoping to win the All Mountain title would need a light climber on Saturday and a fast descending bike the next.

Day 2 is the Downieville Downhill. Only racers who complete day 1 get a shot at the downhill race, and the combined points of the two days decides the winner of the All Mountain World Championships. This day consists of one run down the traditional Downieville Downhill. This is the famous course that anybody can ride daily from one of the local shuttle service bike shops. A fast 5,000 ft. descent in 15 miles with just a few cruel uphills in the way of glory.

The actual bike festival started two days before the racing with shuttles for those brave enough to take practice runs at the legendary downhill. Dozens of vendors, several food trucks and helpful industry reps lined the streets of the bustling mountain bike town. Several competitions and events take place during these first two days keeping the whole family entertained. All of this, plus you still get to take in all that is Downieville, Sierra City and the surrounding wilderness.

I arrived downtown Saturday at dawn. The Yuba Expeditions parking lot was slowly coming alive with sleepy volunteers all well fed and organized by Debbie Bonovich. Not only is this the launching pad for the Ron’s House of Big Air river jump, but it’s also the home base of the entire event. Loads of supplies and volunteers were moving out before most riders even put on riding gear. Back in Sierra City an hour prior to race start, the small town was infested with racers and their support. It’s actually not as ridiculous as it sounds and the myth that you can’t get around or stay in the area is just that. Did you hear me? There is room for you in the Lost Sierra next year!

The Classic Cross Country race took place on a humid day, and light rains made for excellent riding conditions. The extra moisture, plus the still-dusty trail, made for great after-race photos. Riders were caked with dirt from head to toe at the finish. Geoff Kabush put just over 2 minutes on his main rival Carl Decker in the men’s pro category. In the pro women’s race, Katarina Nash was in a class by herself on Saturday putting over 10 minutes on her competition. Upcoming star Emma Maaranen rode hard for an impressive runner up finish behind Nash.

With the field coming back into town and another race tomorrow, the finish line was just the first stop. The festival grounds and Ron’s House of Big Air river jump were hopping, and The Nibblers would hit the stage for a great set Saturday night. The river jump included the “Kids Kicker” for the first time this year, a smaller ramp for the younger kids. It got plenty of use, but the little guys who unexpectedly hit the big ramp were the real stars of the day.

Sunday’s Downhill race decided the overall winners and conditions were hot and dry. Geoff Kabush would put another minute into Downieville legend Carl Decker and take home the crown. The pace was absolutely terrifying to watch and riders were pushing audibly hard down the first divide trail two miles from the finish. Katarina Nash would put another seven minutes on her competition and easily took the win with Maaranen again in 2nd.

Riders were treated to a few distractions on the downhill trail as well. The “Angry Singlespeeder,” Kurt Genshimer, was in volunteer mode over the weekend and didn’t compete, however he did find time to set up his drum kit … on the trail. Sitting just off the singletrack at the Gorge with his truck radio cranked up, every passing rider got a close-up drum blast courtesy of Kurt. At the end of the trail just before entering town, a makeshift “mooning station” was set up. Some of my best friends – and most tasteless photographs – were made at this spot. Most riders laughed, some not. At least one smack was given on a cheek at 30 mph, and please don’t ask me about the “poo dollar.”

The Downieville Classic is a great event for families and friends. It always sells out so keep a eye open for next year’s signups. I can’t think of another event where everything is so centrally located. A beautiful small mountain town bike festival, a world famous bike race, a pristine river and the Sierra Buttes. All from a one lane bridge.

The expo was packed all weekend. Photo: Stan Lattin

Volunteers, sponsors and racers were up early to kick off the racing Saturday. Photo: Stan Lattin

Emma Maaranen rides down into Sierra City for the Cross Country race start. Photo: Stan Lattin

Come to Downieville, We’ll give you a dollar! Photo: Stan Lattin

Just doing 30mph. Might as well wheelie for the photo guy. Photo: Stan Lattin

Kathy Payne selling SBTS raffle tickets. Photo: Matt Niswonger

Packed venue. Photo: Matt Niswonger

ASJ has been a proud sponsor of the event for many years. Photo: Matt Niswonger

Log pull. Photo: Matt Niswonger

We love Tepui Tents! Photo: Matt Niswonger

Because Ron’s Big House of Air deserves another pic. Photo: Matt Niswonger