Lake Tahoe is a beautiful locale for mountain biking with trails like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Tahoe Rim Trail, and the Flume just to name a few. But, sometimes you need to get out and explore an area that’s a bit different. We’ve talked several times about the Downieville MTB Classic and decided that this was the year to hit up the original mountain biking event ourselves. Since it’s about a hundred miles from South Lake Tahoe, we headed out around nine o’clock to land us in town right before lunch.
Crowds, crowds everywhere and then serenity
Traveling through South shore and onto the East side, the amount of people around Tahoe was way above normal. Driving past Sand Harbor, we noticed that the parking lot AND shoulders near the entrance were packed and it was only 9:30 am?!? On our journey northward, the traffic around Lake Tahoe was relentless. Making the final push through Truckee up 89 towards Sierraville, the congestion slowly disappeared and the only thing left was trees and huge manzanitas.
Clouds loom in the horizon… will the Downieville Classic be rained out?
As we puttered down the highway, making the hard left turn onto 49 at Sierraville, the large looming rain-clouds hung over the Sierra Nevadas. As we made our ascent towards Yuba Pass, the switchbacks came one after the other. The first thing we noticed about this part of the Sierra Nevadas is the terrain and foliage are reminiscent of the Cascade Mountain Range in the Pacific Northwest. The vegetation has evergreens covered in moss mixed with deciduous hardwoods creating neon green accents. Near the summit of Yuba Pass, the rain began to fall… and fall hard! Would the Downieville Classic be rained out?
Sierra City – The Start of the Cross Country Race
Now starting our descent, the rain stopped as quickly as it started and only a few drops hit our windshield. Highway 49 continued hugging the North Yuba River, weaving our way through Bassetts Station and entering Sierra City. The broad-leaf trees create a canopy as beautiful Victorian homes line the street. Today’s cross-country race began in Sierra City so it makes sense why there are hundreds of vans, cars, and trucks parked alongside the road yet not a single person in sight. Making a mental note to check this town out on another day, we continue towards Downieville.
Downieville – As majestic as we imagined
Pulling into Downieville, the first thing that blows our minds is how beautiful it is. Situated in a tight valley, hugged by massive hillsides in every direction, the scenery is breathtaking. On top of that, the town is filled with well-kept historic buildings and two single-lane bridges crossing the rivers. You read it right… ONE LANE. You can FEEL the history here and imagine the gold rush clamor.
Compared to Virginia City, this town doesn’t just live in its past but embraces the present too. How? By being a hotbed for the mountain biking culture. Today, the main street is blocked off and the place to be. Walking through the marketplace, we see gear booths from companies like Shimano and Santa Cruz bikes making us drool with envy. Making it to the end of the hoopla, we spot a music stage and the finish line for the cross-country race.
Muddy from head to toe
Dozens of racers that have already completed their run stand like a brother/sisterhood and applaud their counterparts as they ride into town. Each one of the riders is covered from head-to-toe in mud, looking exhausted but happy. With the race of the day finishing up, it was time to head over and check out Ryan’s House of Big Air.
River + Bikes + Big Air = Ultimate Spectator Event
After a long day of riding the trails, what’s the best way to celebrate? Sure, you can have a cold beer but what about jumping into a cold river… with your bike?!? Now we’re talking. The town itself sits at the confluence of the North Yuba and Downieville Rivers making the perfect venue for such an event. That’s what the Ron’s House of Big Air is all about. It’s a friendly competition where 20 competitors hit a large kicker, catapulting them 30 feet in the air! With tens of thousands worth of equipment up for grabs, people got after it.
First time ever… kids jumping
Normally a showcase for teenagers and adults, for the first time ever, youngsters nine to eleven years old get a chance to hit the jump. Of course, the adults are fun to watch with backflips, belly flops, and all other kinds of bike wizardry happening. But, seeing the next generation go for it really puts a smile on your face. To make sure the kids had something to launch off of, they had a small kicker for them right next to the big one. But… like all hard-charging riders, one kid by the name of Noah pushed the level and went off the big one. The massive crowd surrounding the river erupted. If seeing a youngster shoot off a massive jump nearly ten feet into the air followed by landing in a cold river doesn’t make you smile, you must be dead inside!
Downieville Classic Recap 2017 – Still Grassroots after all these years
There’s something about a grassroots event that’s just different than a corporate sponsored shindig like the X-Games. Is it the money? The exclusivity that the event creates separating the pros from the amateurs? No matter the reason, the vibe at the Downieville Classic is still pure and untainted. Did we have fun as spectators? Absolutely! But, as we walk back to the car, we look at each other with big grins on our faces and say, “We should do this race next year!” Looks like the Local Freshies® crew has some training to do. Who’s with us? If you want to learn more about grassroot races like the Downieville MTB Classic, get tips on gear, or just learn about some other hidden destinations to explore on your mountain bike be sure to check out our comprehensive guide on everything two wheels: The Down & Dirty On Mountain Biking.