The Origin of Mountain Biking – History of Downieville Classic

Downieville Classic Mountain Biking Image Taken by: Mike Riepe (Flickr Account: mikeriepe)

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It’s official. One of the rowdiest mountain bike races is officially BACK – The Downieville Classic! This upcoming weekend is the 25th anniversary of running the Downieville Classic. What Outside Magazine considers one of the ten best mountain bike races in the country and arguably in the world. Reason being… it’s pure and unadulterated. Old school fun. Let’s look into the history of the town and the region to understand why the race feels the way it does.

Image Taken by: Ben Fish (Flickr Account: benjaminfish)
Image Taken by: Ben Fish (Flickr Account: benjaminfish)

History of The Downieville Classic – Where It All Began

Image Taken by: Stephanie Ruff
Image Taken by: Stephanie Ruff Flicker Account: thewoolydaisy)

Many of the bike trails used today were created long before mountain biking was even invented. Some of them go as far back as the gold rush era of 1849. For all you football fans, this is where the San Francisco 49’ers got their name. The trails were built to get miners into the gold fields of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Now, instead of striking it rich by finding gold, they’re prospecting for adrenaline.

How Downieville Got Its Name

The town was originally named “The Forks.” But after William Downie, a Scottish prospector, led the first group of miners into the region, it was changed to Downieville. The first year not a lot of gold was discovered. One day, a guy named Jim Crow fried up a trout and found gold lining the pan. They’d found where the gold was! From that point, so much was found in the region it became the fifth largest town in California! It even almost became the capital of the state, but lost to Sacramento by ten votes.

Decline and Rebirth

Image taken by: Pat Thompson (Flickr Account: I2smp)
Image taken by: Pat Thompson (Flickr Account: I2smp)

In 1853, the population was over 5,000 and some claims were yielding up to $12,000 in eleven days! And one claim hit $80,000 in six months… that’s over $3 million in 2023 dollars. Once mining became mechanized, the valuable ore disappeared and the population began to leave for other more fruitful places. By 2013, there were now only 300 people that permanently reside here. Without gold or logging, it became one of the poorest counties in the nation. Then in the 1980’s and 90’s, mountain biking transformed this sleepy town into a hot bed of downhill biking. Even though people like Gary Fischer, the owner of Fischer bikes, had been riding this region since the 70’s, it wasn’t until the Coyote Adventure Company began offering shuttle service into this region that it became more popular.


Coyote Classic Becomes The Downieville Classic

Image Taken by: Ben Fish (Flickr account: benjaminfish)
mage Taken by: Ben Fish (Flickr account: benjaminfish)

Like all hotbeds of alternative sports, there is a sense of camaraderie, but competition is key to pushing the sport to the next level. It makes sense that the owner of Coyote Adventure Company, now known as Yuba Expeditions, changed the Coyote Classic event to a more formal race in 1998, the Downieville Classic.

One Mountain Bike For All Terrain Was Born

Downieville Backflip - Stephanie Ruff
Image Taken by: Stephanie Ruff Flicker Account: thewoolydaisy)

Originally, the race was two events:

  • Day 1: Cross country

  • Day 2: Exclusively downhill

Then in 2005, due to a horrific issue in the downhill race, the decision was made to combine these two events into one and call it the “All Mountain Biking Championships.” The basic rule is as follows:

Ride The Same Bike Both Days

It was so serious that they weighed them in and marked their parts each day. That was when the concept of one bike that could do everything was born. Being the originator of modern mountain biking, it makes sense that the event is so popular that it sells out all 700 spots overnight each year.


Event Schedule


9am – 4:30pm: Yuba Expeditions Trail shuttles, rides and swimming
5pm – 10pm: Volunteer/Industry Party
6:30pm: Annual Volunteer/Industry Rep Trifecta Competition
5pm: BBQ : Hot dogs and sides brought to you by Hangtown Electric at Yuba for purchase
9pm: Downieville Dance-Off


9am – 4:30pm: Trail shuttles, rides and swimming
3pm – 7pm: Registration in Downieville Community Hall
4pm – 7pm: Live music by Big Sticky Mess (Original funk music that you feel in yo booty!)
6pm – 9pm: Santa Cruz movie night Yuba Theatre in Downieville


7am – 9am: Registration at Sierra City Community Center
9:30am: Cross country race start in Sierra City
10am: Downieville Classic Expo and Marketplace
12:00pm: Rider food available by Gather Catering Co. and Beverage Garden flowing for purchase
Ron’s House of Big Air brought to you by Red Bull  Due to river flow, Coyote Criterium instead
SBTS drawing
Cross Country race award ceremonies
Log Pull Competition
8pm – 10pm: Downieville dance party and live music by Mojo Green (Heavy horn funk & soul!)


9am: Downieville Downhill race start
10am: Downieville Classic Expo and Marketplace
11am: Rider food feed by Fire Dept and Beverage Garden flowing for purchase
Cozmo’s Wild Island
Kid’s Big Air River Jump
Downhill and All Mountain race award ceremonies
SBTS drawing

If you want to learn more about grassroot races like the Downieville 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:

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