Practice Makes Perfection at the 2018 Downieville Classic

The Downieville Classic has been a work in progress since its inception in 1995, yet most recently the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship – the trail organization that throws the race and maintains hundreds of miles of trail in the Lost Sierra – made a massive leap in progress, but not without a lot of persistence, a little luck, and yes, tons of practice. Whatever mountain biking is to you, be it sport, hobby, lifestyle, or all of the above, it requires practice. The SBTS has logged over 25 years of practice working with various Forestry departments: learning the ins and outs of trail stewardship, including but not limited to the politics and practices of making and maintaining mountain bike trails.

Most recently, the SBTS convinced the US Forest Service and the Pacific Crest Trail Association to move the PCT so they could include a section from Packer Saddle up to Gold Valley and back down to re-connect with the Downieville Classic XC course. The resulting trail would be equal parts tough and fun, with plenty of views to distract from the pain of climbing up from Sierra City. When I first heard about the win for bike access on this trail during Lost and Found back in June, I was blown away – but it didn’t sink in until I actually got to ride it a few days before the sleepy town of Downieville got filled with thousands of MTB racers and enthusiasts.

Working with the PCTA

The Sierra Buttes wanted to include this trail in their massive network but no one knew how negotiations would go when it came to opening up this section of the Pacific Crest Trail to mountain bikers. Greg Williams, Executive Director of the SBTS and descendent of a lost Miwok tribe, has fought his entire adult life for “clean streams, big mountains, and long trails.” He is no stranger to the Forest Service in this region and has learned how to navigate the bureaucratic processes of growing MTB trail access.

When the negotiations began, both sides had concerns. The PCTA wanted better routing for hikers, who previously had limited water options on the trail, or perhaps who wanted to refuel in Sierra City without having to tack on an additional 2,500′ of elevation. Another issue the PCTA brought to the table was that numerous cyclists were already “poaching” this section of trail, so they understood the allure of including it in the area’s bigger loop. The PCTA and the SBTS, along with the Forest Service agreed to re-route the PCT to a neighboring fire road that would allow hikers easier access. Problem solved, for now!

Needless to say, it was more complicated than I’m making it out to be, but as Kurt Gensheimer – the SBTS’ Trail Whisperer – showed a few of us the new trail one afternoon, I really grasped the importance of these recent negotiations. The new Gold Valley trail follows the Sierra Crest and provides massive, sweeping views of the Buttes and Deer Lake. Since this trail was previously a hiking trail, there is no well worn-in line, so the going gets rough real fast. Rougher than the “Classic Downhill” route in my opinion.

At the end of the day, I wouldn’t call what SBTS achieved as lucky, but they sure must have had the dirt gods on their side!

The Annual PAUL Component Shuttle Ride

While this is only my second Downieville Classic, for the past few years, the Paul Component Engineering team has thrown an annual private shuttle ride. The pace is chill and the bikes range from all-road drop bar bikes to rigid mtbs to full-on carbon shred sleds. Each year, the group takes around four hours to do the course that pros will crush in under 40 minutes. After going full-gas on the ride the day before, I was looking forward to a chilleur ride. This year, Paul had to sit out due to a recent surgery, but he was there in spirit.

Race Reportage

Shooting last year’s race, I learned a lot, both in terms of how to document a weekend like the Classic and what people wanted to see. This year I wanted to be on the full course with the racers, so on Saturday morning, Kurt gave me a ride above Packer Saddle on the Gold Valley Trail where he set up his drum kit and laid down some beats for the racers. Once the pros moved through, I hopped on course and began to shoot the XC route. It was a long, hot, and smokey day. With my eyes burning and lungs sore, I pedaled back into town looking forward to capturing post-ride portraits, the river jump, and the log pull.

Writing about the Downieville Classic is probably one of the easiest events to cover because I always end up with a super thick gallery and if a picture is worth a thousand words, then they should tell the tale just fine!

I want to thank everyone at SBTS for helping out, the amazing ladies at ROAM, the crew at PAUL, the volunteers, the locals, Cari, Max, and everyone that said hello, gave out a high five or a hug and YOU for reading this. Thank you, Downieville!

If you’d like to use one of these photos and many more, here’s a link to a Dropbox Gallery!


Follow Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship on Instagram, join the SBTS with a donation, and if you’re ever in Downieville, holler at the Yuba Team!

  • Gene

    What a hellava weekend! Thanks for roughing it through smoke & dust to capture the memories, John.

    Find me on #134!

    • Amanda

      Ha! That photo is so good. You wear that look well Gene.

      • Gene Selkov

        Shoulda kept it at the friar haircut 😂

  • Kyle McCall

    Love the photos John! It’s really amazing how much work the folks at SBTS have put into making these trails what they are.

  • Trenton South

    Those zoom Zoom shots of the amazing BowBow riding his wheelie through the creek are some great panning shots John!!

  • AdamBike99

    “Downieville Vehicle Report”

    John’s new monthly column, “(insert location) Vehicle Report” 8-)

  • Chris Valente

    Man that little town is just the best.

    • It really is.

      • Froste

        I drove through post race last year after a weekend of bikepacking in Plumas. I definitely got some Alp vibes going through there, made me miss living in Italy!

        • It has some Glarus vibes for sure. In a canyon, along a river!

  • Justin Scoltock

    Too much radness to process! Great shots john and now its settled…going to Downieville next year!

  • Armand

    Looks like the perfect weekend! What is that white helmet the guy in the red shirt is wearing, image 14-19?

  • Matt Karwoski

    Mountain biking is the truth

  • Andrew Nepsund

    Stoked to see some fly fishing stuff on here. Always fun to see my two worlds collide! HOWEVER, it’s going to make it even harder to get work done if that continues…

    • Hah! Luckily these are all spinner reel shots. Well, there’s a photo of two fly fishing setups in there, but all the fishing photos are spinners.

  • Seriously… these sponsored posts have got to stop. How much did Rollerblade pay you for that?!?

  • alex

    Dude! Can I get #85 for a phone wallpaper?

  • Matt Meko

    Wonderful gallery. Big, diverse, and with captions! Captions are worth 500 words, or at least a few more than their actual word count. Drummer Kurt and the log pull almost make me wish you would apply your unique talents to video. So much bike video content is trash; you could show em how it should be done. But I also think I understand why still photography is your preferred medium. With so many ‘perfect shots’, it must be very satisfying.

    • Thanks, Matt! Yeah, video is a whole ‘nother bag. Luckily the guys from Freehub were there and they’ll have a video out shortly!

  • Sam Scavo

    interesting hard top on that GPW

    • Yeah, I have no idea what’s going on there. hah!

  • Dexter

    What an amazing looking weekend!

    • It’s my favorite bike weekend. I especially love not having cell reception. :-)

  • Patrick

    These are great John! Thanks for capturing the magic of the Classic.

    • Thanks, Patrick! It was a lot of work but a lot of fun!

  • blob blobbet

    Hey John, are these jerseys coming up on their shop page anytime soon?

  • GeraldBowles

    Sweet lil MGA coupe too! Looks like a good time.

  • Jesse Wicks

    Any idea on the fanny pack/bum bags some of the riders have?

    • A lot of people like the From High Above packs.

  • Roof tent thing. Amazing!

  • @Brienhall

    #76 Macho Man, whaddup. Overall fun/stoke level looks insane. I ❤️ M T B

  • Ash Bocast

    John! Dang we miss you guys already. Fantastic event coverage and great gallery – so wonderful to meet you and stoked for our next adventure gathering!

    • Ash, Cari and I had so much fun camping next to y’all. If you’re ever in LA, please holler!