ASS Does Downieville: Documenting season of work & play

Angry Singlespeeder posting up in one of world’s most unique MTB locales

Opinion Travel
For nearly six months, this will be my chariot, hauling fat tire fanatics to the top of Packer Saddle.

For the next six months, this will be my chariot, hauling fat tire fanatics to the top of Packer Saddle.

Hi folks. It’s been a few months. There’s no real excuse for my absence, it’s just the way life goes sometimes. Unlike some columnists, if I don’t have anything worthwhile to share, I don’t waste my readers’ time. [Editor’s Note: That’s debatable…]

But for the next six months or so, I’ll have plenty of interesting things to share. Why? Because I recently struck up an agreement with the folks at the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship and Yuba Expeditions to document on Mtbr a summer working part-time in my favorite place to escape reality, Downieville, California.

So much history in Downieville. Cool old buildings everywhere.

So much history in Downieville. Cool old buildings everywhere.

If you’ve never been to Downieville then you might ask what could possibly be so interesting about documenting a summer working at a bike shop and driving a shuttle van in some backwater mountain town. But those who’ve been here and the surrounding Gold Lakes region understand. It’s a special place, a Sierra Nevada gold fever mountain town trapped in time, where descendants of the original ’49er prospectors still live, and tales of people finding gold still happen. A town that nearly became California’s state capitol. A town notorious for the first public hanging of a woman in the state. A town where gallows still sit next to the county courthouse. A town where cell phones don’t work. A town where bears outnumber humans. A town where rush hour is running to the corner store for a six-pack before it closes.

A sleepy and quiet Downieville main street in late March.

A sleepy and quiet Downieville main street in late March.

There’s no shortage of great riding in Downieville, and there’s no shortage of bizarre stories either. Known by many as a “drinking town with a mountain biking problem,” whether it’s a harrowing tale of surviving a collision with a bear while riding Third Divide, or an outrageous account of a local drunkard diving headfirst off the top beam of the town bridge, the tales in Downieville never fail to provide a laugh (and sometimes a grimace). And considering 2015 is the 20th anniversary of the Downieville Classic, the tales this year will be extra superfluous.

It’s these stories, the characters, the history, the riding and the strange dynamic between locals and out-of-town mountain bikers that make the Downieville experience so memorable. And in nearly 25 years of riding mountain bikes all over the country, I still have yet to experience another town quite like Downieville. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to spend a summer here, and this year I’m going to find out.

I’m sure I’ll be getting a lot of time on this over the summer straightening out the abuse Downieville is known for.

I’m sure I’ll be getting a lot of time on this over the summer straightening out the abuse Downieville is known for.

I’ll be working three to four days a week at Yuba Expeditions, wrenching on bikes and driving the shuttle back and forth to Packer Saddle. It’s been two decades since I worked at a bike shop, so I’m looking forward to being immersed back into the life of a wrench. But Yuba is more than just a bike shop; it’s the place where people congregate before and after a ride, only a football’s throw from the banks of the Yuba River. It’s where the tales are told and where inevitable hijinks originate.

I’ll also be helping maintain and build trails with the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS), a volunteer-driven, non-profit organization founded in 2003 to help improve the local economies of Sierra and Plumas Counties through building and maintaining multi-use trail for recreation. Sierra and Plumas Counties are among the poorest in California, former logging and mining counties that have long been forgotten. SBTS employs as many as 15 local residents full-time to help transform these counties into thriving regions known for world-class recreation.

Continue to page 2 for more on the ASS Does Downieville and full photo gallery »
About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.


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  • AC says:

    Seems like an Angry Singlespeeder would heckle shuttlers, not chauffeur them. Regressing to lamestream…

  • Angry Singlespeeder says:

    Who says I wasn’t going to heckle them?

    - ASS

    • AC says:

      If that’s the case, props to you!

      I’m envisioning EnduroBros getting in the van, you locking the doors, and subjecting them to ridicule and flogging with old tubes and chains for not earning their turns.

  • Alan says:

    Well, I’ll see you in a few weeks, I’m road trippin’ for the next month or so, and Downieville is definitely on the list of stops!

  • Tim says:

    Always enjoy having my time wasted by your musings, so share away. And thanks, now I know where to settle if I ever emigrate.

  • Justin says:

    “Earn your turns!” <– what guys who suck at descending always say.

  • Kevin Woodward says:

    You will be working on my Tallboy LT soon it would appear. As a longtime reader look forward to finally meeting you. (Will miss Andy, tho.)

  • Bill says:

    i wouldn’t mind some extra cash playing bootleg shuttle driver, but i won’t. :-))

    Getting Downieville turned into a loop instead of a shuttle ride was the best thing i’ve done in a while. Comes out to about 35 miles for the entire loop and is much more rewarding, plus saving the $ not shuttling. Think i’m going to head up there very soon with the camper and the Bronson

    What Downieville really needs is to make sure there is plenty of WiFi for us to upload our Strava rides,

  • Tom says:

    Kurt, this sounds like a great experience, but really, a little more anger, please!

  • Russ says:

    See you up there ASS! You might be our ride June 20th weekend. Watch out for the Clampers…you need to document some of their antics. We’ll be staying in the Chalet above the shop.

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