ASS Does Downieville: Broken bars, busted wheels, bruised egos

Weekend filled with wrecked equipment, stitches, and a big fall off a steep cliff

Opinion Travel

Even if you’re not riding a bike, the razor sharp rocks above Downieville can slice flesh with ease. My co-worker Jake, aka Biscuit, was out on a four wheeling adventure near Poker Flat when he got out of the truck to scope a trail. While scurrying down a rocky slope, he lost his footing and fell backward on his hand on a razor sharp piece of shale. Jake’s hand was fileted wide open, requiring 10 stitches to close up.

The knife-edged rocks of Downieville slash flesh as easily as rubber.

The knife-edged rocks of Downieville slash flesh as easily as rubber (click to enlarge).

Despite the perils of Downieville, every weekend we shuttle folks to the top of the mountain with no clue of what they’re getting into. Take for instance two guys I dropped off at the top of Packer Saddle dressed in tank top T-shirts, no gloves and helmets that looked nearly 10 years old. Not only did they not know the 15-mile route back to Downieville, but I also noticed they had half-empty water bottles, no packs, no saddle bags or any gear to get them out of trouble.

When I asked if they had extra tubes, they shook their heads. I turned to grab a couple tubes out of the van when I asked if they had a pump. One of the guys shook his head and just said, “No man, we’re just gonna wing it.” Wing it, he said. I laughed out loud at his naivety and responded, “Well, if you don’t have a pump, you don’t need any tubes, so good luck,” and left them to deal with fate.

Aussie Bob saved the day when two Downieville neophytes neglected to bring any extra tubes or a pump.

Aussie Bob saved the day when two Downieville neophytes neglected to bring any extra tubes or a pump (click to enlarge).

Three hours later I bumped into my buddy Aussie Bob. I asked him how his ride was and he said it was great, that is until he encountered two guys with four flat tires between them and zero tubes, no pump or anything else. Like a true good Samaritan, Aussie Bob babysat the two Downieville neophytes all the way to the bottom of the mountain.

Cooling off after another shitty day in Downieville.

Cooling off after another shitty day in Downieville (click to enlarge).

There’s good reason why bike industry companies such as Santa Cruz and WTB have made Downieville their second home for two decades; the trails above town push the limits of tires, wheels, suspension and frame materials of all types. The combination of warp speed and baby head-size rocks that last for more than 15 miles make Downieville the ultimate R&D testing ground. And those who show up to Downieville unprepared are in for a rough go.

Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at [email protected]. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.

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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  • Tom K from VT says:

    Granted, the Downieville trails are rough, but a lack of technical skill is what causes crashes and broken equipment, not the merciless terrain.

    • joey007 says:

      Tom , I agree with you. Sure there is a good line and a terrible line, I’ve ridden DV on rigid SS, I pick my lines.

      Sure follow someone with terrible lines and you too will slice tires, get flats and get bucked off the bike…..

  • The Angry Singlespeeder says:

    Tom K from VT – Come on out to Downieville and I’ll show you how wrong you are.


  • Joe says:

    I know exactly where that handlebar cracked. I cased that same backside on a rented Tallboy LT a few years ago when I started taking bigger risks due to the confidence it was giving me. I couldn’t believe the wheel/fork/bars/frame took that impact undamaged. Instead they gave all that energy right back to me and threw me farther than I’ve ever been throw from a bike. My Camelbak took the brunt of it, but my helmet did not survive.

  • TahoeSteve says:

    When I went there I would leave my SS at home and rent a bike, haha!

  • oldmtb says:

    Have to partially agree with Tom K from VT. Skill does wonders for crash prevention, but speed is the biggest factor. Skill and not “blasting” it even when you’re tempted to can give you a 100% no crash rate… if you can resist

  • Jim says:

    I’ve ridden Downieville several times with no problems, I ‘ve done both Butcher Ranch and Pauley Creek, I’ve never crashed there. BUT I don’t fly down the mountain either , a 67 year old guy doesn’t heal that fast.

  • CW says:

    I finally spent an extended group weekend riding Downieville a month ago.
    After reading many posts like this over the years, I was expecting at least some carnage, but not one of the six riders in my group had any mechanicals or tire issues, despite our well above average speeds bombing down all of the most challenging trails.
    In fact, four out of six riders in our group were riding hardtails. My bike is a modern XC bike with 100mm rear travel and 120mm front, with a more ‘Enduro’ build and cockpit. I was running light XC tires, Maxxis Ikons, front and rear, the tires were 7 months old. I was charging hard on every inch of trail and didn’t have one gear issue the whole trip.
    Clearly, Downieville is a place where a rider can easily get severely injured, but I just wanted to mention my experience as a contrast to the usual lore of blood and broken bikes.
    If you are a highly skilled + fit rider and your bike is in solid working order, you can have at least a 50/50 shot of making it out unscathed.
    Then a few weeks later, riding my ‘everyday trails’ near my house, I witnessed my friend, a skilled rider, break his neck on a simple trail element. After surgery, he is on the road to recovery, but we really cannot predict where and when something scary might happen.
    We always need to be alert and on our game in this sport.

    • dr.zeek says:

      Funny how it’s always the trails close to home that cause the most serious accidents. I fell and completely stuffed two of my fingers on a trail near my house that I’ve ridden dozens of times.
      Simply put, I wasn’t giving the (fairly simple) trail the respect it deserved and I paid the price.

  • JimmyDee says:

    Looks like that handlebar is snapped clean. That’s almost always an indicator that the bolt has indeed been overtightened. This is because it creates a tight spot on the carbon which flexes just a tiny bit and over time creates micro-fractures in the carbon fiber, which snaps clean off when given a bit of a jolt.

    Carbon that breaks when it is correctly tightened usually tears with jagged edges with lots of bits of carbon that have broken in different parts along the length of the fiber.

    But I agree that carbon really isn’t the wisest choice for a hardcore trail when injury is just a fall away. I save that for my ultra-light multi-purpose XC bike and stick to quality aluminum for the gnarly stuff.

  • randycpu says:


    I rode Downieville with the shuttle several years back with me on my new Intense Uzzi and my brother on his old FS Kona. He got three flats, and I had no troubles. I could pick any line because I had so much control.
    Recently I’ve followed your “advice” and moved to wider (ibis 741) wheels and lower pressure.

    My question: Are you still using the wider rims with lower pressure in DV? Could the low pressure be why you get flats?

  • st santa clarita says:

    Jamis Dakar… DV classic… 1 flat tire for not lifting my ass end over the foot bridge lip. was riding mythos 2.1’s on richey rims…nothing special… It was a race…so I was
    I wasn’t just floating down the hill either. If you don’t flat a lot, take your normal back ups. You gotta hit these trails if you’re an experienced rider… awesome. Take ur beater to launch in the river !

  • Art says:

    OK guys, as much as this downhill run is fun it must be acknowledged twice as much in my opinion how dangerous it is and how quickly it can get from ecstasy to agony, especially for those who have not done it yet. I was on my way down to a 150 ft drop after falling off the bike with nothing to hold on to, the only thing that saved me was a rope that someone from Yuba tied between two small trees. It was a vertical drop with no slope and the rope saved my life, plus I wasn’t even going fast. Please be careful!

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