Scene: Downieville’s Duality

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By Mike Ferrentino
Excerpted from the pages of Bike Magazine

Photo by Vincent Camiolo

On the surface, this picture epitomizes why the Downieville Classic has become such an iconic event. Big crowd, playing fast and loose with chance, a river, a jump, beer and sunshine. It’s as good a recipe for success as any. But there are two key elements that are a crucial part of the alchemy that turns this almost-ghost town in the Sierra foothills into a mountain biking touchstone.

Element number one: ‘Ron’s House o’ Big Air.’ That is what is written on the front of that shanty-town plywood kicker covered in old carpet that spits riders high over the north fork of the Yuba. Ron Williams was the father of Greg Williams, who is the guy who came up with the Downieville Classic, and is the wily pied piper of most anything to do with mountain biking in the area. He started Yuba Expeditions, was the founder of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, and is the ringleader of a crew of fiercely loyal friends who magically wrangle the race, the shop, the stewardship, the trail days and a pile of other events to life every season. They are hardworking, good-natured pranksters, prone to getting loud and messy late at night, but always on deck at first light the next day.

Ron was a carpenter, and every bit the old block that Greg was chipped from. Ron’s hammer was the first one swinging when it came time to build the ramp. All those people standing in the water watching the jumper? Safe odds that three-quarters of them are friends with Greg, and had at least shaken Ron’s hand. This jump is the distillation of the Downieville Classic, which is best summed up as a family affair—a massive, boisterous, extended family. Somewhere, Ron is still smiling at what he wrought.

Element number two: There will be pro downhillers here, and famous dirt jumpers, and high-style freeriders, and there will also be novice aerialists who have never punched a bike off a ramp before in their lives. There will be a huge crowd, the volume of whose cheers will dictate the winning jump. And sure as Sunday, there will be some twitchy local kid born and raised in this canyon, possibly of questionable moral fiber, who will give the jump a good, honest go.

And, just like Greg and Ron, a whole bunch of the people standing in that river will have known that kid since he was born. And that twitchy kid will send it with a style, a power and a grace that will make everyone gasp in awe.

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