More than any place on earth, California is steeped in mountain biking lore. The genesis or the sport on Mount Tam in Marin County at the hands of heroes such as Chris Kelly, Gary Fisher, Tom Ritchey, and others is the stuff of legends. Even all these years later, if the mountain bike industry could be considered to have a headquarters, a hot spot, that center of the mountain bike universe would be Southern California.
Thankfully California, the third largest state in the US, is also geographically gifted and uniquely qualified to be a revered mountain bike destination for much more than the fact that our sport began here. But would mountain biking have been conceived if it wasn’t for these mountains and trails? You’ll have to pose that question to the chicken-or-the-egg philosophers.
Regardless of which came first, the fact remains that California is home to all manner of excellent mountain bike terrain: tall sky-scraping mountains with endless singletrack, arid deserts, massive redwood forests hiding serpentine trails, and a plethora of coastal climate zones offering year-round riding.
California was the original mountain bike mecca, and while Colorado or Utah may now give it a run for its money, it’s still one of the hottest spots to travel to with your mountain bike in 2017. If you do head to California, here are five of the very best trails that you need to ride:
Downieville Downhill (Downieville, CA)
The Downieville Downhill never gets old. Especially if you take the shuttle to the top. Several outfitters in this small old mining town offer rides to Packer Saddle and from there, one can choose to zoom or lollygag through Sunset, Butcher Ranch, and the Divide of one’s choice.
If training or practicing for the legendary Downieville race, one had better pad up and open the throttle, but be ready for that god-awful slap-in-the-face climb right in the middle of your rollicking descent, the one that makes you wish you brought the XC bike (but only for these 11 minutes). With a river running alongside, forming deep crystal pools beneath behemoth boulders, you might be tempted to abandon thoughts of the podium and answer the siren song of the swimming hole. While options abound, the race course is a great choice at 16 miles long with 1,100 feet of climbing (slap!) and 5,500 of descending.
And when you’re done, just behind the pizza parlor, picnic tables and a nicely-kept public restroom you’ll find a great swim spot at the confluence of the Downie and Yuba Rivers, in case you forewent the trailside dip. There are good and varied options for accommodation in Downieville from small rustic hotels, campgrounds near and a little less near, or one can rent a house with their crew.
“This is, hands down, one of the rockin’est trails you’ll ever see. Well worth the 20 clams for a shuttle ride to the top. Well over 4k feet of almost continuous descent ranging from buff to technical, and great scenery to boot. Not for the timid, but other than that, you can’t go wrong with a run down the Downieville Downhill. There are a number of routes, but the classic remains the best: Sunrise, Butcher Ranch, Third Divide, Upper First Divide, and Lower First Divide.” -John Fisch