BY JASON NORMAN
DOWNIEVILLE, CA—The legend lives on. That was the resounding chorus echoed by everyone who attended this year’s Downieville Classic.
“No cell reception, great riding, excellent event promotion, music, big raffle, fun stuff like pixie races and lake jumping, opportunity to camp and experience the outdoors equals happy people,” said Adrian Montgomery, marketing director for Scott USA. “I would say the reason this event is ‘the’ place to go is because mountain biking has evolved back to its roots. Build a fine trail network and they will come. And we did.”
Scott USA and Montgomery weren’t the only ones who came. In fact, July’s Downieville was pushed to the max as far as expo capacity.
“I’d say there is more of a manufacturer turnout in the past two years,” said Chris DiStefano, marketing manager for Chris King Precision Components. “It’s getting a little crowded in Downieville but Wayne and Greg (both with Yuba Expeditions) have done an awesome job of finding places for everyone. Pretty soon, though, that place will have to hang a ‘No Vacancy’ sign on the edge of town. There’s no way this is turning into Sea Otter or Cactus Cup.”
Chris King himself was a busy man, serving up pancakes and fajitas to the Downieville masses.
“The pancake line this year was in place earlier than last year and ran straight up until lunch time,” DiStefano said. “The fajita line, however, blew our minds. We serve food at a lot of events and usually there is a big rush at the beginning with a few lulls here and there for us to catch our collective breath.”
Trek was one of the main sponsors this year. The company showcased not only its new 6-inch travel all-mountain Remedy, but also its elite mountain biking squad. Trek rider Ross Schnell took home the all-mountain pro crown.
“We wanted to be part of Downieville because the race has really turned legendary,” said Michael Browne, mountain bike brand manager at Trek. “The energy that Wayne and the crew put into the race resonates in the community, and that’s reflected in higher participation and phenomenal buzz. These guys are doing it for all the right reasons—to have a great time, in an awesome place, amidst even better people.”
Trek wasn’t the only company showing off new product, as Crankbrothers highlighted its new Cobalt XC wheelset and Joplin adjustable seatpost.
“The adjustable seatpost category is a perfect fit for this event, so the Joplin was our main focus,” said Jason First, rider support for Crankbrothers. “We offered a special discount on the Joplins through Yuba Expeditions, and outfitted Yuba’s demo bikes with Joplins and demo from our expo tent.”
Santa Cruz was once again the title sponsor of Downieville, debuting its newly redesigned Nomad. Santa Cruz marketing project manager Mike Ferrentino said racers are craving events like Downieville.
“People got burned out on [what] the NORBA NPS thing became, and have slowly but surely been gravitating over the past few years toward events that at least make them feel like they are part of something,” Ferrentino said.
WTB marketing coordinator Dain Zaffke agrees.
“NORBA is dead,” Zaffke said. “I think USA Cycling even issued a certificate of death. I don’t like that our national mountain bike series is a skeleton of its former self, but we need to accept it. Racing, however, is still valuable to marketing and sales.”
Zaffke said Downieville has all the ingredients to build interest for a brand.
“Downieville offers a rugged, bike-battering landscape, a captive audience and challenging terrain—with trails that people flock to from around the country all season,” Zaffke said. “These three features create a great proving ground for components and people actually pay attention because they’re most likely in town for a few days. Add the fact that—between the ripping trails and post-ride entertainment—both the spectators and competitors are having fun, and you have the ideal combination.”
Zaffke had a fun time, placing 8th in the all-mountain pro standings.
“It’s all about positive brand impressions and the best impressions have an emotional attachment,” Zaffke said.
“If you’re a beginner rider proud to finish the rugged XC course under four hours and you’re walking through the expo eating your free lunch and drinking your free pint of beer and you just had a laugh watching the pixie ’cross race, then chances are you’re having a good time. Now all of the people and brands that were present during your good time will likely be associated with good times. And more importantly, mountain biking will be associated with having a good time.”
Fox Racing Shox marketing manager Elayna Caldwell-Grim said 15 Fox employees raced at this year’s Downieville.
“We love the family, no-hype feel to the event,” Caldwell-Grim said. “The Downieville Classic is about mountain biking and having fun with your friends and family.”