The recent return toward faster, more wide-open downhill courses has opened up a debate over what a downhill should be. Some favor the tough, tricky, sick and twisted downhill's that have become the standard the last few years, especially on the Euro World Cup circuit. Others prefer the current trend toward old school, high-speed, balls-out venues.
Perhaps now is the time to really examine the entire concept of downhilling, and open our minds to even larger possibilities. Up till now, mountain bike downhill competitions have been basically timed runs on relatively short courses. Of course, there have been a few variations, such as the "Eliminator" four and six-man head-to-head competitions, and the X-Game's runs on the snow. While these have been interesting variations, I would like to propose several new approaches. These suggestions could take the sport in totally new directions and could possibly lead to National Championships and corporate sponsorship.
CONCEPT: Marathon Downhills
FORMAT: Why are traditional downhills so damn short? Most runs average about five minutes or so. Let's get way longer courses so we can do a half-hour or more of downhilling. This gives you time to make up for mistakes, get in a groove, and get a good long ride in. Fitness and conditioning, along with mental focus and stamina would enter into the picture. Finding long, twenty mile plus downhills to use as race courses would be challenging, but far from impossible. Locally, we have a sweet sixteen mile run we use now that has a combo of fast fire roads and tight singletrack that would be perfect.
EQUIPMENT: Add a Camelback and bring tools.
RIDER: More go and less show.
CONCEPT: New Classes
FORMAT: This one's simple - use existing courses and just create more divisions based on the bikes. Have a hardtail class and a rigid class. Not everyone has several grand to dump into a fully suspended engineering marvel. This would encourage more cross-country cross over and let people with regular bikes feel like they have a chance. Perhaps go so far as to limit the amount of travel on the forks in the hardtail class. Also, a rider could enter several classes and compete several times during the day.
EQUIPMENT: You're already riding it.
RIDER: You and me. The rigid class would definitely appeal to single speeders and retro grouches.
CONCEPT: Paved Downhill
FORMAT: Forget the dirt. Hold downhills on the street! Watch the speed increase along with the repercussions (and concussions). The winter drive up to the local ski lodge becomes the summer racecourse. The possibilities for venues are endless; every mountain road is a candidate. This one really has the potential to draw TV and big bucks. To all you cynical sissies out there who say it's too dangerous, have you ever watched AMA Superbikes? Yes, Virginia, pavement kills, but racers understand the risk and push the envelope regardless.
EQUIPMENT: This would spur so much technological development, just like mountain biking in the old days. Huge gearing, fairings, drop bars, and special tires would all need to be invented. Clothing too would need to be developed, especially full on leathers that would allow you to hammer.
RIDER: Like it's motorcycling counter-part, pavement downhilling would probably attract those quiet, intense types who are on the edge. Gonzos wouldn't last long in this sport.
CONCEPT: No Hands
FORMAT: OK, this one's a little weird, but bear with me. See who can ride down a paved road the longest without hands. Every time you chicken out and have to grab the bars, a timer records the amount of contact time and downloads it. The overall amount of time it takes to complete the course is unimportant. All that matters is how much time you ride down without touching the bars. It sounds dumb, but try it, as a personal challenge the next time you're riding and you'll discover the sick little fun game that it is. You'll find yourself waiting longer and longer to finally give in and grab.
EQUIPMENT: Hand contact timing device for grips and small computer with sensors on the handlebars, frame and levers for all you cheaters out there. As if any engineers are going to actually design and market this stuff.
RIDER: Extremely bored, jaded cyclists who have done else already, and fun hogs who love a challenge. Balance and balls required.
CONCEPT: Flat track
FORMAT: Another weird one, inspired by real life. Got a flat way up in the mountains - no glue and had already used the extra tube earlier. Had to ride down on a rear flat for five miles, which sucked, until I discovered that in the corners you could kick the rear end out and pitch it sideways. Way sideways! Ended up having more fun than a regular ride, minus the guilt of a destroyed rim.
EQUIPMENT: Develop a special kind of flat, spongy rear tire that would break loose instantly. Notwithstanding a degree in molecular rubber chemistry, go score lots of cheap, spare wheels.
RIDER: Someone else who will do it with me, anyone else please. I'll find you an old wheel.
CONCEPT: Mass Start Downhills
FORMAT: Forget the timed runs - line-up forty riders at the start, drop the gate, and watch the fun in the first turn. Just like motocross you can bang bars with your buddies down the entire course. Holeshot, block pass, brake check, cut off and stuff them in the berm. Set them up and pass them by squaring off the turn and taking them out. That's what racing is all about. Timed downhills may tell you who the best rider is, but mass start motos tell you who the best racer is.
EQUIPMENT: Take off your bar ends.
RIDER: The more the merrier.
So there you have it. Perhaps this will spark some revolution in the way we think about going downhill on bicycles. Any promoters, TV networks, pro racers, or cash cow sponsors who are actually interested in staging any of these events are free to contact me. It only takes two to have a race and we'll be the first.
Curt Evans was a former editor at Motocross Action Magazine in the mid-Seventies and has been riding mountain bikes since 1980. He can be e-mailed at total bike and especially wants to do a paved downhill, mass start event with several bike classes.