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WTB 2009 Product Launch: Postcard from Downieville

This postcard could be short and sweet -- something to the effect of, ‘We’re staying. Please send our stuff.’ Nestled into the empowering landscape of the Sierra Buttes near the junction of the Downie and North fork of the Yuba Rivers, Downieville lives on the way it was. It’s quickly becoming a haven for those that enjoy nature’s playground. And we can think of few better places, especially for those that like to ride. But to leave such an incredible place without sharing the highlights would be just plain wrong. In short, after our visit, we’re ready to sell the farm, move to the Sierra Buttes and work nights at the Grubsteak Saloon in Downieville proper.

1/ U-S-T! WTB 2009 Product Launch

The 2009 Wilderness Trail Bikes (WTB) Product Launch was yet another example of why we love what we do. The folks at WTB eat, sleep and breathe riding, and they took a couple of days to share their passion, and new products with us. WTB is deeply entrenched in all things cycling, but even more so in their backyard, Northern California. They sponsor various local athletes, and a team of pros including the likes of Mark Weir, Jason Moeschler, Jiro Nakamura, Ryan Condrashoff and Bobby McMullen. They are regularly involved in trail maintenance, and currently a sponsor of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, an organization dedicated to the preservation of trails in the Downieville area. As such, the area seemed like a perfect location to host their 2009 Product Launch. And it was.

So we took a few days in Downieville to ride, test product, talk about riding, and eat well. Like that wasn’t good enough already, WTB gave us all the details about what they had up their sleeve including long-awaited tubeless (UST) options! We’ve long been fans of WTB tread designs and all-around durability, but wished for UST specific options. After all, what’s not to like about UST tires? UST tires allow you to say goodbye to pinch flats. A tubeless system allows you to run less air pressure, enhancing the grip of the tire’s tread. Better traction, less vibration, and no flats lead to a great ride.

For the moment, we are sworn to secrecy, but we can tell you that they’ll have two new XC UST, and two new all-mountain UST offerings. Some of our favorites will be offered in new widths, and a new saddle will be introduced -- we’ll have all the details here for you on July 1.

2/ Downieville Flow

Each day was structured around the ride which generally took place after a hearty breakfast and WTB product seminars. Greg ‘Willie’ Williams and Wayne ‘Wayne-O’ Hoffman of Yuba Expeditions would chauffer us up to the Sunshine Trailhead where we’d organize, and take off. Unfortunately snow prevented us from tackling Sunrise, which now serves as the start of the infamous Downieville Classic, but with seemingly endless world class singletrack, it was hardly a problem. We tackled Butcher Ranch, had an epic climb up from Pauley Creek to Big Boulder, hammered the three Divides -- First, Second and Third, and a handful of other gorgeous trails whose names we didn’t catch.

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to ride with Downieville Legends, WTB pros and world-class guys Mark Weir, Jason Moeschler, and Jiro Nakamura on both days. We suffered up the Pauley Creek with Weir, talking about trails we’ve ridden here and there, and his upcoming race schedule. He was working for sure, but he wasn’t suffering by any stretch. We, one the other hand, were spending an extraordinary amount of time in our granny gear, trying to cough up our responses between breaths, and spin over the endless rock gardens. It was critical to stay seated as traction was a premium -- each time we’d rise slightly from the saddle for an obstacle or an adjustment, our rear wheel would begin to slip in the rocks. By the time we approached the top nearly an hour later, we were most certainly feeling it -- the sun was baking us despite a pleasant breeze, sweat was pouring from our brow, and our legs were ready for a stretch. We looked over only to discover Weir was mashing a 36 tooth one by nine setup, apparently a staple on each of each of his bikes.

As if it wasn’t clear enough already, it soon became crystal effin clear that he was a pro’s pro. We’d just finished our lunch atop the Big Boulder trailhead -- a scenic opening with 360 degree views. Energized by some tasty turkey sandwiches on homemade focaccia provided by the Grey Eagle Lodge where we stayed, we organized and began the descent of Big Boulder. And then Weir was gone. If he took more than two pedal strokes we’d be stunned. Granted, for him, he knows the trail like it’s his own backyard -- but we suspect it’s his real backyard that has much to do with the flow that we witnessed. It’s a well-publicized fact that Weir works out on his pump track with regularity. Before we realized what had happened, he’d disappeared from sight, leaving just a cloud of dust for us to inhale. Which we did. Nothing that a couple Racer 5 brews couldn’t handle.

Anyways, after talking about the merits of the pump track, it has us longing for one. Who knows? Perhaps we’ll build one behind our new location.

3/ Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship

The trails in and around Downieville are world class -- we can’t wait to get back. We have fantastic trails here in Arkansas as well -- Syllamo and Womble both have IMBA’s Epic designations, but we sometimes don’t appreciate just how easy the access to them is. There’s little if any conflict, and by-and-large, the district offices of the US Forest Department have been very generous with land access and resources to create and maintain the trails. Our last few trips to California have been eye-opening in this regard -- it’s a struggle to just to maintain access, nevermind get access to new areas to cut trails. In fact, at this very moment there’s pressure building in areas of California that may close many trails that are currently open to mountain bikers.

It is with this in mind, that we’d like to draw attention to the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS). It’s a non-profit 503c foundation dedicated to the preservation of trails and the access to those trails in and around the Sierra Buttes of Northern California. Our friends Willie and Wayne-O of Yuba Expeditions have developed this organization that goes beyond trail activism -- it takes responsibility for the resources, and ensures that they are sustainably managed for current and future generations. SBTS helps to provide local employment, increased tourism and educational outreach. Last year, their Trail Daze organized work efforts provided better than 15,000 hours of volunteer labor dedicated solely to the trail system. Their goals are simple: reduce trail erosion, minimize human impact, foster historic preservation, continue environmental preservation, and guarantee continued access. The growth of our beloved sport begins here, and we encourage each do do his/her part -- whether it’s in the form of time, labor, monetary donation, etc. It’s cliché, but every little bit helps. Downieville and the surrounding area rocks -- it’s a great town with a killer trail system. Let’s help keep it around.

4/ Bobby McMullen

Most of you are probably familiar with Bobby’s story by now, and for those of you that aren’t, he’s not the guy that sang ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy.’ McMullen is a legally blind downhiller sponsored by WTB, Santa Cruz, Fox, Clif and a host of others. Yep, we said blind -- one eye is completely blind, and the other can barely make out shapes and light -- a result of complications from Diabetes in 1991.

In 1997, Bobby received a double-transplant -- kidney and pancreas -- from a matching donor. Things seemed to fall into place quickly, and Bobby was back doing the things he enjoyed most. By November 2000 however, Bobby began to experience signs of acute renal rejection, and just a few months later, found himself on dialysis. A couple years later, lightning struck -- another donor match was located, and Bobby underwent his second double-transplant. This time, it seems, with success.

He’s since been the focus of two-page spread Santa Cruz advertisements in nearly every major mountain bike publication over the last year. He races the Downieville Classic annually. In 2006, he completed the Race Across America (RAAM) as part of Team Donate Life. In 2005, he completed the XTERRA World Championships in Maui, Hawaii. He downhill skis. And he does it all because he enjoys it. He’s not out trying to prove anything to anyone but himself, and he’s quick to point out, ‘The transplants wouldn’t have meant anything if I couldn’t have gone back to living the life I had.’

He’s the first to admit that he might not be the fastest on the course, but he still does beat people regularly. He’s clearly a guy that chases life, pushing the envelope every freaking day. He’s a damn good rider, but it’s not his speed that brings sponsors knocking -- it’s the fact that he’s one of the greatest people you’ll meet in your lifetime, and has the rare gift to inspire others through his actions and exploits. There’s no challenge too big for McMullen. It doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the most engaging, quotable people we’ve ever met either. When asked how his life might be different if he still had his sight, McMullen laughed, stating ‘I’d be that guy looking for the newest, trickest shit, hitting you up for a discount.’

Now, there’s a documentary by Poison Oak Productions that details life as McMullen knows it entitled ‘The Way Bobby Sees it.’ It takes you on a ride with Bobby and his guide -- an endless stream of communication, critical to both Bobby and his guide. It’s about to hit all the film festivals, but we had the opportunity to view it the first night we arrived. Wow. Get it. Watch it. Trust us.