Downhill mountain biking is a genre of mountain biking practiced on steep, rough terrain that often features jumps, drops, rock gardens and other obstacles.
Downhill bikes are heavier and stronger than other mountain bikes and feature front and rear suspension with over 8 inches (200mm) or (20 cm) of travel, to glide quickly over rocks and tree roots. In competitive races, a continuous course is defined on each side by a strip of tape. Depending on the format, riders have a single or double attempt to reach the finish line as fast as possible, while remaining between the two tapes designating the course. Riders must choose their line by compromising between the shortest possible line and the line that can be traveled at the highest speed. If a rider leaves the course by crossing or breaking the tape they must return to the course at the point of exit, unless they do not gain a time advantage from crossing the tape, in which case they can continue with their run.
Riders start at intervals, often seeded from slowest to fastest, and courses typically take two to five minutes to complete with winning margins being often less than a second. Riders are timed with equipment similar to that used in downhill skiing.
History of competitive racing
The 1st downhill time-trial race took place in Fairfax, California on October 21, 1976 on a fire road now referred to as Repack Road, due to the need to repack the hub brake(s) after a descent. The bikes used were based on cruiser bicycles that had Drum brake(s) or a single rear coaster brake that worked by pedalling backwards. A mechanism came into operation causing a conical metal (bronze?) brake shoe to be wound on a thread into a conical metal hub. To prevent a metal to metal brake from snatching it was always filled with grease. Heavy use of the brake during the descent would cause the brake to over heat, melting the grease till it drained from the hub and required repacking. Ten riders descended 1,300 feet (400 m) of Repack in about 5 minutes.
The first bikes used for descending were known as “klunkers” or “paperboy bikes”: cruisers using balloon tires and coaster brakes, a sturdy bicycle, designed by Ignatz Schwinn in the depths of the Great Depression, that could endure abuse that could damage other bicycles, by changing features from the Henderson and Excelsior motorcycles his company had built during the 1920s, including a heavy “cantilevered” frame with two top tubes and 2.125-inch-wide (54.0 mm) “balloon” tires from Germany. Innovations like the fat-tire Schwinn with derailleur gears by Russ Mahon of The Morrow Dirt Club in Cupertino at the 1974 Marin County cyclo-cross and Gary Fisher’s 1975 use of a tandem rear hub (from a flea market) with internal steel drum brake and threaded for a freewheel derailleur cluster developed the sport and by 1979, two organizers and competitors of the Repack downhill, Charlie Kelly and Gary Fisher founded the company which named the sport, MountainBikes.As mountain biking grew enormously during the 80s, downhill riders continued to use either rigid or limited suspension travel (under 2 inches (5 cm)) bicycles, and purpose made downhill bikes were not made until the 90s. Some of these innovations included dual crown suspension forks and disc brakes, as well as very elaborate frame suspension designs.
Later, riders from all disciplines of cycling began focusing on downhill. Particularly, many BMX racers made the crossover, including champions such as Daniel Solano (Team Tomac Bikes), and Brian Lopes. Their influence is seen in the increased difficulty of many courses, especially the big jumps and drops aspect of downhill. The coming of age for downhill biking was its inclusion at the first UCI Mountain Bike Championship, held in 1990 in Durango, Colorado.
Notable downhill racing venues
Many ski areas are converted into biking venues in the summer (such as Whistler Mountain Bike Park and Fernie Alpine Resort) however there are also many other hills with Downhill Mountain Bike trails built on them. Bikers ride gondolas, trams or chair lifts to the starting point at the top of the mountains. Another method commonly referred to as “Shuttling”, uses motorized vehicles to transport multiple riders to the top of the hill. Normally utility vehicles or 4WD’s are driven up off-road tracks to the top of the courses. However, some tracks provide access to ordinary cars – such as Kuranda Downhill in Cairns, which runs down the Smithfield side of the Macalister Range and uses the road as access.
Urban Downhill race courses are beginning to set a new trend in the off season of the Summer sport. There are also forms of urban indoor downhill events that take place in indoor/outdoor malls with jump features and technical formats for spectating. Most often the theme has been aimed at creating tracks through city streets and sidewalks with ample spectating spots. Urban racing has taken a large rise in notoriety as well as developing a larger fan base in the southern hemispheres. The Taxco Downhill event located in Taxco Mexico has come to be one of the most notable venues for the Urban Race scene. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aiig-MguNHI
Courses used in competition typically feature several “lines” through or around the most difficult obstacles. For example, the “A line” might be a very direct line with a large jump landing on rocks, the “B line” might be a smaller jump with a clear landing, and the “C line” might completely avoid the obstacles, but be much longer.
Despite being the flattest continent on Earth, Australia has produced a large number of internationally successful downhill racers, including Sam Hill, Chris Kovarik, Nathan Rennie and Mick Hannah.
The large majority of Australian downhill riding and racing is accessed by shuttling in cars, buses or by walking to the top of the track (push runs), however the venues at Mount Buller and Thredbo provide lift accessed tracks during the snow less summer months.
Mount Stromlo, which is near the capital Canberra, hosted a World Cup Round in August 2008 and the 2009 World Championships.
Australia’s first UCI Mountain Bike World Cup was held Cairns in 1994-1995. followed by the World Mountain Bike Championships in 1996, placing Cairns on the map as the premier Australian mountain bike destination.
Located right in the Alps this country has a lot of places for downhill riding. A large majority of Austria‘s downhill tracks are accessible via lift shuttles. A World Cup track called the “Planai” is located in the city of Schladming. It is about 5 km long with an average descent grade of about 35%.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is rich with mountains especially around the capital city of Sarajevo, in which a downtown race is held, although MTB and downhill especially are still developing to become known sports in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are more and more riders which use mountains like Igman, Bjelašnica and others for downhill racing. Currently there are few tracks on Trebević, Igman, Bjelašnica, Cavljak – Barice, all featured tournaments on international level. UXO‘s are one of the reasons for slow development of this sport in a country with a such great potential for it.
Downhill MTB races have been held in Croatia since 1993, when the first competition was organized outside Zagreb, on the same mountain that today hosts the world cup races in alpine skiing. Mountain biking has been consequently banished from popular hiking trails and ski slopes arount the capital, however the art of MTB DH riding flourished in other parts of Croatia, especially in the northern Adriatic coastal region and in northern (continental) part of country. In 2010 the national DH Cup events were held in Buzet (Istria), Samobor (Zagreb area), Pakrac (Slavonia) and Gracisce (Pazin, Istria). Urban DH events are being held in the coastal city of Rijeka.
The French Alps are home to many downhill routes and events. The most famous of which is the Mega Avalanche downhill race event in the Alp d’Huez and Bourg d’Oisans region. Another downhill course in the region is Les Deux Alpes which sometimes hosts other downhill events. The downhill courses and events are limited in the area however, because of the alpine winter and snow. The most popular area for downhill in the French alps is the Portes du Soleil including the two more popular resorts of Morzine and Les Gets. Most recently, a world cup was held for the first time in La Bresse. In August 2011, La Bresse hosted the sixth round of the UCI World Cup.
In Georgia is there MTB Downhill trail since 2015. First they build in Gudauri and after few weeks they build in Bakuriani too. Both of the places are skiing resorts. Trails are on 2000–2250 meters. Length of the trail is about 5000 meters.
In Germany the landscape is quite diverse, reaching from flatlands in the north to medium-sized mountains in the center to alpine mountains in the south. Downhill tracks in Germany are not as steep as in Switzerland, Austria or Canada and the difference from top to bottom is less, but the main parts of an average track are everywhere in Germany. Racing on these short tracks is highly intense and allows no mistakes. Due to the country’s large population the sport has developed quickly in Germany. Number of riders can go up to 600 at races. With 3 cup races, Thuringia, in the middle of Germany, is the center of gravity riding. The most popular race series is the ‘iXS German Downhill Cup’. In Germany is the Europe’s biggest Mountainbike Freeride Festival hold, called iXS Dirt Masters. It includes one iXS German Downhill Cup Round, a 4X Race and a slopestyle contest. It is visited by around 25000 spectators and 1200 riders. In the small town Willingen is a former World Cup Downhill and Four Cross Race Course. The World Cup has been held there in 2005 and 2006. With Germany being a high level industry country, there are many firms producing downhill bikes, such as Last Bikes, Zonenschein, Fusion Bikes, Cube Bikes, Ghost Bikes, Canyon Bikes, Propain Bikes, Rose Bikes, Solid Bikes or luxury downhill bike manufacturer Nicolai. There are also a lot of firms producing high-end parts like Rohloff, Magura or Tune.
Downhill Mountain Biking in India is fairly new. The main and the most popular downhill mountain bike race in India is called Himachal Downhill Mountain Bike Trophy which is organized by Himalayan Mountain Bike Network. This race is conducted at Ski Himalayas Ropeway and Ski Resort located in Solang Valley near Manali which the Mountain Biking Capital of India. This track is 2 km long and the area offers lot of natural mountain biking trails and lends itself to many styles of mountain biking. The trails in this Himalayan region are accessible to riders of all skill levels.
Downhill cycling has increased in Ireland over the past 10 years, for example, the National Points Series rounds regularly attract over 250 riders from all over the country.
Irish tracks vary greatly in length and difficulty. Moneyscalp is one of the shorter tracks with times for Elites coming at just over a minute. Other tracks such as Carrick in Co.Wicklow are closer to 5 minutes.
There are no official downhill tracks in the Republic of Ireland. Just across the border in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland however, Newry & Mourne District Council has recently built some tracks in Kilbroney Forest which includes a 27 km and 17 km single track and 2 purpose-built downhill trails.
According to the law it is illegal to ride in the forests. All the tracks are built and maintained voluntarily by individuals and mountain biking clubs who take it upon themselves to do so. As downhill mountain biking has become more popular so has the call for more facilities and practitioners of this sport have begun campaigning with the state on this issue. Plans have recently been announced for the construction of a purpose built downhill facility near Glenflesk in County Kerry. It will be the second highest downhill course in Europe.
Bardonecchia, one of the Torino 2006 winter olympic venues, converts some of its ski courses and lifts for use by mountain bikers in the summer, and a number of downhill courses are present. Other ski resorts turning to mountain bike parks in summer are Canazei, Pila, Sestola and Livigno. The area of Finale Ligure, near Genoa, offers year-round tracks that end on the seaside, served by shuttles. Among the most famous tracks in the country is the Sanremo Downhill, a rocky, technical and dangerous course won in 2007 by Fabien Barel. The 2008 World Championship were held in Val di Sole
In global context there are very little notable downhill venues in Latvia. Most of them are located at local ski resorts in Baldone, Sigulda and Cēsis, also there’s trail network in the forests of Tukums near Melnezers. All the tracks are built and maintained voluntarily by individuals who take it upon themselves to do so. Each year Latvian Downhill association regurarly schedule National downhill cup and championships. In the next several years it is expected to grow local community around downhill mountain biking by increasing the number of riders and improving local ski resort trail quality.
Portugal is the host country of a unique variety of downhill races, the Urban Downhill, known as Downtown. Lisbon DownTown is a very popular annual event which brings world class Downhill athletes to Portugal, Steve Peat is the King of the race winning 8 of the 11 editions. The Gouveia International Downhill is another important annual race that normally brings some of the WorldCup racers to the country. Places like Lousã, Tarouca and Sintra offer a big variety of single tracks and Downhill circuits.
Some of the notable Russian downhill venues are ski-complex “Metallurg” (Bannoe lake, Magnitogorsk), Mashuk and Chaget mountains. And in the city of Novosibirsk has a trail for such races. It is located in the CHP-5.
Slovenia’s vast hilly landscape and undamaged nature makes very good conditions for downhill cycling, thus one of the world’s top, not only tracks but riders are also in Slovenia. The famous tracks that are included in the world cup are at ski resort Kranjska Gora in north-west tip of Slovenia, while the other track is on ski resort hill Pohorje at Slovenia’s second largest city Maribor. The Pohorje track has been considered as the second best in the world.
Downhill racing is not such a big sport in South Africa, but is rapidly growing. South Africa boasts some great tracks and riders, especially from the Western Cape and the Pietermaritzburg area in Kwa-Zulu Natal, the hometown of Greg Minnaar. In the Western Cape, the best tracks are Edeouth and Jonkershoek in Stellenbosch, Playgrounds in Paarl, Sir Lowry’s Pass near Somerset-West (hometown of Andrew and Jonty Neethling), Zevenwacht near Kuilsriver and Witfontein in George. They provide quite technical, but fun courses. Ferncliff and World’s View are great in Pietermaritzburg. Helderkruin (West of Johannesburg), Klapperkop (Google map) in Pretoria and Gillooly’s Farm in Johannesburg. South Africa held the first round of the 2009 UCI World Cup, which was in Pietermaritzburg(Greg Minnaar’s hometown).
Sweden’s most southerly DH bike park is called Vallåsen Bike Park  and is located on the north side of the Halland ridge between Skåne and Halland. Vallåsen opened in 2008 and attracts riders not only from Sweden but also Denmark due to its relatively close location to Copenhagen. Vallåsen holds an annual DH race at the end of the season called the Vallåsen DH Challenge.
Jarvsö Bike Park  is another downhill park, which is located in the locality of Järvsö, in the municipality of Ljusdal approximately 3 hours north of Stockholm by car. The park consists of 17 tracks of varying difficulty, and a pumptrack.
Located in the Alps and surrounded by the downhill nations of France, Germany, Italy and Austria it is kind of a center for the European downhill scene. You can find tracks in or near every city with high quality and a steep descent. It has several World Cup tracks like “Champery” or “Portes de Soleil”. Switzerland is the home of parts manufacturer DT Swiss, EDCO Swiss bicycle components since 1902, frame manufacturer BMC and bike manufacturer Redalp.
Mountainous regions of Northern Thailand offer great venues for downhill mountain biking. Chiang Mai is the most famous location for downhill mountain biking in Thailand. The Chiang Mai Downhill Challenge, which were held in November 2012 and 2013 had attracted World Cup riders, such as Steve Peat, Josh Bryceland, Sam Dale, Brook Macdonald, Wyn Masters and Edward Masters, as well as a Belgian freerider, Nico Vink. Doi Suthep mountain is where most downhill actions take place in Chiang Mai. Tour operator, such as X-Biking Chiang Mai offers guided tour or shuttle service to the trailheads and pick up the riders once they complete the trails. The Thailand National Championships, which are held in many different venues across Thailand by the Thai Cycling Association also attract many riders across Southeast Asia. The cheap living costs, great foods, warm climate and great ridings make Thailand a “must visit” place for riders on a budget.
Within the UK most of the main downhill tracks are in the Scottish Uplands, Highlands, Wales and Northern England, as these are more mountainous areas. Fort William in Scotland is Britain’s only World Cup standard track and was the venue for the 2007 World Championships. The UK has a strong race scene with a national series and numerous regional series with strong representation of all age groups present. The country has produced many of the world’s top downhill mountain bikers including, world champions Steve Peat, Gee Atherton, Danny Hart, Josh Bryceland, Rachel Atherton and Manon Carpenter. Other British downhill riders include Marc Beaumont and Brendan Fairclough.
Aaron Gwin is currently the U.S’s top ranked racer on the World Cup Circuit. In 2010 he finished his World Cup Campaign with a 4th place world ranking and a 4th place at the UCI mountain bike world championships. He now races for YT Industries in the YT Mob racing team along with teammate Angel Suarez.
Mountain Creek Bike Park located in Vernon, New Jersey is a downhill facility on the East Coast of the United States. Historically they have hosted the US Open of Mountain Biking, which is the premier US downhill race. The 2010 U.S. Open had $50,000 in cash and prizes and a $7500 purse for men’s pro champion. Mountain Creek also hosts their own series of competitions called the Gravity Series.
El Volcan, a small mountain in the southeastern, touristic El Hatillo Municipality of Caracas, has a Downhill course that has about 500 meters of vertical drop, it is used by hundreds of riders a day during dry and wet weather, mostly on weekends. El Volcan is the representative [Downhill] Track of Caracas city. The course is open to the public and riding is neither specifically allowed nor prohibited by law. The trails are also used by hikers all week long. Shuttles are about 10 Venezuelan bolivars per trip, they run from the parking lot of a Farmatodo drug store in La Boyera, up to the summit using public avenues and paved roads, taking from 15 minutes to 30 minutes depending on traffic on the area. The course apart from being used mostly for recreational purpose, also has been used for irregularly scheduled downhill races due to the lack of organization in the riders community.
The Union Cycliste Internationale is governing body for downhill mountain bike racing. Racers qualify to compete in World Cup races by earning UCI points, which are gained by being a top ten finisher in certain races, usually national.
In the U.S., NORBA, as part of USA Cycling, runs the National Mountain Bike Series, and the NCCA is the governing body for collegiate cycling. In the UK, British Cycling controls mountain biking as well as road and BMX. In Australia, MTBA controls all disciplines of Mountain biking.