Different Strokes: Downhill Mountain Biking

Different Strokes is a blog post series focusing on almost all the different ways you can bike.  The goal of these posts is two-fold: 1) to educate readers on different styles of road biking, mountain biking, and everything in between 2) to inspire our readers to try something new, explore, and have an adventure! As always, ‘run what ya brung.’  There are no specific skills necessary to explore or try something new, nor should feel the need to purchase a fancy-schmancy new bike. 

If you crave speed, seemingly impossible obstacles, and defying gravity, then downhill mountain biking is for you.

Downhill mountain biking is really mountain biking in its original, purest form.  Mountain biking started in the early 1970s by teenagers and young adults in Marin County, California.  Many of these young guys were cycling enthusiasts and worked in local bike shops.  Having a thirst for adventure, they took old “paper boy” or balloon tire bicycles from the 1930s and 1940s and decided to bomb down the forest service roads of Mt. Tamalpais.  They would walk their bikes to the top of a forest service road and race to the bottom of the hill.  Of course, these old, single speed bikes with coaster brakes (deemed “Klunkers”) weren’t made for this purpose and would break often.  Being the constant tinkerers that they were, the early inventors would fabricate parts that they found worked better on Klunkers, such as cantilever brakes, flatter handlebars, and eventually suspension to absorb shock.  You might even recognize the names of some of these early tinkerers such as Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, Keith Bontrager, and Tom Ritchey. (source: Marin Museum of Bicycling)

By the mid 1980s, mountain biking reached global popularity and manufacturers were producing bikes especially for the sport.  But people weren’t just climbing forest service roads and racing each other downhill, they were riding everywhere they could.

As the sport of mountain biking developed, several subcategories emerged.  Cross country (XC)/trail riding is arguably the most popular and what most riders do on a daily or weekly basis.  If you’re on any of the trails in the parks around Atlanta, you are most likely trail riding.  These bikes are usually hardtails (suspension in the front fork only) but some nowadays can even be full suspension (suspension in both the front and the rear). Then of course, there are smaller disciplines such as dirt jumping (using mounds of dirt specially to launch yourself into the air) and the newest discipline that has taken the mountain biking world by storm, enduro (think of it as “all mountain,” very similar to trail riding, but you would definitely prefer to have a full suspension bike as there are more technical features).  With so many disciplines, it is entirely possible to be riding XC and “all mountain” on the same trail, at the same time, then go ride “freeriding” without switching bikes.

So What Is It?
Downhill mountain biking is exactly as it sounds.  You basically try to go down a hill as fast as you can on your mountain bike, just like those guys did in Marin in the 70s.  As bike technology progressed, so did the skills and trails people built for mountain biking.  Today’s downhill mountain biking takes place on trails specifically built for mountain biking rather than gravel or dirt roads.  The trails have technical features and obstacles such as berms, jumps, drops, rocks, and even really big tree roots you must navigate.  The idea is to run the course as fast as you can while navigating all these features.

DH trail features

Examples of downhill trail features. Click the photo to expand.


The Bike
Downhill specific mountain bikes are usually very heavy full suspension bikes designed to help you ride these features and absorb bumps without damaging you or your bike.  These bikes usually have the most play in suspension, usually 7-8 inches (or about 180-220 mm).  Wider tires with more grip are essential for not slipping on the technical terrain.  Other key features of a downhill bike include larger brake rotors for ultimate stopping power and a smaller head tube angle that allows for more slack in the top tube so the bike is free to move beneath you.

MTB differences

Differences between mountain bikes. Click the photo to expand.


Tips and Where To Go
When first trying downhill (DH), go slow and roll your way through the trail, noting the big rocks you need to go around (or over if you wish), the drops that are there, and the jumps.  Get to know the trail and its features before going faster.  After you roll through the features slowly, go back to the top and try the same trail again, remembering where the challenging spots are.  The best body position is standing up off the saddle, with your weight over your rear tire.  This will keep you from flying you’re your handlebars.  Part of the fun of DH is getting better at tackling features.  Also, safety gear is no joke.  A full face helmet is usually recommended, along with elbow and knee pads.  Mountain biking is fun but it CAN be dangerous.

Part of the fun of mountain biking in general is enjoying nature and seeing new places.  Hardly any metropolis, Atlanta included, has mountain biking trails, so you’ll need to get out of the city a little bit.  The closest downhill specific trails near Atlanta is Big Creek Park in Roswell.  Big Creek has it all from beginner trails to advanced freeride trails, to dirt jumps and a pump track.  Safety gear is of course recommended, but you definitely don’t have to have a downhill specific bike to enjoy these trails.  There are also several other mountain bike parks in the southeast that either shuttle you to the top of the hill using trucks or ski lifts.  These type of parks usually charge a fee for the lift or shuttle service, but as a trade-off you don’t have to pedal uphill!

Singletracks-mountain bike related news, articles, and trails nearby

PinkBike– Downhill/freeride mountain articles and videos

Klunkerz: A Film about Mountain Biking
Available to rent on Amazon. 


Don’t forget to check out Sopo’s new VINE!  Recently posted are some Vines from the RAMBO Big Creek DH Time Trial #3, held on Wednesday, August 26.

Sopo Gem: Ross Hi-Tech Mt. Whitney

A piece of mountain bike history is in the shop!  Behold, the Ross Mt. Whitney.  Read up on this bike, as well as the history of Ross Bicycles at the Museum of Mountain Bike Art and Technology, located in Statesville, NC.

Ross1 Ross2


Nice Rack!

Atlanta has some unique bicycle parking.  These are two of my personal favorites, both hailing from Avondale Estates.

This one is outside Pallookaville, the best corndog joint this side of the midway.  The rack features an ice cream cone, fries, milkshake, and of course, a corndog.  I believe an employee custom made it.





This rack is outside Second Life Thrift Store, a thrift store that helps local animal rescue.  This rack offers up a nontraditional answer to the age old question, “what do I do with all these extra golf clubs and skis?”


Is your business or organization in need of bike parking?  We offer it!  Check out our program here or contact us at info@sopobikes.org.



The kestrel…who will take it home?


This gem has been in the shop for quite some time.  Stop by our front space, check it out, and marvel at it.  Try not to drool, please.

Throwback Thursday: That time we were on WABE’s Atlanta Sounds

Came across this gem the other day.  Enjoy!


Sopo manager goes international

dub rides paris

If you’ve ever been in Sopo on a Tuesday night, then you’ve seen Dub.

What you probably didn’t know about our beloved Tuesday night manager is that over the past several months he’s been sweating, training, and working his saddle off to ride in Paris-Brest-Paris, one of the world’s oldest cycling events.

Paris-Brest-Paris is an amateur randonneur “race.” Participants get 90 hours to ride 600 km, from Paris to Brest, and 600km back, for a total of 1200 km (or 750 miles). Time is only recorded in the case of hours and everyone’s considered a winner as long as they complete the challenge in the allotted time. Paris-Brest-Paris only occurs once every four years and participants must qualify for it by doing other sanctioned randonneurs.

The event kicked off this past Sunday, August 16 and ends Thursday, August 20. That means Dub is en route! Keep track of him by following his Facebook page. If you’re feeling charitable, donate to his Go Fund Me campaign to help him offset the costs of traveling (he is, after all, representing the ATL in France on his own dime).

Of course, you could also track him on the official Paris-Brest-Paris website. That is, if you can solve one of Sopo’s greatest mysteries: What is Dub’s real name?

Weekend Bike Happenings

bike e card

If there’s one thing we love about Atlanta, there’s always plenty of things going on.  Everywhere you turn there’s festivals, events, art, concerts, sports, literature, history and everything in between.

Especially in a town that might not seem very bike-friendly to the outsider, there’s almost always something bike related to do.  This weekend is particularly jam-packed with bike events for everyone.

Friday, August 14
The Mobile Social, 7 p.m., Woodruff Park
Join the monthly casual, no-drop ride.  This month’s ride is themed around Business+Bikes.  Click here for more information about the ride. 

Saturday, August 15
EAV Criterium
Why should you care about this race?  Crits are fun to watch because they’re short and fast, but it makes it all worth the while when it’s in a cool place.  East Atlanta Village is easily reachable by bike and there’s plenty of local eateries that cater to cyclists.  Probably the best thing about this race though is the FREE community race wedged in between the pro races.  More information here.

Sunday, August 16
Little Bellas and Prissy Tomboy Mountain Bike Clinic for Girls
4-6 p.m., Blankets Creek MTB Trails, Woodstock

Little Bellas, a nonprofit building confidence for girls ages 7-14, is starting a new chapter in Georgia.  Join them on Sunday to get a taste of what mountain biking is all about at their FREE clinic.  More information here.

Grant Park Criterium
It’s a classic.  It’s in our backyard.  It’s super fun.

grant park crit



Back to School, Bike to School: Resources and Tips

Several counties across Metro Atlanta have already started back to school.  So long, summer days of fun.

But just because the wee ones are back in school, doesn’t mean your summer bike riding is over.  Here’s some helpful tips on how to encourage kids to bike to school.

1. Plan your route. The most direct route to where you’re going might not always be the safest or most bike-friendly commute.  Try researching your route on Google Maps using the bike option.  Another good resource is Ride the City; it even lists bike shops along the way.  Or, check out this bike suitability map from Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.

2. Test ride the route. It’s always a good idea to spend an afternoon or a weekend test riding the route.  That way, you can be sure of any problem areas or areas you might feel uncomfortable and make proper adjustments.  This is especially helpful for teaching kids to ride to school.  Knowing the route will boost their confidence.

3. Nervous? Don’t go it alone.  Getting a neighborhood group to ride together (think of it as a ride pool) can be a great idea, especially for those new to the concept.  It’s a great way to meet people in the area and at your school.  Plus, there’s always safety in numbers.

4. Be the example. Kids learn in a lot of different ways, but one of those ways is by example.  If you already commute to work by bike, take a longer route so that you can incorporate your child’s school route and they can ride alongside you.  We highly recommend riding with children 12 or under!

5. There’s plenty of resources out there. Check out these helpful sites for more information:

Safe Routes to School

Walk Bike to School

Walk Bike Schools–Although this is Seattle-based, there’s lots of resources on how to get a program started



Civil Bikes Featured in Bicycling Magazine

Civil Bikes, an Atlanta cycling tour company, was recently featured in Bicycling Magazine!  Civil Bikes is a wonderful organization that pairs two of our favorite things–bikes and education.  Taking a tour with Civil Bikes would be a wonderful idea for a corporate retreat, a camp or school field trip, showing visitors around the city, or just getting to know your own city better.

Check out the full story here.

Keep up the good work, Nedra and company!

civil bikes

Sopo Teaches YMCA Summer Campers How to Build Bikes

Last week Sopo taught about 40 East Lake YMCA Summer STEAM campers how to build bikes from scratch.  The week-long program consisted of learning bike terminology and the proper use of tools.  At the end of the week, 10 bikes were built by the the campers for the East Lake Y Youth and Teen Development Center to enjoy!

For a more in-depth look at this project, be sure pick up the next copy of Atlanta Velocity Magazine.

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