Gravity's Rainbow

Downhill: Sun Valley

May 1, 2000
Outside Magazine
Adams Gulch in Sun Valley

What goes up: descending Adams Gulch in Sun Valley

Drop off Bald Mountain's 9,150-foot summit, plunge 3,400 vertical feet in ten miles on buffed western singletrack through sagebrush and pine, and you'll realize why Sun Valley is fast becoming the downhill destination of choice. This place is all about speed. Unlike California's Mammoth, a lift-served hot spot since the first Kamikaze Downhill race in 1985 and celebrated for fire roads covered in ankle-deep pumice, the trails on Sun Valley Resort's Bald Mountain are hard packed, which means you can lay the bike over in corners and lay off the brakes in straightaways. Which means you can go fast. And fast, apparently, has its allure—at least to the estimated 4,000 riders who sampled the high-speed quad-accessed dirt during last year's 98-day season.

Yet even on a "busy" summer day, riders are so spread out on Bald Mountain that it's possible to experience a sense of utter seclusion. Consider it your own private Idaho—albeit one with water bars that double as launchpads on singletrack just three years old, perfect for heavily padded downhill racers on long-travel suspension bikes. Riders like local speed demon Clint Jones, a 30-year-old former motocross racer who routinely hits close to 45 mph while training for downhill bike races. Tag along with Jones and you'll quickly discover another Bald Mountain bonus: No bike cops. (Beware the occasional biker and hiker.)

If you're not ready for high velocity, take the mountain at your own pace on the moderate pitches of the Cold Springs and Warm Springs Trails. But do be sure to keep your pace in check: A wrong move at speed on Warm Spring's 11.2-mile lodgepole slalom course could leave you emulating Wile E. Coyote or dangling upside down with your cleats still clipped in.

The Dirt: Lift fees are $14 for a single ride, $22 for a full day. For more information, call Sun Valley Ski Resort at 800-322-3432 or visit Full-suspension bikes (four- to five-inch travel on shocks) are available for rental at the base of Bald Mountain next to the River Run Lodge for $35 per day.


VITALS: $5,000; 800-566-2872;
WEIGHT: 9 pounds frame, 48.5 pounds complete
FRAME: Oversize-aluminum-tubed rig with motorcycle-size rear swing-arm that provides upward of nine inches of travel
FORK: Marzocchi Monster T (7 inches of travel)
COMPONENT HIGHLIGHTS: Where to begin? Downright obese Nokian Gazzalodi DH tires, impact-resistant Race Face cranks, and foolproof downhill-specific Hayes disc brakes.
THE RIDE: With only enough gears for "fast" and "insanely fast" (there's just one chainring in front, and it's a big'un), this pig can be ridden in only one direction: down. Fully loaded right out of the showroom, the Stab Primo does its one task very well. It better, because you'll need a chairlift or a truck to get it uphill. Once you're there, hang on: The Stab's suspension soaks up rocks, water bars, and small woodland creatures so smoothly that in three or four thunderous heartbeats you'll be rounding corners at 40 mph. In fact, at speeds less than 30 mph the Stab is fairly unwieldy; good luck bunny-hopping logs on a 50-pounder without a full head of steam. For $5,000 you'd think they'd throw in some pads or a coupon for a free visit to your local emergency room, but it's still cheaper than piecing together a custom downhill rig.


VITALS: $2,750 (frame only); 909-678-4576;
WEIGHT: 8 pounds
FRAME: Heat-treated 6000 series aluminum monocoque with 8 inches of state-of-the-downhill-art travel
THE RIDE: With more U.S. podium visits than any other bike, the M1-SL defined the way gravity-dependent machines are built. (Competing teams have been known to purchase frames and disguise them with different paint jobs.) In addition to its monster-truck suspension, the M1-SL features unheard-of adjustability. Lower the bottom bracket height for the most stable center of gravity that conditions allow; incline the head tube angle for quicker handling on technical courses; extend the wheelbase for better tracking on faster slopes. The possibilities are endless. Indeed, riders in Vancouver are reportedly piloting their MI-SLs off of 32-foot cliffs. Yet it devours high-speed stutter bumps. Assemble it with the right parts and you could get it down to 38 pounds (the total price might be in the neighborhood of $6,500). Still, it's probably best to hold off on the purchase until you've actually made the team.—ANDREW JUSKAITIS