Downhill Mountain Biking (also, DH) is a distinct discipline of Mountain Biking
. It was most popular
in the mid 90s when riders
enjoyed large corporate sponsorship
but when the crowds dried up so did the money
and the riders. It is now going through a revival
riders group togther several small sponsers as opposed to one huge one. This also helps lower prices for the average rider. Although the finest steeds - the Intense M1
for example - can still cost several thousand pounds.
Riders are challenged to descend several hundred feet within a marked course, usually about 2 km long. Courses are varied since it is up to the organiser's own jurisdiction as to how the course is laid out. In the United Kingdom for example short, muddy, twisty, rocky courses are the average, yet in France you get more berms and longer distances. This is of course a complete generalisation.
Part of Downhill's appeal - especially to young riders - lies in its very different style to XC racing. The riders drink beer, are often unfit when compared to the XC whippets and they also don't dress in tight lycra. Therefore it is obviusly cooler to idolise a Vans wearing downhill rider than an spandex XC rider. However, the skill of the average downhill rider has recently been called into question. The descending skills of a John Tomac or Barry Craig might well be considered superior to that of the average DH rider.
However, Downhill at world level is a truely international sport. The best rider in the world is the Frenchman Nico Voullious, although many would contest this and say that although he came second in the world championships at Vail, Steve Peat is the finest downhiller in the world today.
Riders used to be highly valuable for a company as an advert for their goods. Shaun Palmer for example did wonders for Specialized's sales of all types of bikes whilst riding for them, and Steve Peat provoked high interest in GT's i-drive bikes while sponsored by them. The skills needed for downhill also apply to BSX, and many riders compete in both events successfully - for example Missy Giove. Also, the average European rider can jump his bike in a spectacular fashion, meaning that these riders have bike skills that can interest even the average punter.
As mentioned before there were fears that Downhill was dying. It is certainly true that rich corporate sponsers are a thing of the past. However, there is little cause to argue this certainly in the UK where attendance to events is higher than ever. Riders are certainly not poorly paid either, Will Longden for example being paid a six figure sumto ride for team MBUK/Scott - and Longden has yet to place at an UCI World Cup. Sponsers are found in many small companies nowadays, as opposed to one huge corporate sponser eg. GT, Specialized. Small companies such as Orange and Santa Cruz have taken over as the pioneers behind design, so there is no deficit in technological innovation. Downhill has always been a testing ground for new concepts eg. Full Suspension. The 'trickle down' of technology has benefitted all types of cycle.
Downhill has been forced to return to its grass roots and this is only a good thing for the average rider who can once again identify with the sport. There is also the rise of Free-Riding as a discipline which is similar but involves riding your bike back to the top of the hill as opposed to pushing it. The interest in riding fast on long travel bikes that resemble motorcycles will not die easily.