Several weeks ago, Ritchey approached HP and I asking if we’d like to race “Fat Bike National Championships,” in Ogden, Utah. It’s the first year of the event they said, and yes, USA Cycling is sanctioning it.
We laughed, looked at each other, laughed again, and said, “Hell yeah, that would be fun.” A few conversations and a couple photos later, we were all set for a road trip to Utah from San Francisco.
After a long drive and a short night of sleep, we arrived at the venue for a course pre-ride. This was important, as we’d probably logged a total of six hours on a fat bike between the two of us, and HP has not spent much time on snow--period. Luckily, the day was sunny and free of wind, a beautiful introduction to riding bikes on the snow. We had a blast shredding through burms and bunny-hopping rollers. The trip was off to a great start.
Returning to the parking lot, I looked around for the beer tent. What’s fat bike national championships without a recovery drink, right? I’d seen a beer sponsor for the event on USA Cycling’s website, but they didn’t appear to have come through. A feeling of dread started creeping in.
“Hey HP, how serious do you think this thing is going to be?” I asked.
“Probably pretty serious.” She responded. “It’s bike racing, right? And stars-and-stripes jerseys are on the line.”
I suppose deep down this didn’t come as a surprise. Put a couple racers together, and the most casual situations turn into actual contests. And I’ll admit to being one of the primary instigators. A part of me hoped fat bikes were just silly enough to relax us, but I knew this notion was wrong. I checked once more for the beer tent, and then gave up the search.
Then next morning was much colder and windier. The spring skiing vibe from the day before was notably absent. We grabbed coffee and donuts for breakfast--figuring that was appropriate nutrition for the event, and made our way up to 9,000 ft, where the start/finish was.
HP went off at 9 AM, and kept calm in a small field of “Masters 30-39 women.” She got several compliments during her race, including “Whoa! Ritchey steel!” from another racer on the course. In a world where fat bikes have already gone carbon, we’d earned a little respect for something different.
I went off at 1 PM, in a field of 18 “Pro” (a very generous designation) men. I lined up between Ned Overend, Mitch Hoke, Travis Brown, and a guy from Moab wearing baggy shorts and hiking boots. There were more skinsuits and carbon wheels than I’d expected, but it was good to see some baggies too.
The race started, and after about three minutes of pacelining through a nordic ski trail, we entered the most fun section of the course: a burmed descent that finished over a roller and into the one section of “singletrack.” I got a little too rad coming out of the last burm, went wide over the roller, and just barely put my front wheel into the soft snow next to the singletrack. It sunk in, I tipped over, and that was that--race over. I got back up as soon as I could and gave chase, but the next section was wide open, and I couldn’t manage to close the 50m to the main group that had echeloned across the trail ahead of me. Turns out that on a fat bike, a 50m gap is about as many seconds.
For the next hour, I asked my sea-level lungs for all they’d give--which wasn’t much. I’d look ahead at a seemingly small gap to the next rider, only to realize that at the speed I was moving, that gap was 30 seconds. Everything was in slow motion. In a moment of clarity, I realized that one of the reasons I like bike racing so much is the speed. I knew in that moment that while riding fat bikes around in the snow was fun, racing them was much less so.
I rolled through the finish line with a big smile on my face, and gave high fives to a few other riders and friends who were there. I changed out of kit, looked again unsuccessfully for the beer tent, and waited for podiums.
The next day we went for a ride on the Shoreline Trail in Salt Lake City. We ran into another fat bike rider who was very excited to see us. He mentioned that his fat bike was his primary choice these days, despite the lack of snow. HP asked “What do you like about it?”
“It just puts me in a different headspace, you know? I ride in my flat pedals, and the rides that used to take three hours now take four. You just can’t be in a hurry.”
- Kurt Wolfgang