Until last Friday, I’d never ridden a fat bike. In fact, I’d probably only seen one of these big-wheelers in person two or three times. My reaction then was something akin to, looks kind of cool, but wintertime is for skiing, not freezing your ass off just so you can ride bikes 12 months a year. Well, after one afternoon of riding (and racing), consider me converted fat bike devotee.
Site for this two-wheeled transformation was Crested Butte, Colorado, home of the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and some of the best singletrack this side of Mars. On tap was the first annual Crested Butte Fat Bike Race, which started downtown on Elk Avenue in front of the Brick Oven Pizzeria. From there it was a mad dash up Old Kebler Pass, and then onto some of the groomed Nordic skiing trails west of town.
Total lap distance was 2.8 miles. Lap times were in the 15-20 minute range. The field consisted of about 45 riders split between solo men, solo women, and team categories. The vibe was distinctly low key and silly-costume friendly, though there was a quiet agenda behind this first-time affair.
“There is a group of us that are really pushing to get fat biking going here in Crested Butte,” explained race co-organizer Dave Ochs. “We have incredible Nordic trails here and an incredible Nordic skiing system. But so far there has been a little resistance, kind of like when snowboarding first popped up and no one wanted it on their mountain. We are getting that here in Crested Butte, though it seems like that is slowly changing. Hopefully our access will improve as time goes by.”
As for the racing, as anyone who’s ridden a fat bike surely knows, success requires a delicate combination of staying smooth and efficient, maintaining momentum, and knowing how to read the snow. Over-steer or over-brake and you’ll quickly end up on your backside. Get into the soft snow, and you’ll bog down if your lucky, go flipping over the bars if you’re not.
“Once the wheels get going, they know where they want to go,” said Chad Melis, winner of the solo men’s race and marketing man for REEB Cycles, whose product line includes a fat bike. “You are never making sudden moves. It’s all about rolling and momentum.”
While Melis was rolling away from the front of the field, Team Mtbr’s crack three-rider squad was doing it’s best to stay upright, while piloting one of those aforementioned REEB Cycles fat bikes. REEB (beer spelled backwards) is the pet project of Oskar Blues, one of Colorado’s best known craft breweries. The mainstay of their line is a sub-23-pound singlespeed steel hardtail with a Gates Carbon belt drive. But like the rest of the cycling world, REEB has noticed the increasing interest in big-wheeled bikes.
“The whole fat bike scene seems to be really going off right now,” said Melis. “In Colorado, it’s been an off year so far in terms of skiing, but there’s still plenty of snow on the ground for riding the fat bike. And once you ride one, you realize how much fun it is. There’s trails we ride near Lyons (where Oskar Blues in based) that are super rough and rocky in the summer. But right now, they’re all packed out from skiers and snowshoers, so on a fat bike they are a ton of fun, smooth and flowy. It’s a whole new experience.”