Editor’s Note: This article is part of the Mtbr Ultimate Guide to winter mountain biking, fat bikes, gear, apparel, lights and trainers. We are taking a deep dive into all manner of cold weather mountain bike gear, with round-ups and reviews of fat bikes, tires, wheels, apparel, trainers and more. To see all the articles, head over to our Winter Guide Hub Page.
Depending on your perspective, the most significant moment from last weekend’s first annual Borealis Fat Bike World Championships in Crested Butte, Colorado was A) nearly 300 people started the main event race; B) the heretofore un-fat-bike-friendly boss of the local Nordic center rode a fat bike and smiled; C) Crested Butte Mountain Resort ski area actually permitted limited uphill lift service for fat bikes on the final day of the event; or C) the winner of the men’s open race got the event’s insignia branded on his left butt cheek. (We’ll let you make your own judgment after checking out this slightly graphic PG-13 video.)
The nuts and bolts of the event included a pair of races (tune-up and big show results) plus an advocacy summit, fun ride, concert and parties. The first official unofficial world fat bike champion titles went to Robbie Squire and Amy Beisel, who both declined the ceremonial winner’s brand. Fortunately, tradition was begun thanks to Durango Wheel Club rider Andre-Paul Michaud, who reportedly has a host of tattoos and decided it was time to mix things up.
While on the surface Fat Bike Worlds was more laid back celebration than hardcore competitive event, the potential long term benefits can not be understated. Event director and Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce executive director Dave Ochs is on a personal crusade to integrate fat biking into the outdoor winter activity portfolio of the Colorado mountain town he represents, both as benefit to the local cycling populace, and as a way to bring more tourist dollars into a place that lives and dies by visitor expenditures. It’s a model that could be applied at hundreds of other locales across the country.
Check out our huge photo gallery from Day 1 of the Fat Bike World Championships.
As both a race participant and newly minted Crested Butte resident, I witnessed all those benefits. With the world’s event as catalyst, fat biking has been all the buzz in town. You see the bikes on the streets — and some of the trails, it’s been a regular topic of discussion in the local paper, and my wife and I personally hosted five out of towners from Colorado’s Front Range who were all here because of fat biking (not skiing). All of them spent money on beer and food — and had a great time. Indeed, the first year event attracted all types of people to town, including riders from as far away as England, Sweden, Guatemala and the U.S. east coast. It also brought in about a dozen media outlets, including numerous cycling titles and even Outside Magazine.
The notion of lift served fat biking also got a shot in the arm. In what was an unplanned move, one of the higher ups at the ski area allowed about 15 riders to load one of the beginner lifts with fat bikes on laps during this event’s final day downhill fun ride on groomed singletrack trails in the adjacent woods. The unprecedented move was done primarily to assist the Warren Miller film crew, which was in town all week collecting fat bike footage and needed the riders to get to the top of the hill more quickly. But the fact that bikers and skiers were able to co-exist on-mountain (and that you can build sweet snowy singletrack with a little elbow grease and the proper grooming tools) could someday propel us into the age of wintertime bike park fun. And after having ridden that singletrack both at night and during the day, I can attest that it is damn fun.
Bottom line, with all due respect to the legion of haters out there (many of you who follow Mtbr on Facebook), I wholeheartedly believe that this riding wide tired bikes on snow thing is much more than a passing fad. No it’ll never be “enduro” or even “plus”, but if you’re snowbound (or plan on visiting a snowbound place), it’s a great way to get outside, explore and get some exercise. As the saying goes, when the skiing sucks, the fat biking is great and vice versa. And that’s a heck of lot better than riding the trainer — or doing nothing at all.
Fat biking is also a lot harder than it looks. Skilled snow riding means knowing how to pick and maintain a line; keeping weight even on both wheels, and being able to stay light and loose even when your bike is slipping and sliding all over the place. Ride big wheels now, be a better summertime mountain biker later. Nothing wrong with that.