You couldn’t have asked for better conditions for a snow bike race. After all, you are intentionally planning it in January, in Michigan. With over a foot of fresh snow falling Thursday, Friday, and into Saturday afternoon, over 75 riders competed in the first annual Farmer’s Fat Bike Race. The race highlights the explosion of the fat tire bike craze as nearly every single rider on Saturday was riding a fat tire bike.
While the term fat tire bike has been around since the mountain bike was developed in the 70’s, the more recent reference to the all-terrain fat tire bike refers to a unique animal. Special frames, forks, and bottom brackets are required to accommodate colossal wheels and tires. Boasting wheel widths up to 4.5”, the latest examples claim to be able to ride where no other bicycle can ride. Snow, the deeper the better, is no exception.
So when Versluis Orchards, home of the notable Farm Team Racing team, decided to host a fat tire bike race, it was marketed as a dare. This was not going to be a race for the faint of heart. It was going to be cold. There were going to be hills. There could be as much as 6 feet of snow (drifts). And you were going to ride laps of this torture for 3 hours (unless, of course, you registered as a two person team). Registration was limited to 75 riders and the slots sold out before the deadline expired.
One of the unique things about this race was that even if you didn’t own a fat tire bike but registered in time you could reserve a Salsa Mukluk demo bike from Salsa Cycles and Alger Cycles. 616 Bicycle Fabrication, a local bike producer, also lent out a couple of their fat tire bikes for racers to use. This was really organized to be a fun, get-you-out-on-a-fat-tire-bike event of the winter. Other winter snow races exist, but this was designed to put an exclamation point on the fat tire bike hype.
The official sponsors of the race were Farm Team Racing, Alger Cycles, Salsa Cycles, and Grand Rapids Ophthalmology.
The race began at noon with two mass starts; one for the team category, and one for all solo categories. Team members and fans had opportunities to watch the race from multiple spots along the course. Back at the finish are there was a pit area where duo teams would tag their partner, or switch riders if they were sharing a bike. Nearby a bon fire raged to offer reprieve from the cold for supporters, and a place to stay warm for the off-lap team riders. Salsa Cycles also brought demo bikes for the non-event riders to test out and talk to the reps about throughout the race.
Riders were challenge with completing as many laps as they could before 3p.m. and without starting a new lap after 2:30p.m. Each lap was approximately 2 miles that wound through the Versluis Orchard.
The top four finishers in the team division were: Priority Health-Pugs Division; Founders Alger Racing; Team Troll; and Cross Country Cycles. Each team completed 13 laps total with Priority Health completing them in the day’s best time of 2:33:47.
The solo division consisted of three sub-divisions: solo skinny; solo women; and solo men. The solo skinny category included only three riders, all of whom took podium positions. They were Mark Johnson, Amanda Schaap, and Darren Tillbrooke. Two women braved the course solo and finished well with Danielle Musto taking first and Tara Jensen taking second. Nineteen men attempted the course alone with Dan Jansen winning the division and remarkably turning in the best time of the day (solo or duo) by completing 13 laps in 2:32:47. The top four were then rounded out by Dan Korienek, Craig Gietzen, and Geoff Kuyper.
Awards were handed out at a post race celebration in a wood stove heated garage and included hotdogs, brownies, hot chocolate, and coffee for everyone to enjoy while they laughed and relived the fun times of the day. No announcement has been made about a race next year, but my hunch is that this event will be on the calendar in 2013 and I’m planning to be a participant rather than an observer.