Race Recap - Fat Bike Nationals
Post Fat Bike Nationals recap by #LocalLegend, Ed Messer
I knew Fat Bikes were a thing. They never really grabbed my interest though, until I read a tweet from Frankie Andreu (https://twitter.com/FakieFrankie) about the lack of riders registered for Fat Bike Nats . On a cold MTB ride at Franke Park with Andrew Hoffman and Paul Richardson, Paul said he planned on doing Fat Bike Nats. I remembered that tweet from Frankie and my mental wheels started turning.
Having never ridden a Fat Bike, I needed to borrow one to even try it out. Friend of Team Neighborlink Ben Singleton graciously loaned me his barely ridden Salsa Beargrease for the race. So I got a few shake down rides on it to get a feel for the huge 4" wide tires. Ben's bike is fully rigid with no fork or no suspension. That is my opinion of how a fat bike should be. But I'm a newbie so take that for what it is worth. The fat bikes run really low pressure - in the range of 5-6 PSI all the way down to 3 if you are so daring. That gives you some 'suspension' but it also gives you a tremendous amount of grip. Which it just what you need for racing Fat Bike Nats.
The FBN course was in Cannonsburg, MI at the ski slopes there. The weather leading up to the race granted the course a good 6-8" of snow-perfect for a fat bike race. The folks that set up and prep the trails groom them much like regular ski slopes. But as you can imagine they don't use the big snow cats like they do on ski slopes. They use custom built groomers that fit on the narrow trails of the race course.
The course had three main climbing sections and a couple really fun down hill sections. And all of it was brutal. On the climbs, you have to stay in the groove where riders have ridden before but it is a narrow groove so you have to maintain balance. But you are going slow enough that it is really tough to do so. Add to that the difficulty of keeping traction in the snow, while going up hill and it became incredibly tough for me. Also, in a large pack of riders inevitably, someone falters and has to hike, so everyone behind him has to as well. I ended up hiking all of the climbs at one point or another. Man that is hard! Hiking a bike, uphill, through 8" of snow, with MTB shoes and shoe covers is not easy.
The downhills are similarly difficult, except you're not giving an uphill pedaling effort. There developed a groove on the downhills that if you got out of it or lost your balance you were sent skidding to the soft snowy deck. I personally did so several times in my race. The only damage done was to my ego, as I previously thought I had pretty decent bike handling skills. Upon retrospect, I think I might have been better off lowering my air pressure a half a PSI or so for better grip on the edge of that groove.
This race for me became like a lot of my cyclocross, and MTB races. I ended up racing against myself more than other competitors. I mean sure there were guys that I was trying to pass and guys I was trying to stay ahead of. But I really had to focus on the race I was riding. I had to focus on the effort I was putting out and measure it so I had enough in the tank to finish the race strong. I also had to focus mentally on riding well on the climbs as well as the descents. On the climbs, I realized that riding as slowly as I needed to to stay on the bike was faster and saved me more energy than pushing the bike up the hills. So, I needed to focus intently on that. On the descents, the same focus was required to stay upright. If I got going too fast for my concentration, I'd slide out of the groove, or fall, costing me way more time than had I gone a little bit slower but concentrated more. So the mental race within was the toughest race for me.
One other comparison to the cyclocross racing I have done was the community. The fat bike community is a gracious and fun-loving one, just like cyclocross. Competition is fierce but camaraderie is just as important. Riders gave each other grunts and groans of encouragement when letting faster riders past. Passing riders almost always gave a 'Thanks!' when riders let them by. It was a really positive scene.
For me, my efforts paid off better than I hoped. I rode to 6th place in my category of 40-49 year old men. Fellow Team Neighborlink racer Paul Richardson finished just behind me in 8th. While we did't reach the podium, we both had a great time racing, and representing Team Neighborlink.
I looked back on the challenge of the race and am grateful for the opportunity to push myself like this, and happy to represent TNL in doing so. I'm glad to #WorkHard #DoGood, and as always #LoveWins