The popularity of cycling has caused the sport to evolve into something interesting. As with anything popular in today’s society, cycling has been pushed towards styles, trends, and the number of likes on your Instagram. Even “dirt bag mountain biker” is now a well established style. So no, those pre-ripped jeans aren’t fooling anyone.
The beautiful thing about fat biking is that it takes you back to your cycling roots when everyone truly enjoyed riding bikes simply because it was fun. I’m talking about that same feeling you got as a kid while hitting sketchy plywood jumps with your buddies. Fat biking is still awkward, the style is confused, the bikes tend to look silly, but the ride will always put a big shit-eating grin on your face.
Fat tires are nothing new to the Kootenays, which made Rossland, BC the perfect venue for the first fat bike festival the province has seen. As part of the Rossland winter carnival, a collection of fat bikes and riders descended on the small mountain town. The format for the weekend was: a fat bike contingency in the carnival parade Friday, fat bike demo Saturday, and an enduro race Sunday.
The parade had over 30 fat bikes show up for some good old fashioned carnival fun. With beer and coffee flowing, the weekend was officially underway! With bluebird skies, perfect temperatures, and lots of very curious people; Saturday saw the bike demo go off. “What’s with those tires!?” and “Those are sick!” were common phrases of the day. A good range of brands and models allowed people to see what is out there in the rapidly growing fat bike industry.
After an adventurous night of urban fat freeriding, Sunday morning came early. We were greeted with flakes falling and a skiff of snow on the ground. Was it enough for traction or just enough snow to hide the ice? This was the discussion over tasty breakfast and coffees at The Alpine Grind in Rossland.
A short drive up to Red Mountain Resort brought us to the venue for one of Canada’s first fat bike enduro races. Being the first event of it’s kind for most, uncertainty was high on everyone’s minds. As registration started the increasing line up of bikes made it apparent that the day was going to be a success. In true fat bike confusion, bikes ranged from full carbon frames with SPD pedals, to steel Surlys with 800mm wide Chromag bars. The rider’s outfits matched the confusion, ranging from the spandex clad XC racer to the lumber—sexual fresh from splitting a load of firewood. The room was packed as Tyler from Revolution in Rossland gave the official riders meeting and course description. The format was easy: mass start, ride up un-timed, pin it down timed, repeat.
The group of fat bikes took off in a cloud of fresh pow. A mellow pedal to start along a nicely packed multi use trail helped the 38 riders spread out before the first climb, which started with a cheering squad armed with the classic bike race cowbells. The climb was punchy but went by quickly as we found ourselves at the top of the first descent.
“Rider ready? 3, 2, 1, Go!” As I dropped into the first flowy descent, it became apparent of how much work had been done in preparation for this race. Perfectly packed trail, little airs, and frozen snow berms just big enough to catch the unusually large tires. Just as I started to find my flow, an uphill section abruptly reminded me that this is an enduro race after all. A few ups, downs, and icy corners later and I found myself skidding into the snow bank at the finish of stage 1. Something magical happens when you do something like this for the first time. Maybe it’s exceeding a preconceived expectation, or just the thrill of experiencing something new, but all I could blurt out was “F@#$ ya that was good!!” The taste of blood in my lungs reminded me that I haven’t been riding a bicycle much since the snow began falling.
After passing around a flask of race fuel, a group of riders took off on the second climb of the day. Is it wrong to say I really enjoyed this fat climb? The snowy single track wound its way through the open forests of Red Mountain like a 3km long low-consequence skinny. Again, the hard work of volunteers paid off with perfectly packed trail conditions.
The second stage had bike park written all over it. Berm, berm, jump, berm, berm. Just like the bike park, each berm had a sweet spot with the rest of it being greasier than a truck stop bathroom. Many riders including myself found this out the hard way.
A few short uphill sprints and more berms later, the course shot you out onto the ski run and the final stretch to the finish line. Definitely the loosest conditions of the day, this section was comprised by a bunch of berms and little transfers with a crowd cheering you on from the finish line. Upon crossing the finish at mach-chicken speed, stopping was the final task of this race. Most riders opted for the 10 meter skid, while others chose the more abrupt pitch and ditch technique. The most impressive one: a rider jumping over his bars, attempting to run out of it, and full-on face planting into the snow.
High fives all around, then everyone headed into Rafters bar for some well deserved après. Awards followed with a huge assortment of prizes. Top three men’s times were all within 30 seconds of each other, with Rossland local Frith Murray taking the win with a combined time of 19 minutes, 15 seconds. Dave Sutton and Travis Hauck followed with close second and third. The solid group of women riders on the course also killed it on the fat tires! Nicola Kuhn took first place with a combined time of 26 minutes, 48 seconds. Steph Verot and Isabelle Desmarais took a close second and third.
Moral of the story is: if you have a chance to ride a fat bike, do it. Guaranteed you won’t be disappointed. And don’t worry about what you wear because you’ll look like a dork on the bike anyways. Just worry about the size of the grin on your face, as you’re more than likely to get some snow in your mouth.
Huge thanks to Ian and Karl from Oak Bay bicycles, Tyler from Revolution cycles, and all the volunteers and sponsors who made this event possible!