On my to-do list for sure this year was to make the trip to northeast Wisconsin and set wheels on the trails of the Bear Paw Inn and the surrounding area near Langlade and White Lake. It has been no secret that the folks up there have been developing miles of singletrack more than worthy of rolling the fat bike over. A check mark appeared on that list this weekend, sooner than I expected, when Scott Berry and his crew whipped up the inaugural “Team Growlers Snow Bike Race” at the Bear Paw.
The Bear Paw Outdoor Adventure Center and surrounding forest, where nearly wiped off the map by a F4 tornado in June of 2007. The swath of this storm leveled 14,000 acres of trees and millions in property damage, so it was uplifting to see the re-building and recovery of this area and the development of such great trails. As a trail builder myself, I can’t imagine how difficult the clean-up process was. A mid-winter cold put the skids on my plans to race, but I wanted to be there to take in this fairly new phenomenon of snow bike, or fat-bike racing. Plus, in a few short weeks, Levis Mound will be hosting the Sweaty Yeti, and I hoped to get a feel of these events.
Although I’m no stranger to managing races, the WORS events of years past have an entirely different “feel” to them than these low key, fun at all costs “races.” It’s the only way I’d venture back into the race directors chair! This is a race, and there are teams and a race course, but there isn’t the dog-eat-dog killer attitude of some race formats. Fat Bike races are more low-key, and I enjoyed being around and involved in that welcoming environment. On arguably the coldest and windiest day this winter, the riders still rolled in, proving there is no such thing as bad weather, if you have warm clothes and proper tire pressure.
I do believe this was the greatest gathering of identical white Pugsleys I’ve ever seen, and a real testament to how many riders have jumped onto fat-bikes in the past year. A smattering of a few other brands also were on the line for the Le Mans start. A total of 14 teams were formed, including a fair number of individual riders who were recruited to join teams, with many on borrowed bikes.
After photographing the start, I headed out on the double track, which quickly climbed and funneled into a stretch of singletrack. There is no shortage of rock and boulders here, and the riders needed to be able to weave those big wheels up and around them like slalom racers. It’s a unique feature of singletrack in this area and I loved it. The packed snow between the rocks made it a smooth rip on the tight downhills. By the second and third laps, the thinner snow cover became icier, and touchy to navigate on some of the sharp corners. Hanging out in the woods with my camera on course was great fun for me. Despite the cold temperature, I could tell that rider after rider was having a good time. The laps were between 15 and 30 minutes and included some tough climbs, but still allowed for a PBR hand-up from time to time.
As racers carved their final turn into the exchange zone, tagged their teammates and logged completed laps, there seemed to be a sense that the fun factor was still high. Even after two hours, riders still wanted to get out and ride the course, and whoever had the most laps to lead the race was secondary. From what I saw this was a three hour race, and everyone took advantage of every minute they could to pedal those fat tires out on the trail and share in all the camaraderie that followed the “race.”
Have you tried a fatbike yet? If not, check out the Sweaty Yeti or any of the remaining fat bike races left this winter listed on Wisconsin produced Fat-Bike.com website. Most of the Wisconsin races have open teams that allow the fat bike curious riders who who up without bikes to participate. If you live in Milwaukee you can also rent a Fatbike from Cory the Bike Fixer. Are there any other shops or places out there renting fatbikes that you know of? If so, let us know in the comments below.