Fat Bike Race Series on Skinny Tire Bikes

Photos courtesy of Chadd Hartman, Brian Kennedy, & Paul Remonko.

Race start for the Chestnut Ridge Fat Bike Race

The “Chubby” class takes off for race #3 on a cold February day.  Despite the fact that we’ve had barely any snow this winter, two of the fat bike races at Chestnut Ridge were snow-covered affairs.

Because of the warm temperatures and lack of good snow, I have avoided skiing this year.  That’s bad news for Mad River Mountain, but good for the bike, which often gets neglected at this time of year.

March 1st is usually the day that I vow to start riding outside on the weekends, but actually, I’ve done a good job of riding outside throughout the winter this year compared to the past.  A big part of that is a result of the fat bike race series that I did at Chestnut Ridge Metropark in January and February.

“CR Fatty”/ “Get Fat” / Fat Bike Race at Chestnut Ridge

James Knott jumps a barrier

The first fat bike race was warm and muddy.  I appreciated the warm weather, but it didn’t feel like the frosty affair I was expecting.  They used the cyclocross course at Chestnut Ridge, so it was fun watching all the fat bike guys lugging their bikes over the barriers.

Specialized Stumpjumper after fat bike race.

My bike was filthy after the first race. The course was so muddy in some spots that I could barely keep it upright. It was much more difficult without big fat tires.

Muddy drivetrain on mountain bike.

The drivetrain got a wee bit dirty.  It looks like a bird nested in my frame.

I almost didn’t participate in the Chestnut Ridge race series.  I didn’t have a fat bike and at first it was only open to riders with fat bikes.  The event organizers were purposely keeping the size of the event small because they weren’t sure how it would go or whether they had enough parking for everyone.  There was maybe 30-35 racers at each event.  But, at the last minute they opened up a skinny tire division for those of us who hadn’t pulled the trigger on a new fat bike purchase.  I have to admit, I was a little jealous of all the fat bikes.  They are a ton of fun to ride.

The divisions were Big Fatties (expert fat bikes), Chubbies (sport fat bikes), Half a Chub (regular mountain bikes), and Big Mommas (women on fat bikes).

Big Momma, Kate Tingley, the undisputed women's champ was rockin' the pink on her new Trek Farley.

Big Momma, Kate Tingley, the undisputed women’s champ, was rockin’ the pink on her new Trek Farley.

The Half a Chub division wasn’t promoted very much, so it was a small affair – a handful of racers at each event.

There were four races in 9 weeks and each event had a different flavor to it partly due to weather and partly because of what I like to call “Paul’s Random Race Generator”.  Usually, we weren’t sure what was going to happen until Paul Remonko announced it at the start line.

The races were held on the new CX course at Chestnut Ridge.  Paul switched up the track each time, adding singletrack when the trail was frozen and taking it away when conditions were muddy.  The number of laps changed from race-to-race depending on how long and tough the course was.  And, he even changed track direction and added a Le Mans start to final contest.  Overall though, we raced from 45-90 minutes depending on the speed of the racers and the whims of Paul.

I wanted to give special thanks to Paul.  He did a great job putting together this series and I know that he had moments when he would have rather been racing with us than organizing.  Paul, you definitely helped make winter riding in Central Ohio more fun.

Paul Remonko at Chestnut Ridge

Paul Remonko sets up the fat bike race course at Chestnut Ridge Metropark. It was awesome that he made the effort to do this. Everyone should make sure and thank him so that he’ll do it again next year.

Snowy race at Chestnut Ridge Metropark

It was amazing how hard it was to ride our skinny tired bikes. Although, I never really fell, every time I put any serious power into the pedals, my tire would spin out. Good acceleration was an exercise in patience, rather than just pedal mashing. Also, I couldn’t ride my bike up the few short, steep hills that were on the course.

Here is an awesome video posted by MTBerOhio on Youtube from the first muddy race.

When I signed up, I wasn’t sure how competitive the skinny tire division would be.  When the race started, I decided to follow the leaders and let them set the pace.  I was having no problem keeping up and somewhere in the first two miles of the race the leader fell hard on a slippery section.  All of a sudden, I was in the lead with two of my competitors close behind.  Slowly throughout the race I pulled away from them and ended up with a win.

The night before the second race a light snow had fallen over the course.  Since I had won the first race pretty easily, I decided to ride an 8-mile lap of frozen singletrack before the event.  I got 4 miles into the course and all of a sudden my chain came off and got stuck between my spokes and the cassette.  My tire wouldn’t spin and I started to panic.  I didn’t know a quick way to get back to the parking lot and I had to carry my bike on my shoulders the whole way.  After two or three miles of walking in the snow, I finally found my way back to the parking lot about 30 minutes before the start.  Luckily, my Breakaway/Quickdirt/Trek teammate, Mark Hatten, had the tools I needed to remove my cassette and fix the problem.

Mikey Worboy races at Chestnut Ridge

Mikey Worboy, the youngest competitor in the series, showed he was tough as nails be surviving the rough conditions in all four races.

I was able to start the second race on time and the results were fairly similar to the first.  I started off following the leaders, passed them early, and then slowly pulled away from them over the course of the race.  This time though, the snow made it very difficult to turn and accelerate out of the corners.  Even though, I wasn’t very graceful and a little fatigued from my hike out of the woods, I was still able to win fairly easily.  Race #3 would shake my confidence though.

Before the third race, I was feeling pretty good about my chances for a clean sweep of the series.  I wanted to get some extra training in, so I decided that I would do a warm-up lap on the singletrack beforehand.  Once again it had snowed the night before, but this time the snow was much thicker.  I thought the lap would take about 60-75 minutes compared to my normal lap time of about 50 minutes.  Boy was I wrong.  The snow-covered singletrack was much more challenging this time.  There was only one other bike track in the fresh powder and for the most part I was forging a new path through the snow.  It took me two and a half hours of riding and hiking to get back to the parking lot.  Despite trying to take it easy, I was worn out from my effort.

Snowy day at Chestnut Ridge.

I showed up early for race #3.  The snow was thicker at Chestnut Ridge than it was at my house and I underestimated how tough it would be to ride in.

A new Half a Chub rider, Ben Michels, had shown up for the first time on his singlespeed.  Ben is a strong rider and I knew he would be a challenge.  At the start, he shot off like a cannon and I tried to follow.  My heart rate was probably the highest it had been throughout the series.  Eventually though, he slipped away from me and I was duking it out for second place.  My tires were having trouble in the snow and my whole body was tired from my 2.5 hour “warm-up” struggle.  What was I thinking when I did that?

This time I couldn’t shake my main series competitor and in the final sprint to the line he passed me and I ended up in 3rd.  Oh no!  Now my series win would be in jeopardy.  If I got second in the last race, then I would fall short of my goal to win the series.  The pressure was on.

Trek Superfly SS

My new bike, the Trek Superfly SS, showed up right before race #4. Should I use it for the race?

In the final race, I had a big decision.  Should I use my new bike or stick with my old one.  I was expecting the course to be very muddy and I wasn’t sure how it would be racing a fully-rigid singlespeed in those conditions.  I wanted to win and I was worried that if I switched to my new bike I might get dusted and lose the series.  I decided to use the Superfly anyways and just hoped for the best.

This time I rested up for the race because I didn’t want to be fatigued from an extended warm-up.  The course conditions were much dryer than expected.  Paul threw us a couple of curves at the start…

  1. Everyone would start at the same time, instead of in divisions.
  2. The course would be run backwards.
  3. There would be a Le Mans start where everyone had to sprint to their bikes before starting the first lap.

I was excited about this.  I run a lot, so I figured the sprint start would be a good format for me.  Also, I was excited to start at the same time as the experts because I could use them for pacing.  But, would I be able to keep up with them on my singlespeed?

Fat Bike Series number plate

My number plate. Paul did the lamination himself. 504 ’til I die!

When the race started we sprinted to our bikes and I was the fourth rider to start the lap.  Not too shabby.  My new bike felt fast and I was feeling more energetic than I had in any other race.  During that first lap, only one competitor passed me and I was surprised at how well I was keeping up on a singlespeed.  Sure, these guys were riding with fat tires, but they were an impressive group of riders.  One of them was Besik Gavasheli, the National Champion of the country of Georgia!  You can read more about him on Dan Fausey’s blog, Mountain Bike Trailer Park.

I looked over my shoulder after a bit and realized that my skinny-tired competition was nowhere in sight.  In fact, there was no one behind me.  The lead pack of 5 racers, myself included, had left everyone behind.  Lap after lap, we powered through the course, which had the driest conditions of the entire series.  We were so close for a while that we were actually drafting each other.

Traction was not a problem, except on a few short steep climbs. And, in the end, this is where I let the other four guys get away from me a little.  Their big fat tires had no problem climbing up the muddy slopes, while my skinny tires could barely hold their grip.  Still, on the sixth and final loop, I could still see the leaders of the race not too far ahead of me.  Then, I got confirmation that this was by far my best performance of the series, when I lapped the other guys in the Half a Chub division.  I wasn’t expecting that.

The final Half a Chub podium. Woo-hoo!

The final Half a Chub podium. Woo-hoo!

It was a resounding victory and a big endorsement for my new bike.  I finished first in the Half a Chub division and 5th overall for the day.  I was pumped.

I’m hoping Combo will sponsor this series next year and open it up to more racers.  Maybe next winter I will have a fat bike and I can test myself in the Big Fatty division.

On Deck – Death March Ride

Up next, I’m racing in the Death March Ride in Norman, Indiana.  This is my first time doing this unique event and I’m pumped.  Teams of two race to gravesites around the Hoosier National Forest.  There are 5 mandatory sites and 7 other sites that will help you earn time bonuses if you go out of your way for them.  You can hit the graves in any order, which makes this a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure race.  I’m teaming up with my nemesis, Chris Knapp, and I think this is going to be a fun day!  I can’t wait to post some pictures of it here on Quickdirt when I’m done.  Make sure you follow Quickdirt on Facebook for more updates.

I’m on Strava Now?!?

I’ve resisted the Strava wave for several seasons, but I’m finally giving in.  I’m not sure if it was the peer pressure brought on by Mike Whaley or my curiosity about segments and KOMs, but I decided to give it a shot.  I added a Strava button in the right-hand column of Quickdirt in case you want to follow me.  Finally, you can get a window into my top secret training regimen.  Oh wait, you can already find that here on Quickdirt.  Oh well, we’ll see if it enhances the Quickdirt experience.

My Profile on Strava

Peace Out Bro!

2 thoughts on “Fat Bike Race Series on Skinny Tire Bikes

  1. Followed this from BBA, not a mountain biker, but you’ve got me really interested in the sport now. Just curious about the different divisons you all race in and the differences between them (what’s “cat 5”)? Are you professional? Prize money? I think it’d be neat to see an article explaining the ends and outs of the sport to the lamens like me!

    • Glad you checked it out. Hopefully I’ve inspired you enough to go try mountain biking. It’s a great sport. I’m not a pro, I’m just an enthusiast. I use racing to set goals to keep me riding for a healthy lifestyle. I love the competition and I have gotten much better at it with better training and more experience. Most non-sanctioned mountain bike races are divided into Novice, Sport and Expert level with the race length getting longer as you move up. If you race in a USA Cycling-sanctioned event, then Cat 5 is the entry level and you can work your way up to Cat 1, the most competitive. Ultimately though, there is a ton of great riders out there and just being able to hang out with them before and after the events is the best part.

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