Lately I have been spending far too much time cooped up in my hotel room only getting out occasionally to go climbing at the gym or for a quick ride in the snow. I decided things needed to change and I need to make the most of my time in the US. I was keen to head north during winter as I love the winter landscapes and remoteness (it’s cool for me as we hardly ever get any decent snowfall in the UK).
Throughout the winter I have been following lots of website about fat bikes and snow biking, one was for the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series. Its a series of fat bike races in the snowy North West. As the winter is starting to come to a close I decided that catching one of these races would be the perfect excuse for a road trip north. I got clicking on the web and found the next event was the Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout up in Northern Minnesota.
As usual I made a plan then did absolutely nothing about it until 11pm the night before. I hurriedly chucked my bike in the back of the car along with gear for pretty much any eventuality (I am just getting used to touring by car where packing light doesn’t matter in the slightest). I had a super busy day at work and before I knew it I was behind the wheel facing a nice 8 hr drive north. I managed 6 hours before stopping on the Edge of Minneapolis, not before seeing an awesome flaming comet blazing across the sky, it was truly amazing!
The next morning I got up nice and early then proceeded to be completely useless and take forever to get my ass in gear. The racing was set to start at 10 my changes of getting up there in time were quickly vanishing. It was an amazing sunny winters day and once I finally hit the road there were lots of sites to keep me amused. I was driving along when I suddenly noticed a snowmobile in mid air in front of me. I took a closer look and realised it was a snocross race (like motocross but on snowmobiles). The guys were crazy launching two at a time over tabletop jumps. I was tempted to stop but decided I should push on to avoid missing the bike racing.
Further down the road I was driving alongside a huge frozen lake when I noticed a plane dropping out the sky as if it was coming in to land. I rounded the corner and sure enough there was a mini airstrip on the ice complete with at least 20 planes. It was a hive of activity and I stopped for a while to see if it really was possible to land a plane of a frozen lake (it was).
By the time I got to my destination the most of the morning had passed and most of the riders had finished but I got to catch a few people coming over the line. For a bike nerd like myself it was great getting to see all the custom fat bikes. Surly and Salsa had tents and I had a good look at a Salsa Beargrease (bloody hell they are light).
Everyone was super friendly and soon started packing up their bikes and heading back to Crosby for the afternoon festivities These included ice bike racing and bike drag racing on ice. I had planned on taking part in the ice bike race as my bike is currently shod with suitably spiky tires. Unfortunately it turned out you had to register to race on Friday evening so I had to settle for watching the racing (and carnage) which turned out to be great fun.
The course had be made on a frozen lake with the layer of snow removed to create an icy track to race on. Now obviously the layout of the course is critical and someone had done an amazing job (if general carnage and comedy crashes was the plan).
It started with a nice long straight which lulled you in to a false sense of security before the crazy sharp corners and general madness commenced. As if tight corners weren’t enough the last section of the course consisted of a spiral which tightened in to the centre then had a crash inducing crossing before heading back out again. I did a few laps before the racing started and even with pretty decent 3″ studded tires I still felt my front wheel starting to wash out a couple of times on the hairpins. It must have been pretty scary to race on.
There was a 25min beginners race followed by drag racing and then a 45 mins expert race. It was a great experience, for me it is kinda of crazy to walk on a frozen lake let alone race bikes on one. Fat bike events appear to attract a certain kind of person (you have be pretty keen and/or mad to want to get out and ride in the freezing cold on snow and ice). Everyone was really cool and there was lots of good banter especially between the racers. I was actually amazed with how fast some of the guys were going, full on leaning in to the corners. Some people decided that the tires available in the shops weren’t even good enough and took things in to their own hands with a power drill and some screws making the most hardcore homemade studded tires you will ever see. Those without studded tires however didn’t have so much luck, the sunny weather had wetted the top of the ice and turned the course into… well and ice rink. I witnessed some pretty hilarious slow mo crashes.
Soon the sun was getting low in the sky, the racing had come to a thrilling climax, all that was left was for the prizes to be given out and everyone to gradually prise themselves away from the fire (and bar) and head home. It was a great day and a amazing experience and best of all one which I would never get to witness in the UK.