The fatbike leaves the mountains to bring a racing festival to western Wisconsin

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Why would a fatbike company billed as the world championships leave the air of a mountain town in Colorado for farm and farming territory in western Wisconsin?

It’s a lazy thought, on closer inspection. Engage organizers and those involved with the rugged Upper Midwest cycling scene and the implied response is, Why not?

Leaving Mountain West for New Richmond, Wis., this year ticks several boxes for the Fat Bike World Championships, accustomed to riding in the shadow of the Rockies.

David Ochs, executive director of the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association, created the event and said that as a “global” event, it was meant to move – to celebrate fatbiking. The first was in 2016 in Crested Butte, Colorado. Last year, the event took place on a private ranch in Wyoming with organizers aware of COVID-19 and having had the first glimpse of a new location.

Now he’s hopping in a part of the country where the fatbike, with its oversized snow-eating tires, has moved centrally from the fringes as a winter activity and has brought the masses with it. Watch weekend schedules across Wisconsin – and Minnesota and Michigan – saturated with races and rides, and the trail systems to support them.

Like e-bikes and gravel bikes, mountain bike sales were already strong before the pandemic — a way to get outside, get active, and do both with friends. Then you add COVID, and boom.

Minnesotan Gary Sjoquist, a longtime mountain biker, advocate, and organizer in the Midwest, points to the popularity and growth of trail systems like Cuyuna Country in Crosby, Minnesota, (and other state park options) and Tioga to Cohasset. And, also, events like the Fat Bike Birkie on the heels of the American cross-country races Birkebeiner in the Hayward, Wisconsin area. Fat Bike Worlds fits in well in New Richmond, less than an hour’s drive from the Twin Cities, he said.

“It will be a great opportunity to showcase fatbike here in the Midwest,” he said.

Those people riding the muscle cars of cycling matter too. Ochs reached out to members of a western Wisconsin cycling group that attracts cyclists from Hudson, New Richmond, River Falls and nearby communities. The Big Ring Flyers-Apex Cycling Club will host the three-day championships, Jan. 28-30.

Sarah Hartung is a member with approximately 115 other people who ride, socialize and advocate for the activity through all seasons. The group has existed for about 20 years. She and the other organizers are excited — and busy: The event includes a Jan. 28 pre-party ahead of the Jan. 29 championship race at the New Richmond Golf Club course, which will be groomed with a 6-mile course.

The Big Ring Flyers have enjoyed the championship as participants so far, fielding contingents that included this year’s race director, Chris Stevens. In doing so, they have cultivated a special rapport with Ochs and other members of the Crested Butte ATV community.

Ochs said he intends to reach out to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, knowing they have become fatbike destinations with growing local support. He approached Stevens last year.

“I said, hey, would you be interested in hosting? And they jumped on it right away,” Ochs said. “They understand the flavor of the event – ​​a big race but also a celebration of big bikes.”

The region, in general, has the right ingredients, he said. “The Midwest has terrain and snow levels and the ability to really use winter trails.”

The world championship is not the last word on fatbike prowess. It wasn’t planned either. There is no governing body sanctioning the event. Ochs imagined a kind of traveling show.

“The whole point is home, grassroots, traveling to help support fatbike,” Ochs said.

The tagline for this year’s event sticks to that philosophy, with a nod to New Richmond: More latitude, same attitude.

The January 29 championship race is 24 miles (four laps on the 6-mile course). The day includes a fun 12-mile ride and enough demo bikes from a main supporter, Borealis, to entice newbies for a ride. Hartung said entries were about halfway through the combined 500 cap for both races.

It also all includes shameless revelry, from the Bikes, Beer & Bourbon Tailgate pre-party and obstacle course on January 28 to a pancake breakfast, kids ride and timed circuit race this Sunday- the. The rides will attract serious racers but, as the event ironically proclaims on its website, “lots of people… also wear costumes, shoot whiskey and eat bacon on the course.”

Members of the Big Ring Flyers can’t wait to put New Richmond and the area’s cycling scene front and center, bacon and all.

“Riders who come here are going to be able to expect a great time,” Hartung said.

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