Just so we are clear, this story is about Crested Butte Fat Bike World Championships, as in SSCXWC and SSWC and #fatbikeshit. The acronyms UCI and USAC had nothing to do with the super-fat-tire race that went down last weekend high in the Colorado mountains.
Crested Butte, Colorado, claims itself as the birthplace of mountain biking (in tandem with Marin County, California, of course), making it a fitting place to host a “world championship” for one of mountain biking’s newest iterations. But just like it shares that mantle, it has to share another: Midwesterners argue that they have hosted a citizens fat bike “championship” race for several years near Cable, Wisconsin, called Fat Bike Birkie. Others will tell you that Noquemanon World Championship Snowbike in Marquette, Michigan, which ran in 2012 and 2013, was first. On a more formal note, USA Cycling will run Fat Bike Nationals in Ogden, Utah, February 27.
Technicalities aside, there’s nothing bad about getting a bunch of knobby-tire lovers together for a weekend dedicated to fun. The four-day event was hosted by the chamber of commerce and sponsored by Borealis Fat Bikes of Colorado Springs. A relay/team race and bike demo kicked things off Thursday, January 28, followed by a regional advocacy and access summit on Friday.
The official, so-called world championship race happened on Saturday, when about 260 people gathered to ride a six-mile loop—three passes for the open class and five times for the elites—on a wide, groomed track normally only open to Nordic skiers.
Two hundred and sixty is also the number of people estimated to have showed up to race the first Single Speed World Championships of mountain biking in 1999, so Crested Butte Fat Bike Worlds is off to a proper start.
The event was very inclusive with categories including 55-plus, junior men and women, and adaptive racers. Kids on fat bikes were probably the coolest thing I saw all weekend. Most of the participants hailed from Colorado or one of the surrounding Rocky Mountain states. A handful of those were racing on demo bikes, having never powered a fat bike prior to the event, including the elite men’s winner, professional American road cyclist Robbie Squire.
Sanctioned shenanigans were decidedly tame when compared to the SSWC events (which I was under the impression this event was trying to replicate, at least somewhat), but the outdoor performance by Lez Zeppelin, an all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band was fantastically awesome and Odell Brewing was pouring tasty brews all weekend.
Race planner and chamber of commerce director Dave Ochs loudly proclaimed to the finish-line crowd that Fat Bike Worlds would never be taken away from Crested Butte, so there were no drunken games played to see which city would host the race, next, though free marijuana from the local distributor was included in some of the winners’ prize packs.
No matter what, Crested Butte is one of the most picturesque, charming mountain towns in Colorado—the archetype for a place were you’d be pleased to be trapped by a snowstorm for several days. And the bicycle culture is deeply ingrained. Adjacent each of the in-town bus stops were tall snow drifts with several rusty, old bicycles crammed into them, unlocked—apparently the formal method of bike parking. But it’s not an easy place to get to, and then there is Colorado’s penchant for dumping non-bike-friendly powder to contend with. As the locals said, “We don’t ride on snow days—we ski.”
At the end of it all, a rider still walked away with a permanent mark on his bottom, a la SSWC. Andre-Paul Michaud, winner of the men’s open race (pictured below in black), was the only champion who consented to having his skin branded, literally, with the event logo. Michaud, hailing from Durango, Colorado, laid down his three laps in one hour, 18 minutes and was rewarded by being laid face-down in the snow to have a hot branding iron pressed into his flesh (video from Bikepackers Magazine).
Crested Butte Fat Bike Worlds will need to figure out its niche personality, especially in order to compete with the multitude of other fat bike races occurring in the state and across the country around the same time. Either way it leans—by growing more serious with a bigger industry presence or crawling a bit more underground—throwing yourself around in the snow with a few hundred new friends then drinking local beer, listening to live music and going skiing the next day is a recipe for a good time.