Why would a fatbiking enterprise billed as the world championships leave the thin air of a Colorado mountain town for farm-and-field territory of western Wisconsin?
That's a lazy thought, upon closer inspection. Engage the organizers and people enmeshed in the Upper Midwest's robust cycling scene and the implied answer is, why not?
Leaving the Mountain West for New Richmond, Wis., this year checks several boxes for the Fat Bike World Championships, used to rolling in the shadow of the Rockies.
David Ochs, executive director of Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association, created the event and said as a "world" event it's meant to move around — to celebrate fatbiking. The first was in 2016 in Crested Butte, Colo. Last year, the event happened on a private ranch in Wyoming with organizers mindful of COVID-19 and getting the first taste of a new location.
Now, it jumps to a part of the country where fatbiking, with its oversized, snow-eating tires, has moved to the center from the fringes as a winter activity and brought the masses with it. Witness the weekend calendars across Wisconsin — and Minnesota and Michigan — saturated with races and rides, and trail systems to support them.
Like eBikes and gravel bikes, mountain bike sales already were strong pre-pandemic — a means to get out, 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, Minn., (and other options in state parks) and Tioga in Cohasset. And, too, events like the Fat Bike Birkie on the heels of the American Birkebeiner cross-country ski races in the Hayward, Wis., area. The Fat Bike Worlds fit well in New Richmond, less than an hour's drive from the Twin Cities, he said.
"It'll be a great opportunity to showcase fatbiking here in the Midwest," he said.
Those people astride the muscle cars of cycling matter, too. Ochs connected with members of a western Wisconsin cycling group that pulls riders 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 along with about 115 others who cycle, socialize and advocate for the activity through all seasons. The group has existed for about 20 years. She and other organizers are excited — and busy: The event includes a pre-party Jan. 28 before the championship race Jan. 29 up, down and around the New Richmond Golf Club course, to be groomed with a 6-mile course.
Until now, Big Ring Flyers has experienced the championship as participants, sending contingents that included this year's race director, Chris Stevens. In doing so, they cultivated a special rapport with Ochs and others in the Crested Butte mountain biking community.
Ochs said he intended to reach out to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, knowing they've become fatbiking destinations with increasing 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 great race but also all about celebrating fatbikes."
The region, in general, has the right ingredients, he said. "The Midwest has terrain and levels of snow and the ability to really utilize winter trails."
The world championship isn't the last word on fatbiking prowess. Nor was it intended to be. There is no governing body sanctioning the event. Ochs imagined a traveling show of sorts.
"The whole point is down-home, grassroots, travel around to help support fatbiking," Ochs said.
This year's event slogan sticks to that ethos, with a wink at New Richmond: More Latitude, Same Attitude.
The championship race Jan. 29 is 24 miles (four laps on the 6-mile course). The day includes a 12-mile fun ride and enough demo bikes from a main supporter, Borealis, to entice newbies to give it a spin. Hartung said registrations are at about half of the 500 cap combined for both races.
All of it also includes unabashed revelry, from the Bikes, Beer & Bourbon Tailgate pre-party and obstacle course Jan. 28 through a pancake breakfast, kids ride and timed circuit race that Sunday. The rides will attract the serious racers but, as the event proclaims tongue-in-cheek on its website, "plenty of people ... also wear costumes, shoot whiskey and eat bacon on the course."
Members of the Big Ring Flyers look forward to bringing New Richmond and the area cycling scene to the fore, bacon and all.
"Riders that come out here are going to be able to expect to have a really good time," Hartung said.