In the days of yore, bicycle racing started in the latter months of spring. The Yankee Springs Time Trial, Mud, Sweat, and Beers, even Barry-Roubaix had the decency to wait until some, if not most, of the snow had cleared and we all had made the most of a month or two to trim down from our peak ‘winter weight’.
For a half-decade now, fat bike racing has nudged us into action right away. This year, the Short’s Brewing Fat Bike Series offered up not one, not two, well, okay, two chances to drop a wattage bomb in the first month of the year. January sees back-to-back races in the middle of the month, and ideal chance to nab some points ahead of the three remaining races that are staggered throughout February and March.
The new season starts with a new race in the series, Fat and Flurrious in Boyne City. This isn’t the first edition of the race, however, and those who have ridden it in previous years came back raving about the fast, hilly, and almost scenic race that even offers views of Lake Michigan. It’s a lap and time-based event like every other race in the Series, save the Vasa Fat Bike Race, which sees 21 and 42km distances.
Racing flat-out in January can be a bit of a shock to the system, but that might make the first event of the Series one of the best chances at a rider taking a surprise win. Maybe the most interesting factor isn’t who shows up, but if those who do are actually racing on snow. There’s much more white stuff a short drive north in Boyne City, but with hardly a flake in the forecast between now and January 11, it may be a race that mixes more dirt and ice than soft, powdery good stuff.
A week later, fat bike racing returns to Crystal Mountain for one of the original fat bike races in the state. Fat Chance was nearly called “The Inaugural” race due to its timing, just days away from the swearing-in of Barack Obama in 2013. Since it was pointed out that the name would only make sense every four years (thanks, Arianne Whittaker) Fat Chance went with a 70s theme that still survives.
The 2020 edition sees another reprisal of the original course, except for the treacherous and icy road section that didn’t exactly delight racers. Instead, the Otter Loop offers fast, flat, criterium-style racing with just enough singletrack to make a difference. It’s a course that rewards raw power, something that suits near-perpetual winner Jorden Wakekely, but has also seen big riders like Sunset Scott, Sean Kickbush, and Nick Wierzba dominate affairs after a chaotic opening ten minutes.
Again, weather could make a huge difference in how the race shakes out. Fat Chance has seen it all over the past seven years, ranging from sub-zero blizzards that closed down M-115 to balmy, 50+ degree slush races where a good portion of the field took the start line with bare legs.
Of course, that’s sort of what makes fat biking so exciting. With snow, or even with the lack of it, anything can happen, and that opens up all sorts of unexpected results and conditions. If you don’t show up prepared for whatever, you’re just not prepared. The changing, dynamic lack of winter could actually to a lot to make all five races in the Series more exciting, with the best riders having to perform well on grass, dirt, ice, and, inevitably, the cold and snow that will happen at some point. It’s Michigan; we’re going to see snow, folks.