Editor’s note: Evan and Ganya are the smartest, fittest and most smiling entrepreneurs ever! It must be all the endorphins they boost with their rough country bicycle riding. They rode laps in the Bold Saint Nick Fatbike Race in Medora on a warm 50 degree December day. They were two of 78 registered riders for the race. They agreed to give us an inside view of what it takes to ride the Badlands in the winter. In the mud. On the ice.
Team E & G Tackles the 2018 Bold St. Nick’s Fat Bike Race
Why did you decide to race?
Deja Vu All Over Again. I “officially” gave up mountain bike racing many years ago. I found it too physically exhausting and emotionally stressful. This spring, we were coming off a big mountain bike trip and were in good riding condition. We decided to leverage our conditioning and enter the Harmon Lake race sponsored by 701 Cycle & Sport in Bismarck. We had a blast. I actually enjoyed racing for the first time – I liked how it pushed me to be a better rider but I also liked the positive and supportive spirit of the other racers. It was a good enough experience that when this race came up, I was ready to see if I could repeat my positive experience. Mission accomplished! I am having to rethink my position on mountain bike racing.
The Fuss About Fatbikes. Racing isn’t really a priority for us anymore, we mainly want to stay in good enough biking shape to be able to go on epic biking adventures (multi-day rides, tours, etc.) without worrying about our conditioning. We were aware of the Bold St. Nick’s the past two years and really wanted to support Nick and his team’s events, but we didn’t have fat bikes. Last winter, we went on one of our Apple Creek ice rides in Bismarck on our full suspension tandem bike and the snow was a bit deep. After an afternoon of trudging through that snow, we began to talk about fat bikes as an option. Shortly after, we picked up two lower-end fat bikes to see what all the fuss was about. The snow melted shortly after, so we didn’t get many snow rides this spring.
Unstoppable We did get some great sand rides down by the Missouri River this past summer and really appreciated how well the bikes handled loose sand. As soon as we got some snow this winter, we got the fat bikes out and really had a blast. There is a novelty about riding a fat bike and looking down at that enormous tire. You feel like you could run over anything (and you can, almost). I came across the Bold St. Nick’s race on Facebook and we decided to register, if only to show support for the event and spend part of a winter weekend in Medora.
How did you prepare for the race?
Squishy vs Hard Tires. We bought our fat bikes for goofing around, not for racing, so they aren’t nearly the quality of our other mountain and road bikes. We cleverly added antlers and red noses to the bikes so people knew that we didn’t take ourselves too seriously.
To train, we did a number of rides with hills, snow, and wind. This not only worked on our stamina but also helped us figure out the best cold-weather cycling gear. It is hard to dress for cycling in the cold – always too hot on the climbs and too cold on the descents. Ironically, it was 50 degrees on race day so much of the gear we had tested wasn’t needed.
The other thing we experimented with was tire pressure. Our fat bikes get all of their suspension from their tires so we tended to run a rather low amount of pressure to give us a comfortable ride. The downside of low pressure is that it makes the bike harder to pedal and can also make steering a bit quirky. For this race, we decided on a higher pressure which meant a rougher ride but also helped us conserve some energy on the paved sections.
Win or Enjoy? Or both? We had a great summer of biking, but it’s amazing how quickly that conditioning goes away when the weather gets colder and the rides become less frequent. We made a conscious effort to get the fat bikes out more often in the weeks leading up to the race. We had also heard stories of how cold it was for the first annual Bold St. Nick’s and began paying attention to dressing for a variety of conditions. Entering a race in North Dakota in the middle of December is risky business, so we made a point of riding on some nasty days to make sure we were ready.
One particular ride I remember was late in the day, super windy, snowing, and about 20 degrees. It was on the final steep paved climb against the wind that I started thinking that a little more tire pressure might make things easier for the road portions. Low pressures are nice for bumpy terrain because they smooth the ride significantly and improve traction. The downside is that it takes more energy to pedal those squishy tires around. For the race, we opted for pressures on the higher side, given the significant portion of the course that was paved.
Our main preparation was to remind ourselves that we weren’t racing to win, we were there to enjoy ourselves and do a little winter riding on the Maah Daah Hey.
How was the trail?
Don’t Touch the Brakes!! I knew ahead of time that the 5.2 miles loop consisted of at least one mile of paved road and over a mile of bike path. What I underestimated was that the paved road was straight uphill with a 30 mph headwind. The single track, dirt portion that I had looked forward to had long stretches of ice in the shady spots which ended up being my nemesis. I learned the hard way that the slightest touch of my brakes resulted in immediate dumping of my bike and me onto the ground on our side. The alternative to brakes, bombing down the narrow, icy trail at increasing speed, didn’t seem like a good alternative so I spent some quality time splayed out on the ground for my first lap.
By the time I went out for my second lap, so much dirt had been tracked onto the ice by everyone’s tires that it was all quite rideable, even carefully applying brakes. Despite the bumps and bruises, I wouldn’t have missed a single meter of the trail.
Awfully Great. It’s difficult to describe without making it sound awful, but it was great. The good news is that it was 50 degrees and partly sunny on race day. There was a 30 mph headwind as the course left Medora and headed up the crazy-steep hill to the amphitheater. As I crested the hill to the parking lot, the wind continued to fight my progress for the length of the huge lot and onto the single track climb. With my legs burning, I was relieved to see the trail turn and head downhill.
The descent quickly revealed sections of the trail that were covered in packed snow that had turned to ice with a wet surface due to the temperature outside. Needless to say, traction was non-existent on these descents. In some cases, I was able to ride just beside the main trail where the snow still had a little traction to provide. In other cases, it was an exercise in not using my brakes while quickly accelerating down steep descents. The task at the bottom of these descents was to try to regain control and stay (more or less) on the trail.
The bit of water that was running from the icy patches was creating some very greasy mud at the bottom of these hills, so regaining control before the next icy patch was….interesting. I saw others having to stop to clear mud from their frames that had become so thick as to prevent their wheels from turning. It was then that I realized the treads on my tires were better than some at not accumulating muck. There were two spring gates that had to be lifted in order to pass. I saw several riders holding gates for other racers, which says a lot about the field.
White-knuckle After the quick white-knuckled descent, the course joined the paved bike path near the Interstate and headed back into Medora. This section finally put the wind at my back and, combined with my tire pressure, let me make some great time. One thing we learned this summer is how fat bike tires can accumulate more mud than you would think possible.
During the entire fast-paced trip back into Medora (probably about 1.5-miles), mud was flying everywhere. I had mud hitting my face, my glasses, my chin, my back and flying in front of and behind me. I couldn’t imagine where it was all coming from as it steadily radiated for a mile or more. There is something about a tailwind when you are coming up on a start/finish line filled with cheering people in Santa hats! It was so much fun to roll into town at high speed with those big tires howling against the pavement.
Taking turns. As I crossed the line, Ganya was waiting and ready for her turn. While she was on the course, I spent a good amount of time removing the biggest hunks of mud from my bike to ensure that it would perform well for the next lap. Also, the thought of carrying that much mud up to the amphitheater wasn’t very appealing.
The trail conditions improved significantly as the race went on, which came as a pleasant surprise. Much of the mud that was flying around on the trail became stuck on the icy snow and created bumpy icy mud that provided a bit of traction and didn’t stick to the tires.
There was still plenty of mud to be had, but the course was much less dicey.
By the end of the race, I had completed three laps and Ganya had completed two laps. As I was leaving on my third lap, I considered suggesting to Ganya that we do one more lap when I returned and ride together. As I finished my third lap, that didn’t seem like a very good idea anymore.
What was your favorite part?
It’s the People. Hands down – the people. Nick and Phil and all the volunteers put on an amazing event. It was about racing, but it was also about families, community and supporting a sport and a location that we all love. You could see this in the way riders supported each other, how kids were included, and in all the little details that made it special. If it is above zero degrees, I will be there every year.
Fun! Fun! Fun! I loved everything about the event! It had such a great festive community feel to it. We used to race in Colorado and people could get so serious that they would forget to have any fun. This was fun from stem to stern. The dinner (great food!) and award ceremony after the race were perfect and there was so much laughter and good conversation all around. The night ended with a showing of “A Christmas Story” at the Roughrider Hotel, complete with cranberry punch and popcorn.
A notable highlight of the evening was to get a chance to spend some time with Nick and his parents and Phil. All are great people that have done so much for the Maah Daah Hey and for North Dakota.
See you next year!
Evan and Ganya
Two people you oughta know. Creative and Inspiring. That’s Gizmonics!
Their wildly useful and simple invention is something you’ll want this Halloween. A pumpkin gutter!
It’s part of the Badlands — and especially the Maah Daah Hey. The annual Little Crazy Frozen Race, Poco Loco Frio race.
That’s an option, maybe a little less daredevil. We’ve got a tip for you coming up later this week. Subscribe in the upper right to get a note in your inbox when a new story is posted.