Over 50 bike racers had a hootenanny in the snowy hills of West Virginia last February. The occasion: the inaugural Mountain State Fat Bike Champs (FBC), which was held on the snowy XC trails of the White Grass Ski Touring Center in Canaan Valley. The mayhem-filled day represented the first fat bike race in the Mid-Atlantic region, and the only day of the ski season that bikes were allowed to rip it up at White Grass.
Event promoter Zach Adams created the race to bring the biking community together in the winter months and to give riders an opportunity to spin their fatties on groomed trails. Although a FBC is a race, it’s even more of a fun community event that benefits continued construction of a beginner mountain biking trail in Thomas at the Thomas City Park.
In true White Grass fashion, owner Chip Chase rolled out the good vibe snow carpet. “We are the same people, outdoors getting exercise and enjoying a natural playground,” he said.
“White Grass wants to be experimental and always open minded and progressive.”
Fat is Fun
While Nordic skiing is thousands of years old, the development of fat bikes has only been around since the late 1980s. To be considered a fat bike, tire width must be 3.8 inches or greater. The rims must also be wider to tolerate the tire girth, and the geometry of the bike frame needs greater wheel clearance as well. Air pressure is much lower in fat tires—normal range is just four to ten pounds per square inch. On the snow, wider is better, and just about everything on fat bikes is wide, including their popularity. Nearly every major bike company now manufactures a fat bike or two.
What once was considered simply a novelty now has a more universal appeal. Fat bikes provide a stable platform that can float over many different types of terrain. They also seem to be providing an antidote to the yuck-and-muck of the West Virginia shoulder season: the inbetweener months of December and March.
Canaan Valley was the obvious location for a championship snow race as it receives around 150 inches of annual snowfall. White Grass sits at the end of the valley, where the northwesterly winds dump snow and create huge drifts. Even though 2017 was an extremely mild winter, there was a fresh dump of snow for race day. Racers were exposed to the infamous chilly valley winds, but temperatures hovered right around the freezing mark all day.
Competitors could choose their category by entering the 1.5-hour XC class, or the 3-hour XXC event. Typically, packed or frozen trail conditions can help riders get better traction and provide flotation over the white stuff. Trail conditions at the start of the race, however, were soft, causing racers to have to do quite a bit of walking—called hike-a-bike—on the uphill stretches. Sawmill Shelter was a good vibes oasis as Blackwater Bikes cooked up bacon and Mountain State Brewing provided the stout beer. The moonshine, however, was provided by the grace of God. That courage in a bottle may have helped some to relax and stay loose on their bikes while wildly navigating down Springer Orchard with groups of telemark skiers cheering and jeering the racers onward. When the carnage was over and powder had settled, West Virginia native Zach Bittinger and Pennsylvania rider Helena Kotala were crowned king and queen of the Mountain State Fat Bike Champs.
Be Fat in 2018
The second-annual Mountain State Fat Bike Champs is scheduled for Sunday, February 4, 2018. The race is expected to grow and cover a challenging wooded course again this year, so head to White Grass and see for yourself what the fat fun is all about. Hooting and hollering as a spectator is fully encouraged. Or, get your fat skills down in January—stop by Blackwater Bikes in Davis for information on fat bike rentals. You can practice your fat biking at Blackwater Falls State Park or the Canaan Mountain Backcountry. Race registration is on Bikereg at https://www.bikereg.com/fattiresandstoutbeers.
Sue Haywood teaches mountain biking and Nordic skiing in Davis, and makes HaySue’s delicious spicy salsa.