This sounded like a bad idea.
Believe it or not, earlier this Spring I was sitting around behind a bike shop drinking beer and talking about bikes. The conversation started getting into Single Speeds vs. Gears, Steel vs. Carbon Frames, and Fat Bikes vs. skinny 29′ers. What best, what’s OK, what sucks, etc. At some point, it all came down to a single statement. ”I’m gonna kick your ass with my Pugsley.”
When I moved to Platteville in January, I was joining the group fat bike rides on the local snowmobile trails in my first 3 days. My kind of people. 4 fat bikes in a town of 11,000 wasn’t bad, but I had come from Decorah where there were 7 Moonlanders (which came out in December) and ?+ Pugsleys on the New Year’s Day ride.
If you ride in Decorah today, you’ll see fatbikes 0n the trails as well as skinnies. I don’t see fatbikes as snowbikes. I see them as monster bikes ,with better traction in ANY condition, suspension built right into the tire, and you don’t need to worry so much about tweaking a rim and getting a flat.
Anyways, I had agreed to do the Cheqoumegon 100 with this new local bike gang when I moved to town. 100 miles of non stop single track? Doesn’t sound like my ideal weekend but I’m in. If nothing else, my motto has always been: Bad Decisions make Great Stories.
Back on point. As I said we were having a few PBRs, discussing strategy for this 100 miler, and what we planned to ride. What tires, what gears, what clothes, etc. I’ve been known to break things, on accident and intentionally, when I ride bikes. I put my faith in Steel Single Speed Fat Bikes. See that little dot at the end of that sentence? That was a PERIOD. What do I ride to work? SSSFB. What do I ride in a Time Trial? SSSFB. What do you think I should ride in a 100 mile Single Track Race? Storm Trooper. I was told that was silly. Add a beer. I was told that was crazy. Add a beer. I was told that was stupid. Add a bet. $1 per mile, Pugsley Storm Trooper vs. Carbon Front Suspension Geared SuperFly
The Storm Trooper weighs in at about 35 pounds, which does include speakers mind you. The set up is a 34×17 with SS Surly hubs front and rear. I have a 16 tooth free wheel on the front wheel which will come into play later. I snagged a set of custom white Rolling Darryls last summer. And man do they look sharp.
The competitor who we’ll call, Kyle, weighed in at right around 23 pounds. Light Weight, Twinkle Tires. You’d think he was getting ready to take this thing to prom. new drive train, tires, everything. It’s a good thing I had locking traps in my truck for the trip up there, because if not this thing would’ve flown out of the back like an empty beer can.
I’ve been up to Hayward once before to Hecktate the Chequomegon 40. I did do some riding while I was up there, but I probably drank more beers than pedaled miles. I remembered some of it was pretty technical, and I had heard that Fire Tower was a son of a bitch to climb. Oh well. A weekend camping in the northwoods, riding bikes, drinking beer and a little bit of competitive motivation. Why not.
The bikes didn’t even want to ride together.
We got up to the pre-event meeting and spagetti dinner about 6:30. Chatted with a few familiar faces, had some beers, and hooked up with Judge Jerry to lead us out to the campsite.
The race day breakfast was just what the doctor ordered. Wasn’t too hung over from the night before. Luckily a few of us were taking this thing seriously.
Eventually the race starts. I was very surprised to be the only fat bike in the race. I figured I might be the only Single Speed Fattie, but with the terrain and conditions and wild eyed northwoods Wisconsin folks I would’ve guessed there would be at least one more crazy rider to share my silliness. The first few 3 miles of gravel was fine and flowy. I didn’t touch the brakes on the down hills and crushed gravel on the up hills. Kyle would get a little ways ahead of me in the down and flat sections, but I was flying by all the clickity click gear shifters on the uphill spots. There were only 3 bikes between us as we entered the single track.
Rock Lake is a mean mother. The line of single file bikes weaving around the trees was a sight to see. I stayed about 2 bike lengths behind the guy in front of me so I could see lines and pick routes. Where he was carefully hopping his front wheel through the worst stones and bumps, my fat tires just soaked them up. I didn’t have to be quite so picky where I placed my wheel as everyone else was because I had 2 more inches between the rocks and my rim. I could tell I was having a way easier time navigating than most. Then I started passing.
I ended up riding a “feature” to get around and put me 1 bike behind Kyle. We were maybe 6 or 7 miles in when we hit “Wall Street”. This was another feature that if I had known what it was, I would have avoided. It’s a narrow near vertical row of rocks stacked down a hill. There is a ride around that Kyle took. I followed the guy in front of me who must’ve been familiar with this ride. I threw my ass back over the rear tire and lifted up on the bars so’s not to drive the front wheel straight into the ground and managed to stay on the bike. I knew something happened to my wrist at that point, but I had just taken the lead over Kyle and it was no time to stop and figure out what happened. I’m no doctor, shut up and pedal.
Other than my wrist I was riding pretty good. I had installed a double water bottle holder behind my seat that had come loose and was rattling like crazy. If I had a chance I decided I would rip that damn thing off and suck on my camelbak and plan to refill whenever I could. Then, in a wide open double track section, my cranks spun loose. I had dropped my chain. Kyle and a group caught me and went ahead. I hopped off, lined up the chain, spun the cranks and jumped back into action. I hadn’t been off very long, I figured I’d catch back up easy and I did. There were 2 bikes right behind Kyle as we came into an easy little climb. I had just got on the closest wheel when the cranks spun again. I let the expletives fly. I dropped the chain 2 times already? It would happen 7 more times before I decided to swap my front wheel for the back wheel. We weren’t even 10 miles in. The chain was dropping off the 17 tooth. I don’t know what the difference would be with the 16 tooth, Both were Shimano Freewheels. I had somehow bent the Tugnut Tensioner screw in the process as well. But I had to try something or drop out before I was in the middle of nowhere. I figured the $100 was as good as gone. None the less, I tried calming myself down by telling myself that I did get to spend all day on my bike in the woods. And if I couldn’t I was going to spend it on the lake with a growler of Angry Minnow or on a bar stool with Angry Minnow. I swapped wheels (which is a brilliant innovation – Thank You Surly), removed the rattling under seat bottle cage, pulled the rear wheel back as far as I could to get the chain as tight as possible, and bolted it down.
I don’t know how much time that took, but at this point I was just going to ride. It was going to be a long day regardless. at least I could blame technical issues for losing Kyle early on and never seeing him again. But I did see him again.
Just before the mile 30 checkpoint I saw what looked like Kyle’s jersey. It was Kyle’s jersey. Hot Damn, I caught the S.O.B. Kyle had blown up trying to put some distance on me. That and the technical sections of Rock Lake had taken it’s toll on him. We chatted a little bit and he let me around. I stopped at the 3o mile checkpoint and waited for him. Maybe I should have taken off and left him for dead, but there was a cooler of Grainbelt Nordeast sitting there. Nummy. It had just started to rain and there was a gravel section ahead. Might as well wait, enjoy a beverage and see how he’s holding up. When he got there I could tell that it wasn’t very well. He was thinking about quitting. For some reason I talked him into riding on, at least for a little ways. I rode with him until we found Jerry, taking shelter and changing into rain gear under a tree. I dropped Kyle off there and rode on.
After miles of gravel and fire road with mud and puddles, I came to the next checkpoint around 44? or so miles. I stopped for a minute to talk to a few other riders and get the layout for the next section when Kyle rode in. He had gotten his second wind. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. We decided to ride together to the 65 ? mile checkpoint. We would go back and forth a few times now that the single track had turned into a muddy slippery mess. A few guys I offered to let pass decided they would rather stay behind me and make use of the big wide track I was making for them. Something would happen to Kyle as he was riding behind me that would only be remedied by him getting completely naked besides his shoes. I still don’t really know what happened, or why I waited for him trail side while he fixed whatever problem he was having. I should have taken off.
Anyways, we came into the 65 ? checkpoint around 3:00 or something in that range. We changed, had a bite to eat, some gatorade and some pork loin and a changed into dry clothes. After hanging out for about 20 minutes or so it was back on the bikes. As we headed out Kyle was having problems clipping in. The problem was there was no cleats on his shoes. He brought an extra pair to change into, but forgot he had taken the cleats off and used them on a different pair of shoes. I waited for about a minute or two so he could change back into his wet shoes, but decided to just start riding slow and let him catch up. It took him a while. I had done a couple of hills on the Birkie trail before I saw him again. He was completely shot. He spent all his energy trying to catch me that he didn’t have much left in the tank. I had no idea where the town was, where the roads were, or if we were close to anything at all. I didn’t want to leave him in such sad shape, so I talked him into just riding his own pace and taking it easy to the finish or the next road. After about 20 minutes he agreed and I felt alright about dropping him. He did have a GPS with the course mapped out so if he needed to he should have been able to find help if he needed it.
I was able to turn it on now get some speed up. The rolling hills of the Birkie trail were fun to ride. The hard part was dodging the huge puddles at the bottom of each hill that had collected in the earlier rain storm. It was easy to follow the path laid into the grass from the previous bikes. My new problem was trying to figure out how much further I had to go. I honestly could not tell if I had 2 miles or 20 left to go. When I swapped my front and read wheels I lost my computer. the sensor which had been on my front wheel was now on my back wheel and I didn’t take the time to switch it. I started riding a little more cautiously on the climbs to fend off cramps in my legs. There was a bout 5 guys riding in range and we took turns passing each other all the way to the finish. I asked how long they thought we had left. The answers ranged from 12 miles to 4. That’s a big range at the end of a long ride. I did get lost once and had to wait for someone to catch up. They we also lost so we back tracked and found where we had missed our turn.
After a mystery number of miles I came out onto a gravel road to see a couple of volunteers. They told me the finish line was about a mile and a half away so I started spinning up to top speed. I couldn’t wait to kick back, order a pizza and a beer, and hopefully see that Kyle had safely made it to the finish line one way or another. Just then, as the gravel transitioned into black top, I heard tires behind me coming fast. I turned around to see Kyle flying up behind me in top gear as fast as he could ride. Again – I let the expletives fly. He had slowed down enough to get his energy back and had just enough to catch me with less than a mile to go. I was able to spin up to hang with him for a little bit, but I spun out and couldn’t keep the pace with my trail gear.
Kyle ended up taking the bet and the $100 by 12 seconds.
I was upset for about 5 minutes, but I couldn’t let a little thing like that ruin a full day of mtn biking, good friends, tasty pizza and of course Angry Minnow brew. Judge Jerry and I ended up closing down the bar. The locals that I talked to were extremely happy with the event. The owner of the place that hosted the finish sold over 350 pizzas and ran out of all but his last keg of Sierra Nevada.
If I ride this race again, I’ll still ride fat and single. The tires ate up the rocks without any problem. The extra weight didn’t seem to factor in. The hard part was keeping up in the sections of the course that were not single track. I don’t know if I’d ride my Moonlander though. The Pugsley wheels seems to handle great while the added size of the lander wheels seem to make for a bouncier ride than I like on a snow free trail.