Our Amigo, Ben Shockey, from Decorah, told us to look up Matt Gersib if we wanted to talk to someone that was blazing fast on a fat-bike – so we did! Matt has been racing for over twenty years and this year won The Nebraska State Marathon XC Championship – The 6 hour Solo title at Branched Oak Lake and placed top ten in the Dirty Kanza! He also won the (un-official) Fat-Bike category at the Dakota Five-O (and smiled the whole way!) What really made me want to chat with Matt was his decision to race next season, exclusively, on a fat-bike!
~ Tell us how you came to your decision to race exclusively on a fat-bike in 2013.
M.G. ~ I bought my first fatbike — a Salsa Mukluk — in late 2011, but thanks to an unusually warm winter, I barely got to ride it in the snow. That didn’t stop me from riding the heck out of it though, and after a great trip to Duluth and the north shore of Lake Superior in early-March, I started into my race season thinking my fatbike would fade into the corner of my bike room.
A strange thing happened though. While I raced my 29″er (or drop-bar gravel bike) on the weekends, I kept riding my fatbike during the week. And believe it or not, I raced better than ever during most of the season, winning a tough four hour marathon race at Platte River State Park (near Omaha), and also winning the Nebraska State Mountain Bike Marathon State Championship at Ponca State Park in June.
That race in Ponca was awesome too… We started on a dry course, but the skies opened up during our first lap, making the course a quagmire. The rain stopped about an hour into the (four hour) race, so the course kept getting better and better, ending with full-on “hero dirt” at the end. It was amazing and was perhaps one of the most fun races I’ve ever participated in. I was mud from head-to-toe at the finish, but it didn’t matter. When you win, it makes very little else matter.
So, my decision to race a fatbike came after having an absolute blast racing my Mukluk at the Dakota Five-O. We had three fatbikes in the field at the Five-O this year, and I finished in 5:00:48, first of the fatbikes. I believe I can do it faster next year too, on a fatbike that is lighter and more race-oriented. My current bike doesn’t even have cut-out rims! The wheels are HEAVY, and that’s something I feel on every climb. Regardless of what bike I’m riding next year, light wheels are at the top of my list of “must have” items for my racing fatbike. But I digress…
When I went to my current team and told them of my fatbike racing plans, the response was a somewhat lukewarm, so I’m talking to a few folks who might be interested in supporting my fatbike racing aspirations for 2013. I’m committed to riding in TransIowa v.9 in 2013, and that’s an event I may or may not do on a fatbike. But to do a 320+ mile event on a fatbike would be quite an achievement! I think it’s actually possible, and that’s part of the reason I want to find a supportive team. The support of a solid team is a big part of making tough things possible.
~ What races are on your radar for 2013?
M.G. ~Well, I’m traditionally more of a dirt racer than a snow racer, but I’d like to try some “cold season” events this year now that I’ve got a year of fatbiking under my belt. I’d like to think I could compete pretty well, as I’ve got decent fitness and am a good bike handler. Right now I’m just playing the winter by ear. Don’t have a ton of specific plans, but am hoping to make at least a few races. What I’ll be gearing up for is a run at TransIowa v.9, which I very well may do on a fatbike (likely with drop bars). And honestly, if it’s muddy, that might be an advantage. I’d also like to get into the Syllamo’s Revenge field, but I missed it last year. I’ll be back at the Dirty Kanza and the Dakota Five-O, of course, and then in-between all those, I haven’t filled-in a lot of the blanks yet. I’m still working on that, but I likely won’t do as many total races in 2013, but will focus more on participating in events that I want to be at, and are fun for me. I’ve been racing for 22 years, so it’s important to keep it fun.
~ What race do you look forward to the most every year and why?
M.G. ~I most look forward to two events each year — the Dirty Kanza 200 in June, and the Dakota Five-0 on Labor Day. Both are pretty much permanently on my calendar — and I do plan to do both on a fatbike this year at this point.
Each event has unique qualities that make it a “must do.” The Dirty Kanza is unlike any other race in that it traverses 200 miles of Kansas flint rock dirt roads, which are about as close as you’ll ever come to racing mountain bikes on open roads. It’s rough! I also have a great relationship with a lot of the folks in the Emporia area, and the promoters of the event itself, and they’re some of the best folks on earth. They work so hard to make the Dirty Kanza a fantastic event… and it is. It’s really an incredible experience.
The Dakota Five-O is just a fantastic mountain bike race, period. It’s well-organized by Perry and Kristi Jewett, and the course is an absolute blast to ride whether you’re racing to win, or riding for fun. And for a fatbike rider, it’s got all sorts of fun, like ‘holy shit’ fast downhills that let you really wind out the momentum of those big-ass wheels, and rocky, loose corners that make you glad you ran a Nate on the front. It’s got a handful of everything, but it’s served up with a bacon station and finishes with about an 8-mile long descent to the finish, most of which is singletrack. It absolutely rips, no matter what bike you’re on, but I love it on a fatbike. I can’t believe there were only three of us this year (Ben Shockey and CVO were the other two), but next year, I’m sure there will be many, many more. It’s just that good… People saw the smile on my face, even going uphill! You saw that in Shockey’s story… that was uphill!
~ Share your dream race build, with our readers.
M.G. ~ In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not absolutely sure what bike I’ll be riding next season yet, as I’m speaking with a couple of companies. The shop I currently ride for wasn’t absolutely stoked about my plans to race all fatbikes in 2013, so I’m looking at options before deciding exactly what to do.
That said, there are two ways I could see myself going for next season, and this will kind of tip my hand, but whatever… Here it goes:
A 907 would be a rad bike… I’d love to eventually have one of their Ti frames, as a Black Sheep-built frame has always been on my bucket list. My initial build would likely be limited by budget, so I’d go with one of the alloy frames with a matching fork and build up a set of nice, light wheels. Hope fatbike hubs laced to Surly Marge Lite rims with DT Competition spokes and brass nipples would do the trick. Tubeless, of course. For tires, those new Surly Knard 3.8s are looking pretty swell.
Eventually, I’d like to try a suspension fork — either a Lefty or a new option. I hear rumblings that something’s coming, and have seen images of an RST fork that could be used in a fatbike application, so we’ll see what happens. Of course, my budget is another issue entirely!
~ Will you be racing at the Arrowhead 135 this winter? Who is your biggest competition?
M.G. ~ You know Gomez, I don’t think I’m prepared to step up to the plate this year for the Arrowhead 135. My training suggests I could get it done, but I don’t have the cold weather experience, and think I may kill myself out there, plain and simple. I don’t want to get in over my head, and I also need to collect some gear before I embark on challenges like that… Some day — once I gear-up.
I think in an event like that however, your biggest competition is yourself, plain and simple, because you won’t be beating anyone until you deal with the competitor inside your head, and what that’s going to look like after 24-, or 36-hours in the wilderness. It might get ugly and you need to be able to work yourself out of that situation if you’re going to survive, let alone win. I consider those circumstances with a great amount of care and regard and read about my friends who take themselves there frequently. I don’t take my health or wellness lightly, though some who ride with me may think otherwise. I love my life, so I want any event I do to magnify that love. I’m not sure if I love racing in the cold enough yet for the Arrowhead 135 to be that type of event for me. Some day, that may change.
~ What do you make of the Alaska – Lower 48 rivalry?
M.G. ~ Oh, I think it’s kind of like any other rivalry… Which is to say I don’t really subscribe to it myself. I’m sure though, if you asked just about anyone from Alaska who Matt Gersib is, they’d be like, “who?” I’m just not very well-known in the snow racing scene. I think that will definitely change, but as far as rivalries go, I don’t really ride, or race, to be in a rivalry with anyone, except perhaps myself. I find it more fun to be friends with the folks I ride with and meet at events. While in my younger years, I might have been more keen to develop personal rivalries, today I’m more inspired by getting people involved in cycling, regardless of who they are, where they’re located or what speed they like to ride at. I think a lot of that is what has led me to riding fatbikes more… It’s more fun and the people around dig it to, whether they’re on bikes or not! Even at races, people yell for you louder when you’re on a fatbike… What’s not to love about that?
Wow. His last answer just sums up what I like about competitive cycling. I am a super casual racer, but the ones I have done and just riding with friends in general, I feel the same way – my biggest competitor is myself. I’m out there to have fun and support my friends.
Right on Shawn… Thanks for your thoughts. Clearly we see eye-to-eye!
Don’t want to do the Arrowhead 135? Try the Great Lakes Fatbike series. Includes my local fat bike race, the Whiteout. cuyunalakeswhiteout.com
I will definitely check the Great Lakes series, and the Whiteout out. I’ve got a bit of a limited travel budget currently, but I hope to make it to at least one of the races up there this winter.
Right on MG! Its totally about the people you are out there with and the ones that you inspire. New to fatbikin myself and just finished up my build and can’t wait to ride it this week and from there on! Built up a FatBack with pretty much all you mentioned minus the tubeless but that is in the plans. Keep on Rippin!
Nice article Matt. Keep on riding Bro and doing what you love to do.