Pura Vida, Fatties!
Costa Rica as a Fat Bike Destination
Written by – Will Muecke, Team CoreCo
Snow is overrated. – Or, perhaps, because now that I am denied long, lovely winters blanketed in the white stuff I react by hiding my true feelings behind a statement that I know is not true. I love snow. I love the cold. I love the silence of Winter on the trail. I love the heat and glow of a backcountry wood fire at the end of a long, cold day outside. But none of that exists where I live now, 10-degrees north of the equator in tropical Costa Rica. The absence of a cold, white winter comes with some fantastic advantages for those who like the warmth of the sun, but it also makes training for races like last year’s 2014 Iditarod Trail Invitational a bit more of a challenge. It’s a Good thing that I’m adaptable. Once I found out that I was accepted into last year’s ITI, I made the decision that I would commit myself to riding a fat bike wherever and whenever I could. I made an exception only once last summer when I put on some long road miles while I was separated from my fatty for a few weeks in July. But other than that, it was all fat, all the time, no matter the surface or the conditions.
This is also the reason that I asked my friend, Roman Urbina, to allow us to sponsor a fat bike category at the annual event he runs and what is known as the World’s Toughest MTB stage race, La Ruta de los Conquistadores. My reasoning was that if I were committing myself to riding a fatty all the time, even at grueling dirt races like La Ruta, that having some company on fat bikes might not lessen the pain, but it sure would make the experience a whole lot more fun. So, I recruited some local friends on our MTB team to join me (perhaps they signed up more out of curiosity than enjoyment) and Team CoreCo Fatbikers was born. We all committed to riding exclusively fat for our season, and while we thought that our competitive edge would be blunted by pushing four-inches of rubber up and down the steep dirt terrain of Costa Rica, we at least would get some fun from being the only fat bike race team around. Then something very unexpected happened. After a couple of training rides, and, in particular, after a Day 2 recon of the La Ruta course which involves 2,500m of climbing up a volcano followed by a two-hour descent down the rocky and, in places, highly-technical backside, we all had an epiphany. First, the fat bikes we were riding climbed up Costa Rica’s insanely vertical routes far better than any of our svelte 29er race bikes, and, second, that descending at speed through baby heads, over rutted/broken surfaces and down washouts was far faster and with more control on our rigid fat bikes than on even a traditional full-suspension MTBs. These observations were ultimately backed by data when we ended up racing the 2013 La Ruta in the inaugural fat bike category, aptly named Fat La Ruta. Riders who were competitive in years past saw faster times on a fat bike over the course of racing three days through jungles, across rivers, in mud, over mountains and along sandy Caribbean beaches than in years past on 29er race bikes.
This was all highlighted by the fact that the winner of the men’s 2013 Fat La Ruta, Elias van Hoeydonck of Belgium, podiumed at 3rd place, overall, in the Non-Federated category piloting a titanium +35-pound fatty over a grueling course. Had Elias ridden as part of the Elite category, he would have ranked 18th. So, too, for the women’s 2013 Fat La Ruta winner, Ligia Madrigal of Costa Rica, who finished 2nd overall for Non-Federated women on an aluminum +30-pounder, and would have ranked 16th in the women’s Elite group. So much for fat bikes being just a slow curiosity. In the amazingly varied conditions of Costa Rica, we all would claim that the fat footprint is actually an asset and not a hindrance, and we have been dialing in bike setup and tire choices to prove that again in this year’s (now second annual) Fat La Ruta.
We have been expanding the category of fat biking deeper into XC races, as with such great one-day events like the Rincon de la Vieja, a one-day, 100-mile NUE-certified XC race that runs in August now sports a fat bike category. We also have been running fatties as part of the Costa Rican national enduro race series even though there is no specific fat category on that circuit. Simply, endure racing on a fat bike is fast and fun – so much so that we are sure to see more fat tires on the race course in the future as the eduro terrain here in Costa Rica begs for a fast fat footprint for stability and control at speed. Our fat bike race team is now 16 riders strong going into the 2014 edition of La Ruta (November 6-8, 280kms and 6,800m of climbing over three days, trans-Costa Rica), and we continue to look for new venues and opportunities to ride fat where we might not have otherwise ridden before.
Costa Rica is an incredible place to not only race, but also to ride and tour on fat bikes. Costa Rica has an active MTB community to start with, which means there are a multitude of recreational and competitive one-day events (called Paseos) that run year-round throughout the country, as well as opportunities to tour Costa Rica by bike either with organized groups or on your own. The beaches of Costa Rica are all public-access and with a bit of planning and local support it is possible to arrange a mix of road, trail and beach riding on fat bikes, and mix in some surf time or yoga lessons in the most magnificent of tropical surroundings. Fat biking is still relatively new in Costa Rica, and right now there is just one retail bike chain that has fat bikes available for daily demo or weekly rental. But that should change, and we expect that as the visibility of the fat category grows that there will be more retail shops with fat bike offerings, or even tour operators who offer fat bikes as part of their MTB packages. Of course, we are here and always welcome the chance to ride with folks from out of town and give them a local’s view of what Costa Rica has to offer. We even might have a guest bike or two that we can let you ride…Costa Rica is a great place to be fat. Pura Vida, Fatties!
WHERE TO GET FAT IN COSTA RICA
Bikelab Costa Rica (www.facebook.com/bikelabcr) is the only retail chain today with demo and rental fat bikes in Costa Rica. For fat bike sales, both Bikelab (Borealis) and Rugatti Bike Center (Specialized) today offer retail fat bike sales and service. More are sure to follow.
WHERE TO BE FAT IN COSTA RICA
Really, anywhere. Some favorites are the roads and beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula (Pacific coast), especially around the towns of Santa Teresa/Mal Pais and Manzanillo. The Osa Peninsula (Pacific coast) offers some of the least developed terrain to ride, and is home of the largest national wildlife refuge which offers the greatest biodiversity of flora and fauna in the world for such a small area. On the Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo offers great beaches and some trail riding, all with a Rasta flare. For volcanoes, the area around La Fortuna and Arenal volcano has roads and trail systems for riding. For singletrack, there are the bike parks of La Angelina, Adventure Park and Los Senderos de Colon, all within short driving distance from San Jose and host maintained singletrack with natural and man-made aerial features. Rio Perdido is a great boutique ecolodge near the Rincon de la Vieja national park and offers hot springs, canyoning, zip lines and maintain a course of excellent singletrack.
FAT BIKE TOURS – GO FAT WHILE LEARNING TO BE GREEN
If you want to take a fat bike tour of the Pacific coast near Santa Teresa/Mal Pais you can connect with CIRENAS. CIRENAS is an education and research nonprofit (a 501c3 under IRS tax code) that offers short courses and programs across a variety of content from sustainable agriculture, environmental conservation, watershed protection, outdoor leadership and service learning. When you take your fat bike to CIRENAS you will get more than just a great workout – you will come home with a greater understanding of how to live more sustainably. Overnight lodging is available on CIRENAS’ off-grid campus.
TRAVELING TO/FROM AND AROUND COSTA RICA
Costa Rica is roughly the size of West Virginia, but given the road systems throughout much of the country are undeveloped dirt road, short distances can take time to travel and a 4×4 is always recommended if driving outside of the major centers of San Jose or Liberia. For access to the northern area of Costa, it is best to fly into Liberia Airport (LIB). For access to the southern area, it is best to fly into San Jose Airport (SJO). Rental cars are available from major franchises, and Dollar Rent-A-Car offers 4×4 SUVs and pickup trucks, and is the most bike-friendly of the rental car companies. If you are traveling within Costa Rica and do not want to drive, there are also two regional airlines (Sansa Airlines and Nature Air) offering domestic flights throughout the country. Local transport (with drivers) can be arranged.
Team CoreCo – www.teamcoreco.com; www.facebook.com/teamcoreco
Bikelab – www.facebook.com/bikelabcr; +506 2288-2202 / +506 2271-1991
Rugati Bike Center – email@example.com; +506 4030 4743
CIRENAS – www.cirenas.org; +506 8325-7893.
La Angelina Bike Park – www.facebook.com/LaAngelinaMTB
Adventure Park – www.bikeparkcr.com
Los Senderos de Colon – www.facebook.com/SenderosColon
Rio Perdido Hotel and MTB – www.rioperdido.com; US Toll Free +1 888-326 5070
Dollar Rent-A-Car – www.dollarcostarica.com
Sansa Airlines – www.flysansa.com
Nature Air – www.natureair.com
ABOUT TEAM CORECO
Team CoreCo is a non-profit development race team focused on developing the best person first and the best athlete second. The team is sponsored by Borealis Fat Bikes, and rides both fully-rigid racing fat bikes as well as hardtails throughout Costa Rica. Despite being a fat bike race team at its core, Team CoreCo welcomes bikes of all shapes and sizes amongst its ranks.
I grew up in Costa Rica and have been wondering if there was any fat biking going on down there. It’s great to hear that there is!