I’ve wanted to attend the US Oen Fat Bike Beach Championships since it was first introduced back in 2015. I’ve done a bit of riding on the North Carolina Atlantic Coast a little further north from Wrightsville Beach on the outer banks, so I knew that it takes place in what
I would call a fat bike beach paradise. The US Open embraces a unique approach to the type of race course that the racers ride and borrows their race format from Cyclocross racing.
The US Open is the brainchild of Shawn Spencer. Shawn is a seventeen-year veteran of the retail bicycle game in nearby Wilmington NC. His event management bag of tricks started out with helping to run local triathlons, and soon after he became the owner/operator of Bike Cycles he tried out his first fat bike and like many of us, he was hooked. Shawn is also pretty dialed into his community with contacts in PR, bike advocates and he’s tight with the owner of the Blockade Runner Beach Resort, Bill Baggett. Bill is an avid fat-biker and rides a moonlander! It also helps that Wrightsville Beach is used to hosting big paddle sport, marathons, and an Iron Man Triathlon. Wilmington also has an International Airport, so that makes the trip into town all the easier and positions the US Open as an idyllic Spring Break Trip for folks that might be ready to break out the shorts after a long winter of wearing layers of exotic sheep fibers.
The race course is run on the beach at near low tide and gets built (the morning of the race) with the help of an excavator as well as a small army of volunteers that sculpt in some nice features. This year, the beach had a sand reclamation project going on that positioned the course on top of a 4 foot iron pipe. Racers got to cross the pipeline 4 times on each lap. The course this year seemed to set up firmer than in years past and it certainly made for some great photo opportunities!
The Open has 3 categories and since it follows a CX racing format, each category is given a set amount of time. The 3 Categories are Fat (1 Hour) – Really Fat (1.5 Hours) and Super Fat (2 Hours). The idea is the person that finishes the most laps before their time expires wins and the last lap can oft times determine the winner in a hot head to head final lap. The race is limited to one hundred participants and this year, it was sold out before the event.
The weather for the race was just what a Wisconsinite dreams about. Not too hot (about 70 degrees) with light ocean breezes and a part sun partly cloudy sky. The morning before the race the Blockade Runner was transformed from a Luxury Beach Resort into a fat-bike beach resort with all sorts of fat-bikes from S-Works Fatboys to Mongeese entry-level bikes.
The two hour Super Fat division started at noon with the other divisions entering the course so that everyone would finish at 2:00 pm. Pushing a bike at or near red-line pace for 1, 1.5 or 2 hours will test the fittest riders. I saw a fair amount of pace-line tactics and the course handled the traffic with sections of beach wide enough for passing.
I noticed that a few of the riders were riding modified (shaved) tires and one racer was riding the Vee Apache Fatty Slicks. The Men’s Super Fatty winner’s bike was equipped with beach modified tires. I’m always kind of surprised (and delighted) when I travel to other parts of the country and see brands that we don’t see very often in and around the Great Lakes. Brands like Norco, Cannondale and Scott were well represented at the US Open.