The 10th annual Fat Bike Birkie took place on Saturday, March 12, 2022. Due to the cold temperatures the race was pushed back two hours. In this story, James Kirchen shares a recap of his 2nd time racing.
Story: James Kirchen, Chippewa Falls
While only my second attempt at racing fat bike, and eager to get out and ride after months of training, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised to find out there was a two hour delay due to very cold temperatures. The 2021 race was moved up due to over 40 degrees at the finish.
That’s what you get for winters in Wisconsin.
Staying in our cabin near Stone Lake, my brother-in-law (first time fat bike racer) and I woke to negative 16 degrees.
"Those kinds of temperatures make you question your sanity, but we didn’t come all this way to bail. As I’ve heard it put – There’s no bad weather, just wrong gear."
Race time for us and the rest of the half-fat was 10:15 am and the temps made it all the way up to zero degrees.
Even at that temperature, I have to admit I had done no training, so what gear should I wear? Our plan was to just layer up and use hand and toe warmers.
It was a beautiful sunny day. We followed the 350 full fat bikes out and the trails were unbelievably well groomed, packed hard, and fast. It was like riding a hard packed gravel road. Following the powerlines out was pretty easy until the pacer peeled off and we turned into the woods… up hill!
With my nose and mouth the only exposed skin, it was my right-hand thumb that is numb as we start the race. Of course, a necessity for shifting for the next hour plus. As we hit the ups and downs of the trail, the ice on all the trees from the weekend before made for a sight that was spectacular.
The sun is coming through and reflecting off those trees, all bent over the trail making it feel like you were riding through the woods with a glass ceiling. As my brother-in-law put it, “If I wasn’t busting my butt up all those hills, I could have enjoyed what was probably one of the best sights I’ve ever seen.”
On we rode and found a couple aid stations with water, which I brought none of being it would freeze. As I grabbed a small cup, put it to my lips – why was I surprised it was warm? If it wasn’t warm, it would freeze. Thanks to those volunteers toughing out the cold as well as all the fans (especially our wives who were real troopers to stand around in that weather for over and hour).
This year’s race felt a little faster for me even though my time was almost identical to last year. My brother-in-law, who had never experienced the Birkie trail simply said upon finishing, “I was not ready for hills like those!” By the time we got back to the cabin, got our post-race warm up drink, he was already thinking about next year. It was such a great day – I’d highly recommend this for anyone into fat bikes. With three different distances, there is a race for you – just find some hills to practice on.
Already looking forward to next year but will soon hang up the fat tires for the road bike and mountain bike.
On to another adventure.