In the final part of "Intro to Winter Fatbike Ultras", we talk with four experienced ultra athletes about their top tips for researching, planning, and preparing for your first winter fatbike ultra. If you're signed up for your first event or curious about trying one someday, check out these tips and then start planning.
Winter fatbike ultras aren't for everyone. They require critical planning, training, and mitigation of serious risks. The Nxrth is partnering with Jamison Swift, Co-Founder of the St. Croix 40 to present a 3-part series on winter fatbike ultras. We'll walk through:
Who should consider winter fatbike ultras
What risks you need to be aware of
How to pack your gear
How to stay warm and dry
Food and water planning
Read the introduction Here or catch up on Part 1 (Races, Risks, & Resources) and Part 2 (Food, Water, Gear, & Staying Warm)
PART 3 OF 3: #1 Tips From Experienced Ultra Athletes
Of all the adventure cycling disciplines, it's hard to imagine a micro niche that requires more planning and preparation than fatbike winter ultras. These events take participants to the coldest, most remote places. Riders spend long days and dark nights alone in the harshest weather with no support.
In the final installment of "Intro to Winter Fatbike Ultras", we ask seasoned ultra veterans what their number one tips are for trying your first winter fatbike ultra. Here they share their personal experiences of planning for success and learning some lessons the hard way.
My most important lesson for winter ultras was a training ride I did that I expected to be easy. I started in beautiful weather, 28 degrees outside, I assumed I had nothing to worry about. Roughly 15 miles into the 30 mile ride it warmed up a bit more and started to mist. Due to the wet sweat I already had built up, and the mist coming down, I got incredibly cold. I didn't have any way of drying off on the trail, and it brought home the true danger of the combination of wet and cold, even in relatively mild conditions. It doesn't matter if it is in the 30s or in the -40s, if you get wet down to your core, it is very likely going to end your ride early, and could be very dangerous.
Staying dry by moderating your energy output, adjusting layers, protecting yourself in whatever way it takes, is critical to completing a winter ultra fat bike ride. That lesson served me well during many ultra races, where I learned to reduce layers and find that balance of staying warm while never being warm enough to sweat significantly.
Clothing and gear choices are personal. There is no one perfect piece of gear that everyone needs. So experiment, borrow gear from friends, be open to things not being perfect but working good enough. When I was first getting into ultras I was stressed about getting the right gear, it kept me up at night. It's a slow process dialing in your bike, clothes, and boots. There's depth of stuff in the community, so if you need to borrow something, ask! We want to see new folks join this niche sport within a niche sport.
I'd say my #1 tip is do your research. Read everything you can about the race you are planning on doing. I know I read everything I could find on Arrowhead 135 back in the day. I remember scouring the old AH forum over and over again reading every post that was written. I also read all the race reports I could find and talked to race vets. By doing your research you are not going in blind to an event and you can learn so many things that can help you out in a difficult situation.
Another big tip I would say is to believe in yourself. That Leadville 100 race quote by Ken Chlouber " You're better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can" really sums up what people can do if they believe in themselves. I know that is always my race mantra and it's served me well.
The most important lesson I've learned from Winter Ultra's is to test your gear, especially clothes.
Just like summer biking clothes, there are lots of fancy winter riding clothes that work well for a certain size range of humans. If you're outside that range they might not work as well for you.
I've heard all kinds of rave reviews about different winter clothes from people and then tried them out on long winter rides and found them to be lacking.
The clothes that will work best are the ones that fit you the best. Period. Don't cram or stretch yourself into that cool new thing.
Ride with the clothes you have and find out for yourself!
Do the work!
It always comes back around to that. Do the work. There's just no getting around it. You'll never know how a thing works for you out in the cold long night until you've tried it. And I can't wait to try more!
Trying Your First Winter Fatbike Ultra
Throughout this series, we've talked through many of the risks, logistics, and insider tips for trying your first winter fatbike ultra. Every ride and ever rider is different, so do your planning and make sure to train and practice long before getting to the starting line. If you try your first event this year, let us know. We'd love to hear your story and hear the lessons you learned along the way.