Grand Rapids a Fat Bike Mecca
I started cycling as a kid to get some freedom and independence from my parents. You remember the days – you’d hop on your bike and ride down the road to visit friends. When I turned 16, I just wanted to drive, and the bike was forgotten. In my early 20s, my roommate had a mountain bike sitting around gathering dust. I took it out, and I was free again. I later tried off-road mountain biking and was hooked.
Almost thirty years later, I own Central District Cyclery near downtown Grand Rapids and Winter Rush, a local fatbike racing series. And in a week, I will direct the largest USA Cycling-sanctioned fatbike race in America – the 2017 USA Cycling Fat Bike National Championships – in Grand Rapids.
If you’re not a cyclist, you may not realize that this is a BIG DEAL. And if you are a fat bike racer, you don’t want to miss registering for this race, an opportunity to compete in a USA Cycling event in your backyard.
Why the 2017 Fat Bike National Championships is a big deal:
1. Prestige. The West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) and Winter Rush won a two-year bid to host the Fat Bike National Championships in 2017 and 2018 in Grand Rapids, only the second location since USA Cycling (official U.S. governing body for competitive cycling) debuted the race in 2015 in Ogden, Utah. Attendance should be at around 125 riders, including pros, with riders from across the country as well as Michigan. Some may be surprised to learn that the Midwest and Michigan has among the largest concentrations of fatbike racers and riders, plus highest sales in fatbike equipment, in the country. Thanks to our abundance of snow in winter and sandy Great Lakes shorelines the rest of the year, we’re a perfect fit for this sport. And USA Cycling recognizes this.
2. Purpose-built course. Events like this typically go to ski regions, where a resort’s first priority in the winter is to its skiers. Fat bike courses at ski resorts are often relegated to a back parking lot or other place where you get second billing. Not so here, where we created a course from scratch at Indian Trails Golf Course, now known as Indian Trails Fat Bike Park. In fact, it’s one of the first national fat bike races to be held on a golf course. The benefit to our riders is that they are the only user group on the trail, so they get top priority. And next year, we can create a whole different course at Indian Trails for a new riding experience. We’re only limited by tees and greens.
3. Extra perks. This event is a great chance for cyclists registered with USA Cycling to race better cyclists, get more experience and earn points based on your finish to move up into the next USA Cycling racing category. You also get the chance to win and wear a National Champion jersey for a year. And for Michigan fat bike riders, you can do all this without leaving the state.
4. Two races for one (weekend). Need another reason to come to Grand Rapids and race in the 2017 Fat Bike Nationals? How about the fact that you can stay an extra day and also race in the 2017 Michigan Fat Bike State Championship? At a lower price of entry (and you can purchase a one-day USA Cycling license for $5), this race is on the same course. If you’re a beginning fatbike rider, sign up for the state championship where all levels and skills are welcome, and enjoy the prestige of racing the same course as the National Championships. You also get the fun of simultaneously competing in the Meijer State Games of Michigan – Winter Games.
5. Great spectator experience. In addition to this being a purpose-built course, it’s also a shorter course at 4.2 miles than other fat bike event courses, making it a sprint race with multiple laps. That makes for some fun riding and great viewing, as you’ll see riders go around the course much more frequently (and at a more frantic pace) than on long courses. Among those you’ll watch are some local and national racing pros. You’ll also hear commentating by Dearborn native and retired pro cyclist Frankie Andreu, a nine-time competitor in Tour de France. The other perk of watching at Indian Trails Golf Course? You have access to a warm, enclosed clubhouse with perfect views, a fireplace and craft beers.
So mark your calendar for the weekend of Jan. 28 and 29, and be part of something BIG in Grand Rapids. Register online for the 2017 Fatbike National Championships here and the Michigan Fatbike State Championship here. Or come out to Indian Trails Golf Course, grab a cold one, and watch some crazy fatbike riding by some of the best in the state and country!
Photos by Dejan Smaic/USA Cycling