Pugsley World Championships
Decorah, Iowa, hosts fat bike racers
The second annual Pugsley World Championship Fat Bike/Mountain Bike Race was held in Decorah, Iowa, on Saturday, February 25. The event is a celebration of the "fat bike" phenomenon.
Fat Bikes are among the newest innovations in mountain biking. With freakishly large tires more reminiscent of what one might find on a motorcycle, fat bikes are cycling's answer to the all-terrain vehicle. With wider rims, fatter tires, lower air pressure and more ground contact, the bikes offer superior traction and some floatation allowing the bikes to navigate much more easily in snow, mud, sand and loose hardscrabble conditions than a conventional mountain bike.
The Pugsley, made by Surley, is probably the most recognized model as it is a Twin Cities' brand and has been around the longest. Surly's latest creation, called Moonlander, is an even bigger and fatter variation. There are other manufacturers of fat bikes, including Milwaukee's Schlick Cycles (whose Northpaw fat bike is custom-built in West Branch, Iowa, by well-known frame builder and mountain biking pioneer Tom Teesdale) and Salsa's Mukluk, also a Twin Cities brand.
The Pugsley World Championships is open to anyone on a bike. However, only those riding a fat bike are eligible to win the race and the over $1,500 in cash and prizes offered to the top race finishers.
"If Vikings rode bikes, they would have ridden Pugsleys," asserted race director Jesse Reyerson, formerly of Decorah, now a Platteville, Wisconsin, resident. "Even though it was a competitive field with a large purse at stake, we tried to make it fun. And at the end of the day, everyone felt good about the course, the race and their competition."
The more than 30 participants in this year's event hailed from five states; As far away as Omaha, Nebraska, to the west, and Chicago to the east. The race started at the base of an abandoned section of "Old Highway 52" on what will become the final paved section of the Trout Run Trail later this year.
It provided a bumpy start. At the top of the first climb of the 22-mile course where the abandoned highway turns into "trail under construction," the frozen ruts and uneven terrain created by heavy equipment tracks made for some bone-jarring bicycle racing. The course wound back into Decorah past the eagle's nest and the trout hatchery along the TRT, with most of the paved trail still snow covered.
The racers crossed Twin Bridges and took on the challenging singletrack trails in Palisades and Van Peenen parks. "Some of the trail sections were a little dicey," one rider said. "You really had to pay attention and stay off the smooth ice in the turns."
As the day wore on, some south-facing trail sections became muddy and difficult to ride, even with the fat tires. "Under the conditions, I didn't think they could possibly top last year's race course from Cresco to Decorah, but they did it. It was awesome." Chad Wilson of Milwaukee said.
The lead pack of a half dozen racers was established early on the first climb, and the group stayed together until mid-race when they hit the snow and ice-covered singletrack. The eventual winner, Maciej Nowak, age 34, from Waukesha, Wisconsin, emerged from the woods just ahead of second-place finisher Trevor Olson, 38, of Rochester, Minnesota, and Tim Norrie, 37, of Minneapolis. Nowack, Olson and Norrie were awarded $500, $250 and $150 respectively.
The top female finishers - Kate Heil, 34, of Waukesha, Wisconsin; Laurie Stensland, 36, of Madison, Wis. - took home $100 and $50 respectively.
"There is camaraderie among mountain bikers," Reyerson said, "and there were stories of a few racers who got lost on the course and other competitors who helped them back on track to the finish. A couple of the cash winners even split their purse winnings with those who helped them to the end."
Sponsors for the event included Cooper's Pub, Surly Bikes, New Belgium Brewing Co., Fat-Bike.com, Bar Mitts, Doug and Diane Osborn, Jeff Freidhof, Eric Clement, Decorah Human Powered Trails and the Decorah Parks and Recreation Department. The event generated $650 for trail maintenance in Decorah's parks.