For years, Colorado was the home of the Fat Bike World Championships. But when the pandemic hit in 2020, protocols led the event to a departure from its five-year home in favor of Wyoming.
It got organizers wondering: What if they kept the show on the road? And when that movement began to snowball, members of New Richmond’s Big Ring Flyers cycling club were happy to steer it in the direction of western Wisconsin.
“It went from ‘We really want to see this move around a little bit,’ to ‘What do you think about coming to the midwest,’ to ‘What about your group hosting it in New Richmond?’” Big Ring Flyers’ Chris Stevens said. “All in a span of about 20 days.”
And now that idea, pitched last February, is coming to fruition. The Fat Bike World Championships will be in New Richmond from Jan. 28-30.
A fat bike is an off-road bike with large, bulky tires that allows riders to traverse difficult terrain, such as snow. Cyclists will put theirs to the test in the four-lap Fat Bike World Championship Race on a course that’s over six miles long and runs through New Richmond Golf Course and the Sather Nature Center.
In addition to the championship race on Jan. 29, there will be a fat bike obstacle course race on Jan. 28 and a circuit race on Jan. 30.
Organizers are expecting roughly 500 bikers to participate over the course of the weekend, plus plenty more spectators.
“I think it’s super exciting for New Richmond, but to have a race of this size anywhere in western Wisconsin is going to be pretty impactful from an economic standpoint,” Big Ring Flyers’ Sarah Hartung said. “But also just from a standpoint of bringing attention to some of the local trail systems that we have. It’s really a nod to the fact that the cycling community here is growing.”
While the name of the event is a bit tongue-in-cheek — it’s not meant to be Tour de France-level talent, Stevens said — it will still bring out some elite cyclists. But there’s still room in the various races for those just looking to have fun.
“As we get closer to it, I think that’s what we’re taking the most pride in: Creating a fun experience for everyone, welcoming all athletes,” said Stevens, who is the race director.
Organizers expect to draw from the cycling communities in the Chippewa Valley and the Twin Cities, along with travelers from around the country.
Hartung said part of the appeal of fat biking comes from its simplicity, making it something easy for a newcomer to pick up.
“What’s really cool about biking is that almost all of us have done it at some point in our life, and there’s a reason that the old saying goes, ‘It’s just like riding a bike,’” she said. “You can just get back on a bike and ride, and fat biking isn’t really all that different from riding a road bike or any other type of bike. Of course, it’s cold and the tires are a little bit wide, but oh my gosh, is it fun.”
Fat bikers enjoy it in part because it’s a way to stay active in the winter, Stevens said. And it’s not an instrument that’s overly difficult to get the hang of.
“It’s a unique experience,” he said. “I say that it kind of brings out the kid in you a little bit, because a fat bike is certainly not a road bike in terms of handling and speed and a sportscar-type feel. It’s quite frankly the opposite. They’re big, burly and meant to try to float on snow. They’re big and lumbering, and it makes it fun to do something different.”
Registration for the weekend is still open at fatbikeworlds.org.