Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Brewery Vivant Farmhand Fat Bike Race

Photo: Rob Meendering
Holy. Cow. HOLY. COW. I don’t even know where to start in my race report about the Brewery Vivant Farmhand Fat Bike Race. If this is any indication as to how the rest of the fat bike season is going to go… it’s going to be one  super fun, super awesome, really great season that’ll wind up ending way too soon! Chelsea Strate got to town Friday evening and stayed at my house until Tuesday morning. Now that she’s left for Traverse City (race #3 of the series is the 23rd in Traverse City!) I miss her. Boooo!

Thanks for this pic, Jenny Scott!
Anyways – the Farmhand race was race #2 in the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series, and quite frankly it’s one of my favorite races hands down. I could be biased since the Farmhand race is pretty much in my backyard, at one of the local trails I ride year round, put on by friends on the Farm Team, and because it’s sponsored by the Grand Rapids Bicycle Company, aka my favorite bike shop and my place of work. ;)

Albeit probably biased, I have other reasons for loving the Farmhand Fat Bike Race.  The first fat bike race I ever did was the Farmhand Fat Bike Race, the inaugural year where they held it at Versluis Orchards. I didn’t have a fat bike and I didn’t know how to ride fat bikes in snow, but a fellow coworker and I signed up to do the duo category together. We shared a demo bike, we were over dressed, we laughed hysterically the whole time, and we weren’t able to stay on that bike for the life of us. The second year I wasn’t able to race because I had had knee surgery. Yada yada. Here we are this year, in the 5th year of the Farmhand Fat Bike Race, and it’s incredible to see how this race has grown and how I’m lucky enough to be in a place that I had no idea I’d find myself in when I was pushing a demo fat bike through an apple orchard in my first winter working at the Ada Bike Shop – now GRBC. I was really looking forward to this particular race this year because I knew there’d be a ton of awesome people there, I knew there’d be a fat bike fly-over, and I knew my dad and sister would be racing it this year. (more on the two latter in a bit…)

Thanks for always getting my bike dialed, Dan!
Nostalgia aside, the course this year was one hell of an awesome and fun course! The last couple of years we were subjected to mushy snow that grabbed your tire and pulled you down and a bunch of climbing. I knew there was a fly-over, I knew there’d be groomed single-track, and I knew there would be a climb up the tubing hill. I was ready this year with my 45NRTH Vanhelga tires. I knew the course wasn’t going to be all mush, but I was prepared for it with a tire that would be fast and grippy. The day before the Farmhand race it rained. I was super expecting sloppy conditions for the race… but when I showed up at Cannonsburg Ski Area the morning of the race, I realized I should have gone with my studded Dillinger 4’s… whoops!

That bike is tiiiiiiiiight!
Side note: Dan had given mine and Chelsea's bikes look-overs the night before the race, and when he had asked if we wanted him to help swap our tires, we instead opted to take some goofy photos.

Zubaz: Embrace the awesome.
Looking around at the competition (aka my friends and teammates) I realized we were all on non-studded tires. At least we were all in the same boat! I think we had all anticipated sloppy conditions, because, well, the Farmhand Fat Bike Race had sort of become known to us as that. Boy, were we wrong! We were super wrong! Matt Acker had pre-rode a lap before the start of the race, and he warned us that the course was very slippery. I let some air out of my tires and helped a few other friends let air out of their tires too. Before I let air out, I had about 8psi in my tires… so by my calculations… I started the race with some psi in there. J

I foolishly didn’t get any warm up in before the race start, and on the first climb I cursed myself for not doing so. It wasn’t very huge, but it was a climb right off the start and I could see fat bikers bottle necking and turning to the right in to some single-track. I fell in behind some riders and wished that I had gone out harder to get ahead of more people. I could see Danielle Musto and Kati Krikke a handful of people ahead of me and wanted to get as close to them as possible - but it was impossible! The single track was so icy that everyone was crawling through it. Good job, Farmhand Fat Bike Race, you got us! Four years of mushy snow, of course it’s hard-packed and icy this year! ;) The single-track spit us out to a wider section with some of the only sloppy snow on the course and I passed a few riders safely before dodging back in for more twisty, icy, groomed single-track. Then it spit us out again to a wider segment where we rolled past the pit area and – ahhh! – we were pointed at the first fat bike fly-over I have ever ridden! (and may I add the only one I’ve ever ridden!) I didn’t get a chance to practice it, I heard it was steep, and I aimed my front tire at the fly-over, shifted into a lower gear for balance, and pedaled, pedaled, pedaled! There was a brief moment of victory where I paused and thought to myself, “How cool did that just look?!” while I was on the top of the platform before I veered back down. Every time I came upon that fly-over I had all of the feelings of being excited, nervous, stoked, worried, and relieved.

I LOVE THIS BIKE! // Photo: Rob Meendering

After the fly-over, there was a little more mushy snow before you had to attack the tubing hill. There were families, kids, and really cool looking teenagers riding a conveyor belt tow up the tubing hill. They were moving up the hill faster than some people were riding it. Uh oh. Here is one of the spots where I was actually really happy that I had my Vanhelga tires on my bike! Here is also one of the spots of the course where I was really happy that I had been training for the Arrowhead 135 with a fully loaded fat bike and at the same time really bummed that I had been training for the Arrowhead 135 with a fully loaded fat bike… I had done some longer rides earlier in the week and ended on a 6 hour ride Thursday with all of my gear. I had purposefully gone places where I knew I’d have to push my bike up steep hills in preparation of Arrowhead. My bike felt incredibly light (especially with my new HEDAluminum rims!!! – I’ll post on those later) and I was stoked at how fast it climbed! My legs, however, felt a little heavy, and I knew that if I had gone in to the race with fresh legs that I could be climbing faster. I couldn’t stop laughing while climbing that stupid tubing hill. Any time I’d start grunting or breathing hard, I’d look up and realize there were people on the tow watching within reach of where we were climbing. I’d start laughing uncontrollably, which made climbing harder, which made me laugh more. Ha!

I love this pic!!! // thanks Rob Meendering!
At the top of the climb, you pull a 180 and start careening down the other side of the tubing hill. Then immediately at the bottom there’s a 90 degree turn to the right and you head over the last segment of mushy snow on the whole 4-mile course and head in to the woods. Once in the woods, you find yourself on glare ice once again. Chelsea Strate and I rode a lot of the 3 hour race together, which was actually really awesome to ride with one of my 45NRTH teammates. She would pull away on the climbs and I’d catch her again on the single-track. I tried to pass her once and got wiped out by a patch of ice that was disguised as regular snow. Chelsea hollered through the woods, asking if I was alive, and I shrieked back that I was going to make it! Mid-way through the single track we hit the sand bowl – usually a sandy, open area on the back of the ski hill. This year it was all ice. Once through the sand bowl, there was a sharp left hand turn that dumped you down a slick, steep descent. 

Women's Solo Podium: Danielle Musto in first, Kati Krikke in second, Chelsea, myself, and Kim Thomas in fifth.
On my fifth lap through this part of the course I felt the rear end of my bike sliding sideways, so I released on the rear brakes and tried to grab just a tiny bit of the front. My hand didn’t get the full message from my brain and clamped down hard on the front brake. Vwoop! I went over the handlebars and slid down a little before regaining my ground and hopped back on the bike, laughing. On an earlier lap, I had seen my sister off her bike in that spot -  this was her first fat bike race - and I had tried giving her tips as to how to ride on the ice. Imagining her there to see my crash made me giggle as I tried to ride as fast as I could on the ice to try to catch up to Chelsea. Once I hit the last segment of single-track, I knew I had to play it safe so as to not kill myself (or wreck my bike) on a crash before Arrowhead… but it’s almost like my brain doesn’t get how to “play it safe” and I still tried to dab through the single track to make up for my lost time. Alas, I couldn’t catch Chelsea, but I am still incredibly elated to have made it across the finish line with 5 laps as 4th place female! I’m really, really proud of my 45NRTH (and GRBC) teammates for how we all did in this race! 

My Sister, my Dad, myself: Fatty Martindale(s)
I’m also really, really proud of so many other people who were at the race! My dad had raced Iceman back in November, and the Farmhand Fat Bike Race was his second race ever and his first race on ice/snow. It was my sister’s first fat bike race (she had only raced the Never Ever! category at Skirts in the Dirt prior) and her first time ever riding on conditions like we had. New GRBC teammates and ambassadors had raced Farmhand as their first fat bike race ever, including my old roller derby teammate Jess, who had only ridden her new SalsaBeargrease X7 once before race day! Seriously, everyone went in to the race with such excitement and such gusto that it was one of the most fun races I’ve ever done! Everyone from the hecklers to the racers, the solo and duo categories, to the volunteers had smiles on their faces. What a blast. Thank you Farm Team Racing for putting this race on! You can find full race results for the Brewery Vivant Farmhand Fat Bike Race here.
Sunday, Chelsea and I headed to Merrell and we found the new WMMBA groomer!! Best weekend EVER!


  1. I love your blog format Jill! I blew snot rockets in front of all those cool teenagers, haha. And definitely fell victim to that ice in disguise as regular snow too.. that trickster. I know you're going to do so rad at Arrowhead!