Good News from A Great City
The Heartbeat of Haverhill’s first thought upon hearing the term that ‘fat bikes’ must be some kind of in your face exercycle for the more than lanky crowd. But while they do provide strength and cardio training they are anything but stationary. If you Google ‘Fatty Walrus’, you will mainly find disturbing recipes using a protein not readily available at Market Basket. But if you dig deeper you will, as The Heartbeat of Haverhill did, learn about the new-ish cycling craze brought to Haverhill MA by the folks at Riverside Cycle‘s Haverhill location. That craze is Fat Bikes and The Fatty Walrus is the race series held here in Haverhill, MA.
Fat biking has been popular in the US arguably since about 2012, and its origins are claimed by Alaska, the Southwest, and Minnesota. The craze is all about the ride. Fat bikes extend the mountain bike season clear through the deepest depths of winter. The specialty bike allows for trail riding over snow, sand, and bog courtesy of very fat, low pressure tires and very strong legs. According to Fatbike.com “Fat-bike tires are typically marked as 26 x 4.0 though most are really more like 26 x 3.7 or 3.8. The actual size of the mounted tire will vary depending on the rim width used for the wheel.” At Riverside Cycle (RC) we learned that the tires can also be studded like the old time snow tires that are now illegal in Massachusetts.
In Haverhill, fat biking is all about the snow, and Riverside Cycle created a 3-series competition called ‘The Fatty Walrus’ sponsored by RC, Battle Grounds Coffee and The City of Haverhill. The race preparation includes dozens of volunteers and the staff of Riverside Cycle stamping down a trail for the bikers using a special dragged gadget and snow shoes. Haverhill’s trail is at Plug Pond (aka Lake Saltonstall for non-residents who read maps.) It is a 2.5 mile circuit with three tough hills and great views of lakes and woods and our unique specialty – Winnekenni Castle a real stone structure and an iconic city feature. The trail itself was designed by renowned trail designer Jeff Weidell.
On February 12, seventy or so racers registered from Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, of course, and even Oregon! This was the second of three races that make up the Riverside Cycle’s Fatty Walrus Series at Plug Pond and all have cool even cold names: The Arctic Kickoff (Sunday, Jan 29, 2017), The Deep Freeze Challenge (Sunday, Feb 12 2017), The Frosty Finale (moved to Saturday, Feb 18 2017). This race was preceding a blizzard by a few short hours in deteriorating weather conditions.
The racers were undeterred by temps skirting the teens and nearly a foot of newly fallen powder that made riding more difficult. It is allowable though not desired to run alongside your bike on particularly tough portions of the trail. There was a lot of running in this race. There are two divisions Timber Wolves who rode the circuit twice for a total of five miles and Polar Bears who do four laps for ten miles. The conditions made riding so slow and arduous that the Polar Bear challenge was reduced to 3 laps. The conditions were tough enough that some people dropped out before finishing their race, or even the first lap so there are fewer competitors on the Eastern Fat Tire Association results page than actually showed. One woman threw off her completely frozen camelback as she completed her first lap.
So who are the Fat Bikers? THOH’s unscientific estimate based on Sunday’s participants is that the bikers are 75/25 split male to female, though the folks at RC said that the number is higher for women when you add in those who cycle but do not compete. The Heartbeat of Haverhill saw people in their teens and those in their 50s or 60s. On the first race of the series, the top 4 times were earned by junior racers.The racers are nice – one person raced with the Timber Wolves in the helmet of a Polar Bear competitor. Another person road on a borrowed bike. The bike technicians on site gave advice and help with tire pressure and other mechanical issues. All people know the rules include making sure someone who has fallen is not injured before passing them, and, A LOT of people fell in the too deep snow. The Polar Bears definitely benefited from the additional snow pack the Timber Wolves provided in their heats. THOH was grateful to learn that foot stomps throughout the groomed trail are detrimental, not helpful, to the trail, before doing more damage than good.
Want to give it a try? Learn more about Fat Biking at Riverside Cycle. There are informal group rides almost every day and certainly every weekend so you can try out the equipment and get advice from the pros. New fat bikes can range from $800-$9000. And there is every imaginable piece of equipment from there. But know this – the woman who took first place in the Timber Wolves competition among women, and fourth over all, came here from Oregon, wore regular hiking boots, borrowed a bike, and cobbled together whatever clothes and gloves she could find for this her first fat bike race. Talent shines through without each latest gizmo.
Claire Jencks (Woman’s Timber Wolf winner) is traveling with her partner Taya Beattie in a renovated small bus that provides 86 sf of comfortable living and recording space including granite counter tops and a stone surrounded fire place. The two are the brains behind Instagrams Storybus and www.thestorybus.org. They are traveling North America collecting stories on artistic process and engaging in adventures.
The Heartbeat of Haverhill invited them back for more cool stuff to do in Haverhill in warmer weather – perhaps crewing on the Merrimack River, or paddling to the sea in kayaks, or participating in Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce’s Kids Artsfest or supporting the vision of the Cogswell Artspace. They could participate in dozens of artistic endeavors sponsored by Haverhill Cultural Council or Creative Haverhill, try out the new and fabulous Haverhill Disc Golf Course that is played in any season, full moon snow shoeing at Willow Spring Vineyard. They could stay in Haverhill a month without one dull day. The Heartbeat of Haverhill knows from experience that living in Haverhill means too much (never too little) opportunity for engagement.