Although it may not look like it right now in the Upper Midwest, winter is right around the corner. Before you know it, Father Frost will be bearing down on Minnesota and cover the landscape with a blanket of white. But that’s no reason to hang up the bicycle.
If you ride at all in the winter you’ve certainly noticed the invasion of fat tire bikes. While these behemoths are slow on the pavement, they do wonders on sand, dirt and snow. And with more manufacturers offering them, fat bikes are becoming increasingly accessible and affordable. While most winter rides cater to this group of riders, there are some options out there for those of us who still roll on conventional tires in the slush and snow.
After you’ve negotiated mall parking lots and consumed your share of egg nog, consider these memorable winter rides as either a spectator or a participant.
Penn Cycle Fat Tire Loppet 35K
The City of Lakes Loppet is a weekend ski festival in the heart of Minneapolis. It features a number of skiing events, along with two cycling events. The Penn Cycle Fat Tire Loppet 35K is the only opportunity cyclists have to ride the groomed Loppet Trail. The course starts in Theodore Wirth Park and meanders through the golf course, around and across a number of lakes, finally ending in the Loppet Village in Uptown.
The race begins at noon on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016 and registration remains open. It will cost between $60-$85 to ride, depending on when you register. Only fat tire bikes (with tires at least 4 inches wide) are allowed and tire pressure must be less than 10psi, in order to protect the trail. This race is part of the Great lakes Fat Bike Series. More info on the race can be found here.
The Loppet is also hosting the Penn Ice-Cycle Loppet, a series of races on a short track of ice on the west end of Lake Calhoun. Registration for that event runs from $17-$30 and all types of bikes are welcome.
Stupor Bowl 19
For something a little more unconventional consider the Stupor Bowl. The race takes place in Minneapolis sometime around that football game with a similar name and bills itself as, “the biggest and longest running U.S. alleycat, set during the coldest month of the Minnesota winter.”
The exact details can be difficult to come by, due to its informal nature and Fight Club-like mystique. Even so, the event, which is popular with bicycle messengers, draws riders from around the nation to the frozen streets of the Upper Midwest.
Prior to the start of the race, all riders receive a manifest which includes a list of checkpoints that each cyclist must visit. There isn’t a formal race route since the rider can choose the order of checkpoints, although they must make it to each one in order to finish. As such, a keen knowledge of the city can be far more advantageous than sheer speed.
The race is a bit edgier than most, and in years past checkpoints have included a number of bars and even an adult entertainment venue. As the name suggests, some riders have been known to imbibe a bit during the race and many don’t finish. But for many, the event is more about camaraderie, rather than finishing the race.
When the race happens sometime in early 2016, it’ll mark the 19th incarnation of the event. Leave the kids at home if participating in this factory of mayhem.
If you are looking to really test your mettle, consider the Arrowhead 135. The 135-mile ultra-marathon along northern Minnesota’s Arrowhead Trail is considered one of the toughest endurance races on the planet. Participants can choose from three different forms of human-powered propulsion: bike, ski or run. With temperatures often -30F or lower you would be hard-pressed to find a colder race anywhere! Participation requires an extraordinary amount of preparation and, even with that, it can be downright dangerous. Suffering a physical malady, or what might normally be a basic mechanical issue, can quickly become catastrophic on the Arrowhead. (That being said, race officials and volunteers do an amazing job of ensuring athletes are safe and accounted for). On average, fewer than half of all entrants finish the race and in 2014 (when the conditions were unusually harsh) barely 1/3 completed the course.
Racers have 60 hours to complete the race and must check in at three mandatory checkpoints along the way. A laundry list of required gear includes lights, a deep cold sleeping bag, stove, food and myriad other items intended to ensure competitor safety along the way. To even qualify for the race you must have previous cold weather endurance experience. For cyclists, this includes having competed in the Tuscobia 150, a previous Arrowhead 135 or a similar race.
Registration is closed for the 2016 race, which begins at 7 a.m. on Jan. 25, 2016, leaving from International Falls. This year, approximately 150 racers are on the roster, with more than half competing on a bicycle. A surprising number of people are running the race, while only a handful of athletes have selected skiing.
Spectators are welcome at certain points along the route, which can be found on this map. All profits from the race are given to charities.
The Last Degree
If all of the aforementioned rides seem a bit mundane, and you can spot some cash from Sir Richard Branson, The Last Degree fat bike ride to the South Pole may be just the thing for you. TDA Global Cycling, which offers bicycle tours in 60 countries, is planning the inaugural group fat bike expedition to the South Pole in December 2016.
The 18-day adventure includes nine days of riding in Antarctica, from Union Glacier Base Camp to the most southerly point on earth: The geographic South Pole. The total distance to be cycled comes in at less than 70 miles, but with unpredictable weather conditions and unforeseen challenges in one of the most unforgiving landscapes on earth, this journey is about so much more than mileage.
The total fee for the expedition (which doesn’t include airfare, cold weather clothing and other gear) will come in somewhere around a cool $70K, and includes a 2016 Specialized Fat Bike that is yours to keep after you finish the trek.
Participants are first required to complete a mandatory training camp at Lake Winnipeg, which will take place in February 2016 and set you back another $3,000. This gives organizers and interested parties the opportunity to make sure this epic challenge is a good fit for all involved. You need not sign up for the Antarctic ride in order to participate in the Lake Winnipeg event.
The Antarctic expedition will be led by Ben Shillington, who has an impressive outdoor resume that includes several climbs on Kilimanjaro and in the Himalayas, trekking down the frozen North basin of Lake Winnipeg, skiing to the Magnetic North Pole, riding through the Swiss Alps and completing the Arrowhead 135.
TDA Global Cycling has received significant interest in the Winnipeg training camp and a man from Norway just became the first person to sign up for The Last Degree ride in Antarctica.
While the ride comes with a significant expense, organizers are planning “shorter, more cost conscious trips at Union Glacier in the coming years.”