Ullr Fest embraces the fat-biking trend with Ullr Bike and Fat Bike Eliminator, Jan. 14-15 | SummitDaily.com

Ullr Fest embraces the fat-biking trend with Ullr Bike and Fat Bike Eliminator, Jan. 14-15

This whole fat-biking thing is about to blow up.

Actually, it has more or less arrived in Summit County, beginning in early December with the inaugural Fat Bike Open at the Gold Run Nordic Center, where fat bikes are now allowed on just about any groomed and snowshoe trails three days per week. It's the first and only center in Summit County to hop on the fat-bike bandwagon, and, if the crowd of 70-plus newbies and pros (like Dave Wiens of Gunnison) at the Open is any indication, it's not going away anytime soon.

This weekend, the fat-bike scene in Breckenridge reaches a fever pitch with two events: Today's Fat Bike Eliminator, an invite-only circuit race on Main Street in downtown Breck, and Friday's Ullr Bike, a public race held at the Nordic center. Both are organized by Maverick Sports — the local race pros behind the summer mountain bike series — and both are expected to draw huge crowds of fat-bike fans and curious never-evers. Last season, the first-ever Ullr Bike drew about 70 competitors, and, this season, Mav Sports is predicting 150 to 200 riders.

"We've got the cross-country dudes, the cyclocross dudes, the enduro dudes, and I think that mix will make the race even more interesting," says Chris Cawley of Mav Sports, talking about the 16-man and woman field for the Eliminator. "We just have a great mix of people from all sorts of disciplines."

For riders like Breck local Jeff Cospolich, that's part of the fat-bike appeal. Those big, fat tires are a way to bridge the gap between mountain biking, cyclocross and road biking. It's also a bridge between summer and the dry heart of winter, when spinning inside sounds like a bore and skiing on the ski slopes is meh. In other words, the timing of this year's Ullr Bike couldn't be better: Most of the county has seen less than a foot of accumulation since the last big dump between Christmas and New Year's Eve.

"I love this," says Cospolich, who will compete in the Eliminator and Ullr Bike. "I've had my bike about a year-and-a-half now, and I really do think this is just more fun in the winter. I had some Nordic skis for a while and would take my dogs to French Gulch (in Breck), but you're just not going as fast."

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He is a Strava fiend, and, since buying his Salsa Beargrease fat bike last season, he's been tracking his times for local trails. On an average day at French Gulch — a trail system just southeast of Breck and a short pedal from his home in the Wellington neighborhood — he records 9-10 miles per hour on a mountain bike in summer, 7-8 miles per hour on a fat bike in winter and 2-3 miles per hour on his Nordic skis. Fat bikes are noticeably slower than their MTB counterparts, but, for Cospolich, they're still exciting enough — well, if he can find singletrack and roaring crowds.

"There aren't too many tactics," he says, who also raced in the Open in December. "Compared to mountain-bike racing, this is ho-hum, but I'm always for any extra animation and interest on Main Street. With Ullr Parade and the shotski happening after, even if I'm not having my best day on the bike, I'll enjoy being part of the scene."

Ullr Bike, part two

The downtown Eliminator race promises plenty of mayhem, just as Cospolich expects, beginning at 2:30 p.m. with a collection of high-level riders bumping tread and (most likely) washing out in icy corners. The forecast also calls for snow, which will only add another element of the unknown for a crowd of several thousand waiting for the Ullr Parade to begin.

"That forecast will certainly make things interesting," Cawley said after meeting with the town to likely build a snowy obstacle section on Washington Street. "It's supposed to dump a little, and that will really help. Guys might slow down and slide out more because the course is a little slick."

The Eliminator is an appetizer for the sundown Ullr Bike, held about two miles north of downtown Breck at the Nordic center (aka Breckenridge Golf Club). The race is open to any and all competitors, with divisions for males, females and juniors. Mav Sports has invited several manufacturers to bring demo bikes, along with local outfits like Breckenridge Bike Guides to give competitors an intro to the bikes. Demos are available beginning at noon, and just about every demo rep is making bikes available for the race.

The Ullr course is similar to the Open course, only this time it runs counterclockwise on a 3.5-mile loop over groomed terrain. The uphills and downhills are mild, but the forecast is calling for another round of snow that could make riding tricky.

To add yet another wrinkle, Ullr Bike is held in the chilly hours right before and after sundown. Cawley recommends preparing for the elements like you would before a Nordic excursion, with warm shoes, gloves and layers.

"The weather looks snowy, the weather looks cold — typical Ullr — so think about layering," he said. The start line is within steps of the Nordic center clubhouse and riders can store extra gear there.

With any luck, events like the two Ullr races will continue to build support for the burgeoning fat-bike scene. Right now, the sport is just new enough and just odd enough to cause occasional clashes between cyclists and Nordic skiers. But it's getting better.

"Breckenridge has been pretty forward-thinking and progressive with their trails and how to accommodate user groups," Cospolich says. "When I see skiers and snowshoers and other users, I always stop and get off my bike. That usually means I'm standing in two feet of snow, but the last thing I want to do is be that guy who pisses someone off in this early stage."

Ullr Bike

What: A 12.5-mile public fat-bike race held at dusk on groomed Nordic trails in Breckenridge, with divisions for males, females and juniors

When: Friday, Jan. 15 at 5 p.m.

Where: Gold Run Nordic Center, 200 Clubhouse Drive in Breckenridge (at the Breckenridge Golf Club)

Cost: $30 adults, $20 juniors

The race is three laps on a 3.5-mile course for all divisions. A limited number of demo bikes from Boo Bicycles, Specialized, Borealis, Reeb and more will be available at the Nordic center beginning at noon. Demos can also be used in the race. For more information and to register, see http://www.mavsports.com.

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