Take 5: Fat Bike Eliminator invitee Nick Frey
Fat Bike Eliminator
What: A 16-man, invite-only fat bike race through the streets of downtown Breckenridge right before the Ullr Fest parade
When: Thursday, Jan. 14 at 2:15 p.m.
Where: Main Street start line in Breckenridge
The Eliminator is free and open to spectators. The race is held immediately before the Shotski and Ullr Parade, both in downtown Breckenridge as part of Ullr Fest. For more info on the festival and public Ullr Bike race on Jan. 15, see http://www.mavsports.com or http://www.gobreck.com.
It wouldn’t be Ullr Fest without some kind of organized carnage.
On Thursday afternoon, right before the start of the Ullr Parade in downtown Breckenridge, a group of 16 pro and elite cyclists from across Colorado will throw down on big, fat, snow-ready bikes. It’s known as the Fat Bike Eliminator and Breck local Nick Frey can’t wait for the craziness.
“I’m looking forward to the Eliminator, definitely,” says Frey, 28, a former professional road cyclist and co-founder of Boo Bicycles. “With Ullr Fest in the middle of it all this will be mayhem.”
Frey is relatively new to fat-bike racing, but he’s far from new to the cycling world. He rode for USA Cycling during the 2005-06 season before heading to Europe, where he raced for the U.S. and a few private teams. He returned to the states in 2008 and spent three seasons on the pro circuit before falling in love with mountain biking and launching Boo Bicycles, a company he founded in Fort Collins on the strength (literally and figuratively) of bamboo.
Boo was one of the first manufacturers to experiment with fat bikes three seasons ago, and although the production run is relatively small, Frey is a fat-bike convert. He’ll be racing a demo model at the Eliminator — not a one-of-a-kind custom bike — to show just how beastly they can be. The race is held on relatively flat and mellow streets, but if snow arrives as promised the race could get very wild, very quickly.
Before the Eliminator, the Summit Daily sports desk spoke with Frey to get his thoughts on fat-bike racing and why bamboo is more than a gimmick.
Summit Daily News: Fat biking isn’t exactly new, but it’s still an uncharted niche for manufacturers. What convinced you to try fat bikes at Boo Bicycles?
Nick Frey: Obviously the first thing people see is that they are really eye catching, but what I was really drawn to was the fact you can do something on a bike during the really long winters we get. Summit County isn’t unique in this: I’m from Des Moines and the entire Midwest rides fat bikes for months during the winter. I remember when I was training to ride with the National team (and) you’d be out on you road bike in wind chill on black ice — just these just miserable conditions. Fat bikes have exploded in the Midwest because you’re in the woods, away from the elements.
SDN: How are bamboo fat bikes different from your mountain bike models?
NF: It’s like asking someone about fashion, almost. It’s in the eye of the beholder, and you have a few schools of thought right now. The first is that a fat bike should be for adventure riding, for backpacking and riding slow and traveling. Then there’s another group that thinks they should be fast. Those bikes mimic cross-country mountain bikes as much as they can, just with huge tires. We’re a bit of both, with one foot in both worlds. Amanda Miller actually won the fat bike national championships on our bike in Ogden last year, so this one is a national champion bike. It’s designed to handle quickly and mimics the same geometry of a race-oriented mountain bike. We also designed it to ride the widest tire available and gave it fender mounts and rack mounts for those long adventures. When it started there was an idea they can’t be fast, but now people are realizing they can be fast, they can ride hard…
SDN: …Especially now that racing is starting to pick up in Summit. What’s you weapon of choice for the Eliminator?
NF: I’ll be on one of our demo bikes, actually. We set those up to be very high-performance bikes and will have a fleet at Ullr Bike (on Jan. 15) and everything. It’s just too show that you can take this stock bike, one that isn’t made just for me, and still head out and make things happen. The way I describe a fat bike is like you’re signing your name with a Sharpie: It masks the mess-ups in your signature, covers them up. It’s not a needlepoint pin, like riding on road tires or mountain bike tires.
SDN: The Fat Bike Open in Breck this December was your first fat-bike race. Did you enjoy it?
NF: Yeah, they are kind of like cyclocross races. People really try hard in the races, take it seriously for the race, and then they get together for a beer. Road racing is a little different, where people can get super agro and just locked into winning and competing. I’m looking forward to the Eliminator, definitely. With Ullr Fest in the middle of it all this will be mayhem.
SDN: Was racing on a fat bike what you expected?
NF: It was surprisingly difficult technically. I just didn’t think the trail would disappear the way it did. With mountain bike racing, conditions can change a lot through the weeks but the trail usually looks the same the day of a race. It might change a little, like Little French Gulch at the Firecracker 50, but they’re generally the same. With a fat-bike race it can go from manicured groomer to children’s playground sand with every lap. It’s got a lot of mountain biking to it, a lot of cross racing, and a ton of unpredictability. At least with a cross race you know, OK, I can train for this sand pit or whatever the obstacle is. (Fat-bike racing) is like backcountry skiing: You just need to be on your toes as the conditions change with every lap.
SDN: How does bamboo help in a fast-paced, high-pressure situation, like racing?
NF: It’s kind of a nerd’s dream material. It has those properties that other materials just have one or two, but this has all of them. With bamboo, you have a stiff and efficient power transfer, like with carbon. It also allows a twisting motion, so it feels super quick and fast and responsive when you’re riding fast — it’s stiff in that direction — but when you turn it allows forgiveness. In the snow this bike feels lively and responsive, but when you get in a corner with gnarled snow the bamboo lets the frame move with the trail. It conforms to the trail. People might think that bamboo is a gimmick, but we thought that bamboo would work well and we’ve made a pretty sweet bike with it.
SDN: You’re an engineer and a bike racer. When did you buy into bamboo?
NF: Well, I had raced on carbon bikes for my entire career, since the age of 16. We were on Specialized Tarmacs on the national team, we were on Treks for a while, just everyone. But when I started experimenting with bamboo I realized it just rides better, it feels better. Everyone thinks that comfort equals slow, but the entire industry is coming around to see that isn’t the case. Pro riders have known that forever: If you’re doing a five-hour ride you want to be comfortable. They’ve wrapped their handlebars and saddles for years because the carbon frames are too stiff. They’re made by engineers to be that way, but and engineer doesn’t have to ride what he makes for five hours. The engineer in me wants “lighter stiffer, lighter stiffer,” but the bike racer in me wants something that’s actually comfortable. Bamboo does that better than any material I’ve seen.
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