Traverse City Record-Eagle

Body & Soul

February 8, 2014

Getting Fat: Wide-tire bikes fly off shelves, into VASA

TRAVERSE CITY — You won’t find “Fatalon” in Funk & Wagnall’s.

Fatalon: noun, (like biathlon, decathlon, heptathlon) signifies a multiple-event race, starring … the fat bike.

“We made the word up,” said Michele Howard, one of the Fat Bike Race coordinators for Traverse City’s North American VASA Festival of Races on Feb. 8-9. VASA’s Ski Fatalon combines race times for athletes who ski the 27-mile Nordic race in the morning, then pedal the King/QueenVASA Fat Bike Race around the same 27-mile course in the afternoon.

“The whole event is made up for our endurance athletes, and as far as we know, it has never been done before,” Howard said.

The VASA Festival’s inclusion of fat bikes is also a first.

The plumped-up popularity of fat bikes, or “fatties,” is becoming as wide as their comically tubby tires. Its inclusion — or infiltration, personal philosophy-depending — in Traverse City-area events is just as broad, too. Einstein Cycles kicked off a three-race Northern Michigan Fat Bike Series in January with “Fat Chance.” March features “Fat Camp.” Sandwiched between is the King/Queen VASA Race.

Fat bikers and skiers sharing the same course at VASA is a big step, said Pete LaPlaca, VASA President. Fat bikers are currently asked as a matter of “etiquette” to refrain from using the Nordic trail except for “Fat Bike Fridays.”

“We wanted to be proactive about it,” LaPlaca said. “This is a one-year trial period and it seems to be working well.”

King and Queen VASA will wear crowns fashioned from bike parts.

Fat bikes, once a niche market, are rolling into the mainstream as cycle enthusiasts tout their all-terrain toughness.

Howard likes to ride hers in whiteouts. Why? Because she can.

“It’s just the idea going out in these crazy conditions,” Howard said. “You get the worst weather thrown at you and you get to go biking. It makes you feel like a goofy kid.”

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