‘Fat’ bikes returning to the sand in Wrightsville Beach this weekend

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A fat biker riding on the beach. Photo courtesy of Shawn Spencer.
A fat biker riding on the beach. Photo courtesy of Shawn Spencer.

Sunbathers heading to Wrightsville Beach this weekend won’t be the only ones enjoying the town’s sandy shores.

That’s because the 2nd annual U.S. Open Fat Bike Beach Championship, organized by The Blockade Runner Resort and local shop Bike Cycles, is taking place this Sat., March 12 from 2 to 5 p.m.

The unique race features what are essentially mountain bikes with wider tires (four inches or more) that originated in Alaska as a way to ride bikes on the snow.

“Fat bikes allow us to ride on sand, which is predominantly what we have in the area, even on our trails,” said Shawn Spencer, race director and owner of Bike Cycles. “With new technology keeping the weight of other parts low, these aren’t much heavier than standard mountain bikes.”

Spencer said the race was dreamed up by himself and a couple of guys at The Blockade Runner.

“They have a great venue for sports like this,” Spencer said, noting the resort is the start and end points for a variety of races from stand-up paddle contests to triathlons. “The good thing about this event is it doesn’t stop traffic. It’s environmentally less intrusive.”

Participants will be navigating laps around a one-mile loop course featuring a few obstacles and everything from hard-packed wet sand to thick, looser sand. There are different distances available to racers: 8 miles (“Fat”), 16 miles (“Really Fat”) and 24 miles (“Super Fat”).

“It’s a challenging thing,” Spencer said. “It’s not a high-speed thing, but it’s technical.”

So far, 53 people have registered for the race from places like Delaware, South Carolina and Virginia Beach, along with some mountain biking pros from western North Carolina. That’s already more than last year’s total field, according to Spencer, and there are still a few days left to enter. Spencer also said that six women have registered for Saturday. None participated in last year’s inaugural race.

“We’ve got some people that are a little more serious this year, that have trained for this event,” Spencer said. “They could challenge [last year’s 24-mile winner] Ben Brown, who won by a good margin.”

Start times for the three different races will be staggered, and prizes will be given out by distance and by age group. The event is capped at 100 riders, but Spencer said the compact nature of the race makes it just as much fun for spectators to watch while enjoying some time on the beach.

“People come to this for the location. It’s going to be a great time,” said Spencer, who said the stretch of beach containing the race course will not be blocked off to pedestrians but that volunteers would be around to make visitors aware of the competitors. “We encourage people to come out and watch these guys suffer on their bikes.”

To register, click here. For more information about the event, visit their website. Those interested in learning more about fat bikes can contact Bike Cycles, which rents them out to people who want to give it a try.