If the Winter Olympics are leaving you inspired to get outside and get active, why not try some winter biking? It might sound contradictory, especially when there's snow on the ground. But there's a newer cycling sport that allows you to do just that. It's called fat biking. Basically, it's mountain biking with a bigger tire, 3.8 inches wide or more. And it's a sport one Central Illinois woman is grabbing by the handlebars as she pedals for the medal.
For Peoria Native Bev Ensloe, staying active is a way of life. Even in the winter months you'll find her outside, often on her fat bike.
"This is a regular mountain bike tire, you can see it cuts in a little bit more," she explains, pointing to a narrow track on the ground. "But the fat tire kind of floats on the top, and that's the whole point of the fat tire, it can float on sand or snow."
For Bev and many other cyclists, it's a way to extend their riding season. But you don't have to be an experienced rider to give this a try.
"No, this is actually beginner friendly," she insists. "There are some people who look at the skinny bike tires and say 'I could never balance on that.' Well, this is the solution for that. "
And Bev knows her bikes, along with athletic endeavors in general. She started running in junior high and was a standout athlete at Richwoods. She ran at Western Illinois University where she was a national qualifier all four years. After college she was sponsored and again qualified for national championships. She's also been recognized as Ms. Steamboat, never missing a single race in the past 44 years, even placing first for women a total of 6 times. But, a knee injury derailed her running, which lead to her branching out to triathlons, then off-road triathlons, and mountain biking, where once again found herself at the front of the pack.
Now, almost 61, Bev continues to excel at virtually everything she does, often winning or at least placing in her age group in every race and challenging the younger athletes..
"I'm a competitor and I race for the front, so I'm ageless that way."
Of course Bev is also the first to point out that you don't have to race to ride. It's what you make of it. That goes for if you're out on the trails.or going to one of the many races they have in the Midwest. That includes the Frozen Fat Fondo Fest held late last month in the Quad Cities. It's an event just for fat bikes, equal parts fun, food, racing and obstacle courses. In the midst of all that, there's freshly cooked bacon for a mid-ride snack,. and some adult beverages on hand for participants looking for a more casual experience. But, for riders like Bev, there is the chance to compete. In this particular race, the winner is the one who can do the most laps around the course in 3 hours.
And, at this year's Frozen Fat Fondo Fest, Bev, once again, walked away with a first place win. However, even this seasoned pro admitted to making a bacon pit-stop mid-ride.
"Yeah, yeah, I had to resist for a number of laps, until finally I thought, ok, yeah, I can give it a minute or so to stop for bacon!" she admitted with a chuckle. But that, in and of itself, is a reminder that within this sport there's still plenty of room for fun.
"It has the fun, it has the challenge, and I like challenging myself, so it's all here," she remarks.
It's a sentiment that seems to be shared by her fellow fat bikers.
"I'm 42 and I've only been doing this 4-5 years. My only regret is not finding it 10 year ago," exclaims event organizer Joe Porter.
Of course, a season of fat biking wouldn't be complete for Bev without setting a goal. In her case, that's the National Championships in Grand Rapids Michigan which took place this past weekend. Once she arrived she was confronted with 8 inches of powder. Her wave was later in the day, so some of that was tamped down, but it also meant ruts in the course left behind from previous riders. Bev got a good start, making it up the first uphill faster than the competition, a 3 time national champion named Kim Bear. But, in the end, Kim pulled ahead of Bev for the win. Still, Bev walked away a silver medalist, a major accomplishment as the second best fat biker in the nation in her age group.
And so, while she's already looking for her next chance to challenge Kim Bear in another race, she's also returning to simply doing something she loves, and something she loves encouraging others to try.
"People look at bikes and say, 'Oh, but I don't want to race!' But, that's not the point of having a bicycle. The point of having a bicycle is freedom, and pleasure, and joy, and getting outside," she says emphatically.
Bev says there are plenty of experienced riders here in Central Illinois willing to take you out and show you the ropes. There's also PAMBA, the Peoria Area Mountain Biking Association, which offers beginner and family friendly rides. See more here: http:// https://www.facebook.com/groups/PeoriaAreaMountainBikeAssociation/about/