Race organizer Gary Crandall reflects on past races and champions
While visiting the Chequamegon area of Northern Wisconsin earlier this January, we took the opportunity to stop by the headquarters of the famous Chequemegon Fat Tire Festival. The catalyst for this visit was the discovery of and subsequent urge to document all of the wonderful prints that were given to the finishers during the late 80’s and early 90’s. That story began here. We hoped to find the posters and hear their story, however we ended up discovering so much more…
When the formative days of mountain biking are discussed, it’s usually the West Coast that gets all the love. However the story of mtb’ing in the Midwest has deep roots as the new past time quickly ingratiated itself to folks who had long been riding whatever bikes they had on the dirt roads and snowmobile trails of their local wilderness. I am super stoked to be able to share a little bit of this history with you.
We met up with Gary Crandall, who has been the race director every year since the inaugural running in 1983, to take a peek at the momentos, souvenirs, and to engross ourselves in the history of this event, which for decades held the distinction of being the largest and one of the most prestigious mountain bike races in the world.
The race itself takes place on the same hallowed terrain as the world renowned American Birkebeiner. As such, its course is very much a throwback to the early days of mtb’ing as it’s a double track affair. In the last 15 or so years the race’s prestige and place has seemed to dim a bit, although it still manages to pull 2500 racers each year, and is considered a right of passage for riders in these parts.
I hope you enjoy this tour through some unique MTB history.
Outside of the offices in Cable, WI
Signs for the famous Seeley Firetower climb, one of the course’s signature obstacles sit outside the shed waiting for a bit of maintenance
The posters that originally drew me to find out more about the race’s history
Sara Balbin, the artist behind the posters and Gary’s partner in life
A prime example of a common memento around the office: a hand drawn card hoped to influence the race organizers to grant entry into the event
Test prints for event t-shirts
This one holds a special place in my heart as I’m lucky enough to actually own one of these long sleeve t-shirts
Gary holding court
Geno the first winner to hoist the 40lb trophy over their head
Sara Balbin also made these amazing and iconic trophies
Jerseys from past winners and supporters of the event
Lemond looms large as the winner in ’90 and ’91
Gary’s nickname is “Fat Man” in case you were wondering
“Cable Beer & Gear Brigade”
This photo is from 1983, here Gary points out a rider
These posters are so dang great! Very distinctive style.
Doug Kruse who’s image pops up over and over again on the race’s posters and artwork
Hardest Working Man in Showbusiness: Bianchi Racer Gene Oberpriller. Gene O not only drives the Bianchi support rig from race to race on the NORBA circuit, he also visits Bianchi shops along the way, handles much of the five-person team’s management, provides rider support for the three women on the team, helps with Shimano tech service, and makes a hell of a fondue. Sure he was 56th in NORBA pro points, but he generates more good feelings and revenue than a bus full of strippers at a Shriner’s convention.
Poster from year one
Gary, Chelsea, and Baroo!
Thanks for having us Gary and sharing your stories!
I can’t believe today is finally the day we get to show this to the world. So pscyhed on how this came out, and huge props to my man SK for murdering the track. Hope you love it as much as I do!
And you can dowload the track “3 Dayz Off” for free on Bandcamp here.
Greg Lemond and our own Gene Oberpriller!
While out in LA we took our crossy bikes up Mt. Wilson for a little single track party!
Our homies Austin Horse and Allan Shaw getting cutty in Mumbai, which has the highest density of traffic in the world.
This custom fat bike hot rod belongs to my partner Chelsea, who is a sponsored racer for 45NRTH. It began life as one of those lovely pink/orange Salsa Beargrease’s, but got a respray this year with a splendid blue/black fade with pink and yellow splatter paint. The team riders had a choice between blue as the accent color or pink. Her choice of this lovely blue has played out nicely as her pink accessories really pop!
The kit is mostly SRAM XO, with a Thomson cockpit, Terry saddle, and a Salsa carbon handlebar. The real star of the show is of course the HED Big Deal carbon fat bike rims laced to I9 hubs. They’re stupid light, tubeless compatible, and a little known benefit of carbon rims is that unlike alloy, snow doesn’t stick to them. Which is very sweet when the white stuff gets a bit wet.
Check it out!
I’ve wasted far too much time already not watching this!