The Fat Biking Triple Crown – an Interview with Matt Drake

Bike Blog 1Last spring, we interviewed Short’s COO Matt Drake about his love of mountain biking and how it has inspired Short’s support for local trail initiatives.  Now that the regular mountain biking season is over, and we are gearing up for the Short’s Brewing Company Fat Bike Series, we checked back in with Matt to find out what’s been going on.  

Welcome back to our blog, Matt!

It’s nice to be back.  Thanks for having me.

How did your mountain bike season go after the Long & Short’s ride this spring?

It went really well.  Joe Short, Brian Beckwith (Short’s CFO), and I all successfully completed three of the largest point-to-point mountain bike races in the midwest.  Ore to Shore, the Chequamegon 40, and the Iceman Cometh Challenge.  (Pumps fist in the air triumphantly.)

What inspired you to compete in these races?

These three races used to be regarded as the Midwest Triple Crown.  Completing all three of them in one year was something that I always wanted to do, but never had the time.  This year, the schedule worked out, so we seized the opportunity.  I was also inspired by becoming a dad to get into better shape and have a better work-life balance.

What makes each race unique?

Each race is a long, point-to-point race, meaning that it starts in one place and ends somewhere else, several miles away. The first race is Ore to Shore, a 48 mile race in the Marquette, Michigan area.  The second race is the Chequamegon 40, a 40 mile race near Hayward, Wisconsin.  The third and final race is the Iceman Cometh Challenge, which is a 29 miler* near Traverse City.  (*Actual distance more like 34 miles).

Did you win these races?

Honestly, no.  Not even close.  

So, if you aren’t riding to win, what’s the point?

Well, it’s the same as running a marathon or competing in any “epic” athletic event.  You just want to know if you can do it.  You want something to inspire you to push yourself further than you normally would.  My goal is to perform better than average for my age category.  To be in the top half of a competitive group of cyclists is alright for a 200 pound guy who works at a brewery and refuses to stop drinking beer or go on a strict training diet.  

What is your favorite thing about each race? What is the most challenging aspect of each?

Ore to Shore is my favorite race because I love the U.P.  The length of Ore to Shore (48 miles) combined with rugged terrain and hot and humid weather make it a real challenge.  The Chequamegon 40 takes place in beautiful northwestern Wisconsin.  The most challenging aspect is that it contains countless, unrelenting climbs that increase in intensity as the race nears the finish.  Eventually, it just wears you down.  The Iceman race here in northern Michigan is challenging due to the onset of winter weather conditions.  I’ve ridden that event in snow, rain, mud, and extreme cold.  These conditions take a big toll on the body, the bike, and the mind.

What is it like to compete in these events?

You start out in a big group of people, riding shoulder to shoulder.  Everyone is filled with nervous energy.  When the gun goes off, you just feel pulled forward by competitive energy.  You’re going as fast as you can, even though there are so many miles to go.  You see people crash, have mechanical issues, or just wear out and stop on the side of the trail.   You just want to keep going and finish.  As the race progresses, the crowd thins out and you find yourself alone in the woods, pushing yourself.  For me, personally, I seem to go beyond what I would normally be capable of doing, digging deep, harnessing some kind of primitive, subconscious drive.  I like it.  Nothing else gives me that feeling.

What was the toughest event this year?

Definitely the Iceman due to the weather and trail conditions.  We had a little bit of snow the night before, but then during the race it was just slightly above freezing and pouring down rain.  The trail consisted of sloppy mud the whole way.  Due to logging, an extra session of trail was added, making the race 36 miles instead of the advertised 29.  The extra miles came in the first half of the race, so it felt like I was behind schedule, even though I was performing very competitively.  I just remember feeling wet, cold, and defeated.  Then my brakes failed, my chain started to repeatedly derail due to mud, and basically I just wanted to quit.  But, I didn’t.  And I ended up doing pretty well, relatively speaking.  I had so much sand and mud in my eye sockets that I continued to find sand seeping out of the corners of my eyes for 3 days after the race.  

When did you first take up the sport of Mountain Biking?

Officially, in 1990.  I had to work for my dad doing odd jobs in order to earn my first mountain bike: a $300 Schwinn High Plains.  It would have taken me forever to afford a better bike.  Before that, I rode my original BMX bike that I got when I was in kindergarten. I always thought of mountain bikes as BMX bikes for grown ups.  I lived in the country and rode my bike as a means of transportation and entertainment all rolled into one.  We also made a lot of ramps using materials like cinder blocks and plywood, like Napoleon Dynamite and Pedro.  

How has Short’s supported mountain biking this year?

As a company, we’ve supported mountain biking in many ways this year. These include sponsoring the NMMBA Long & Short’s Ride, sponsoring the Tailwind “Glacial Hills of Bellaire” Race, sponsoring the Vasa Festival of Races (including a winter fat bike race), sponsoring the Short’s Brewing Co. Fat Bike Series, and providing a donation of $7,000 from Short’s (that was matched by Rotary Charities of Traverse City) to purchase a grooming snowmobile for NMMBA.

Can you tell us a little about the Short’s Brewing Fat Bike Series taking place this winter?

We’re working with our friends at Einstein Cycles to put on the Short’s Brewing Fat Bike Series – four amazing fat bike events taking place this winter (2014-2015) in Northern Michigan.  We at Short’s believe that the outdoor fun shouldn’t stop when the snow falls! The races in this series are The Thirst Mutilator Fat Bike Race, Fat Chance! at Crystal Mountain, The ControversiALE Fat Bike Race, and The Beard of Zeus Fat Bike Race.  These races are open to riders of all experience level and, of course, there will be beer!

Bike Blog 3Why do you feel it is so important to support mountain biking in Northern Michigan?

For northern Michigan to continue to attract young professionals who want to live and work in a great place, we need to have the type of recreational opportunities here that can compete with other parts of the United States.  This region has the landscape to be a world class recreational hub, but we do not yet have the support or the trails systems to take it to the next level.  We hope to build a community of like minded individuals, non-profit organizations, and businesses to change that.

Thanks for speaking with us, Matt! We look forward to hearing from you again, soon.

Check out these links for more information about Einstein Cycles, Short’s Brewing Company, and the Short’s Brewing Fat Bike Series.