This past weekend, the second annual Mike Sterling Memorial Bike Race was held in Talkeetna. Unlike summer events like the Clean Air Challenge or the Big Wild Ride, this race featured a type of bike specially built for ice and snow.
Fat tire bike racing has grown significantly in popularity over the last few years. The bikes are not an uncommon sight in and around Anchorage, and more riders outside of the city are joining in. At last weekend’s race, approximately eighty competitors pedaled their way for twenty, forty, or sixty miles on off-road trails.
The race is named in memory of Talkeetna resident Mike Sterling. Greg Matyas, owner of race sponsor Fatback Bikes, explains how Sterling helped him plan for the first Talkeetna race before his passing in 2013.
“Mike was the sole reason for me coming up and checking out the trails, there. He would talk non-stop about how nice it was,” Matyas said. “I had the pleasure of going up several years ago and seeing it for myself, and I agreed.”
“I spoke with Mike many times about possible courses and distances I had in mind. He made some suggestions, and here we are.”
The race began at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, with temperatures a few degrees below zero. By the afternoon, it had warmed up considerably, and riders who had finished were hanging out on Main Street talking about the beautiful view of Denali afforded by the race’s route as well as the good weather.
Paul Pierce of Anchorage was one of the competitors in the 60-mile division. It is his second year competing in the event, and he had high praise for the trails and groomers.
“It was better than last year. I came up last year and this was far better….You can definitely tell people spent a lot of time out there…real labor of love putting the trail in,” Pierce said. “It’s great. I didn’t really know trails like this existed around Talkeetna until last year. They’re excellent. It would be well worth a trip up here on just about any weekend to check those trails out.”
Pierce has been riding fat tire bikes for about five years. He says his bike, which he proudly describes as one of the original aluminum models produced by Fatback, has changed more than just recreation for him.
“I see a lot of people who are into it just for the novelty of the fat tire. I think if you want to ride your bike up here year-round, you can’t go wrong,” Pierce said. “I was a year-round commuter for ten years, maybe. The first five were on skinny tires. That was commuting, and now it’s riding for fun.”
Fun on the trail is not the only aim of the race, however. After all, Alaska is full of great wilderness rides. Race sponsor Greg Matyas says he and his fellow sponsors like to have the race in Talkeetna because of…Talkeetna.
“The town of Talkeetna is such a fun place to visit, and it lends itself very well to putting on an event like this,” Matyas said. “One of the requirements for me for putting on the race is to end on a high note. For me, that’s not ending in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere. People can cross the finish line and have a beer in their hand within a minute.”
With the race beginning and ending mere feet from the door of race co-sponsor Denali Brewing Company, it’s safe to assume that many riders took the opportunity to do just that.