We’ve all done it. We see some of the same people at a trailhead from time to time, even recognizing their vehicle or their bike or the skis they snap into, but for whatever reason, we fail to introduce ourselves. Opportunity lost I guess. I’m guilty-I’ll sometimes be in a hurry to just start pedaling or poling and want to be away from the parking lot as quickly as possible. An introduction might include that I’m a trail builder and groomer here and at times I want to be unanimous. Those were mistakes I’d made when I’d see an older gentleman pull up on his bike, take a drink of water from his bottle and load the truck that had long been sitting at the trailhead. Retired, I’d guess (and was correct) with unlimited time to ride. What stopped me when I saw him this winter was the Pugsley he rolled in on- a fellow fatbiker…. Now I needed to walk over and talk riding-sort of the last straw to an introduction.
Rod Villand is a Westby native and has retired from his La Crosse Wisconsin painting business and owns a cabin nearby. A good reason to frequent my home turf of Levis Mound. If anything can become a common kindship, it’s unloading a fatbike and taking it for a spin. The tribe of us fatbikers is still small in number, and I think that is what bonds us yet -and I like that.
I’d heard about Rod from another friend who’d seen him pull up with a small trials motorcycle in the back of his truck-something more rare than fatbikes are to be sure. He’d been a competitive trials rider in the Midwest starting in the mid ‘70s after a stint on dirt bikes prior to that. Mountain bikes first came along in the ‘80’s and he re-called riding those early bullmoose handlebar rigid bikes on the very first trails I began building at Levis Mound. Those trails were rough-we really didn’t know much about trail building then, but they were good enough to make it from his cabin 4 miles away, explore the mounds and return. Even in those days, he was hardcore enough to slap studded tires on his bike and pedal nearby snowmobile trails- “Snowbiking” before snowbiking was cool (pun intended).
Owning and running your own business meant a hiatus from cycling for a number of years, but luckily for myself, his retirement put dirt back under his tires and a new friend on our trails. When asked “why a fatbike?” He said he was just “fascinated by the much larger tires,” which connected him to his motorcycling days. When he speaks of bikes-the pedal or motorcycle variety, there is a kid-like sparkle in his eyes, something I’ve seen often while cruising singletrack together or chatting back at the trailhead. He obviously loves riding-sand, rock, snow….doesn’t matter. A shop from La Crosse let him demo a Pugsley at Levis and that was all it took, he was sold. The thought of riding anywhere, at anytime of year was “very appealing.”
Like any mountain biker, soon tweaks and modifications start popping up on your ride. Most fatbikers depend on, and are happy with the suspension afforded by the big tires, but being 67 years old and still banging off rocks and roots required a little more cush on the front end. A Maveric fork was swapped in for the rigid one and Rod reported a much easier recovery on the shoulders after riding. Seeing as our newly formed winter riding group had just gained a few new bikers, he did have a worry about keeping up with other riders (I think it was a little unfounded-the guy can ride!). He decided the next addition would be a Bionx electric assist on the bike. Although seriously worried it would be “wimpy” to use one, the desire to be able to ride longer and more aggressively won out. “There are 4 settings on the assist, and I figure each one is good for every five years of my age.” The Bionx only kicks in when torque is applied to the pedals, so one still has to ride hard to make it all work. “On the climbs at Levis my tongue would be in the spokes without it!”
There seems to be a friendliness that flows through the fatbike scene and the people that ride them- the big fat tires opening a door to conversation, stories of rides and of trails. It is a connection and for myself, one that got me across the parking lot to meet a new friend. “When you’re retired, you have a lot more time to play, and my fatbike set-up helps me ride consecutive days, with younger friends and hopefully for more years.” I hope so too Rod. Age doesn’t seem to matter, just the love of riding and wanting to get out the door. I won’t make the same mistake of missing those opportunities to meet new people-if anything, introducing myself to Rod cured that and I’m grateful.