If you’ve ever met Josh Kline, you know he’s a guy with a lot of positive energy. When he walks into the Higher Gear shop, it’s like a whirlwind of laughter and smiles has come and gone before you know what hit you.
Sadly, for us, Josh and his family headed for the hills of central Indiana a couple years ago. While he no longer pops in on his bike for a snack before a long ride or an adjustment on his way home, Josh remains a loyal Higher Gear customer.
Josh recently purchased a fat bike* from Higher Gear, which we built up and shipped to him. We thought we’d catch up with him to see how he’s been enjoying his winter rolling on fat tires. “I love it,” says Josh of his Surly. “For what you’re paying and what you get, it’s a good value. It has great componentry, feel and fit.”
This winter is taking its toll on all of us. When Josh just couldn’t take it any more, he decided to embrace it. “I got the fat bike to look forward to snow.” Now, when Josh sees snow in the forecast, instead of getting bummed out, he knows he can tackle the gift from Mother Nature on balloon tires.
“In my mind, I could rationalize [purchasing a fat bike] if I could get out on it ten times a year. This winter, we’ve been fortunate. I could get on it more.”
But, it’s not just the snow that’s calling to Josh. “Within fifteen minutes of my house, there are gravel roads that go forever. There are walking trails in the woods by me that intersect with the gravel roads. Even when the snow isn’t there, I know I can go out and enjoy myself on the bike, even in the summer.”
Josh got into cycling several years ago when his friend Todd Ricketts dropped a bike off at his house and told him, “We’re going to race next weekend. I’ll tell you about it later.” That race happened to be a cyclocross race, part of the Chicago Cyclocross Cup series. “I think I came second to last, but I was foolish enough to stick with biking after that.”
Since that baptism-by-fire, Josh has embraced cycling – everything from road riding to mountain biking and even the sometimes quirkier subcultures in between, like time-trialing, cyclocross and fat bike racing.
This winter has been a tough training one for Josh. His work involves a lot of travel and his schedule has been even more intense as of late. But this hasn’t thrown his training off course. Josh has been working with coach Geoff Chandler to maximize his workouts. “I’m putting in thirty percent less training time than I did last winter,” but, with focused workouts, Josh hasn’t missed a beat.
“My strength is where it was when cyclocross season ended.” Josh is proud to acknowledge that he came in the top ten in his last cyclocross race of the season. “Everything I do on bike is very specific. I don’t put in any junk miles. Each week, I try to manage six hours of specific work on the bike. All of it is on the CompuTrainer.”
Rather than always take his bike on the road with him, Josh’s coach has him supplementing his training with running – to keep up his endurance while he’s away from the bike. “I’m running a couple times a week. Last week, I was out in Santa Clara for four days without a bike, so I ran four days and got fourteen miles in, which is a bunch for me.”
Josh adds, “I’m just riding the trainer and running. I’m not doing any specific core work. Just riding the bike & running. And I haven’t been outdoors much.” Now, with his fat bike, he’s getting out maybe once or twice a week, when his schedule allows. “I got my work done this morning on the trainer. Tonight, I’ll get out for a night ride on the fat bike after the kids go to bed.”
Without any loss in strength, even with his busy schedule, Josh is going into this weekend “feeling fine, feeling refreshed.” And, what is this weekend, you ask? This weekend, Josh will toe the line with a friend at the start of the Sub-9 Death March. The Death March is a self-supported cycling race where teams of two race to a select list of historical cemeteries in and around the Hoosier National Forest.
This will be Josh and his friend’s third year racing this event, which is part of a series which also includes the Brown County Breakdown and the Sub-9 Gravel Grovel, a race over Thanksgiving weekend that is part of a national gravel series.
The “Sub-9” in the title refers to the 9ft clearance height of the many bridges in the area that will be crossed during the races. Vehicles venturing in to the state and national forests must be able to pass beneath the height of the bridges in order to access some of the regions fabled trail.
According to Josh, the Death March features a mass start last year, about 100 wide, four deep. After a sprint start, riders crossed over a field and went through a wide creek, “which is interesting because it’s cold” and because riders had to continue the day with wet feet. “Last year’s creek fording at the start was a blast and a neat element at the start and finish. Sadly, I think they have the bridge built back up this year.”
Teams are required to reach five mandatory checkpoints, three of which are known in advance. The other two are drawn from hat and announced at the start in the morning. Teams can use any route and visit checkpoints in any order. They can earn bonus time by visiting additional checkpoints along the way.
As he points out, this race is all about strategy. “Riders can hit all the checkpoints, get in a great workout and get a top ten finish, with all the time bonuses they receive from the extra checkpoints. Or they can skip checkpoints, and just go for the mandatory ones as quickly as possible and still fare well.”
Josh explains that you could spend thirty minutes to get to a checkpoint with only a 25-minute time bonus. Teams need to decide which approach they want to use to tackle the race. “When adjusted, both approaches will hit within twenty to thirty minutes of each other. It’s all about strategy.”
Once the final mandatory checkpoints are announced at the start, riders have a few minutes to plan their route. “You can often hear a lot of bickering going on during the start of the ride and on course,” Josh says.
Teams encounter a combination of gravel roads, rugged back-country mountain bike trail, unmaintained country roads and some pavement interspersed throughout the Hoosier National Forest. They’ll cover an estimated 60 – 80 miles. Last year, Josh said the route he and his teammate took ended up being about 55 miles, with about 15 miles of asphalt along the way.
Josh will bring both his 29er and his fat bike down for the race and decide which to ride based on conditions. “It gets super sloppy once the trails start to thaw out this time of year,” and that’s where the fat bike could have an advantage. But it would be a dog on the roads and gravel climbs. Strategy this year might be to hit the trail sections in the morning when they are still frozen and then work gravel and roads in the afternoon.”
“We’re supposed to get six inches of snow before the weekend, then it’s supposed to get up to fifty degrees on Friday. What’s left will freeze overnight and then melt for the race.” Josh will weigh the benefits of having a fat bike to get through the sloppy bits against having the disadvantage of having a fat bike on the fifteen miles of asphalt and the 6,000 feet of climbing, with grades up to 18%, he could face. “There are lots of variables. It’s too much to think about [without seeing the conditions at the start]”, says Josh.
Josh says the fat bike has an advantage in sloppy conditions, in freshly fallen snow, when there is snow on gravel and in packed snow. “When there’s packed snow on gravel, you can really cruise, you can really move on it. I was going down a hill at twenty miles per hour on packed snow.”
He is pleased with the components on his Surly frame. “The gearing is awesome. I was concerned about whether there was enough gearing for the weather and terrain. The gearing is well thought out.” But it’s still a heavy bike to get through the terrain. “It’s definitely a Surley ride. It’s a big, steel bike. It’s heavy, but has great rolling weight.”
Since fat biking is still new to the Midwest, a lot of people haven’t seen these bikes before. “When I ride into town, people stop and turn and ask, ‘What is that?’” Josh adds with his trademark laugh, “When unpacking the bike, [my wife] asked, ‘You bought a motorcycle through the mail?’ because the tires were so wide.”
Josh is no stranger to carrying extra weight on a bike course, just not his own. He’s an ambassador for World Bicycle Relief (WBR), serving as captain of their first local team, Team WBR Indiana. Last year, he coordinated a cocktail party which helped raise $8000 for WBR. With the success of last year’s event and the reputation it’s getting for being a “good, wild party,” in his words, Josh anticipates doubling the attendance for its second year and is shoot to raise $15,000.
Last year, Josh rode a WBR Buffalo Bike in two events: the Wrigley Field Road Tour (WFRT) and in the Red-Bell 100, both fundraisers for WBR. Friends of Higher Gear are familiar with the WFRT. The Red-Bell 100 is a charity ride over 104 miles of low-traveled back roads and trails along the scenic Pacific Northwest coast.
Josh managed to ride the WFRT century in 6:15 on a modified version of the Buffalo Bike, that included Zipp wheels and a three-speed hub, weighing in at 45 pounds. In Washington state, where the route included 4300 feet of climbing, Josh pulled off riding in 6:50 on a single-speed Buffalo Bike weighing the full 53 pounds.
For 2014, Josh will ride the Buffalo Bicycle again in those two events. He will also ride it in the Single Speed CX World Championship Race in Louisville.
Josh says he uses these events as “fun ways to get the word out” about WBR and Team WBR Indiana.
When he’s not on the Buffalo Bike, Josh plans to devote more time to mountain biking this summer. He has plans to do a six-hour mountain bike ride this summer. He’ll also return to the Indy Cross Cup cyclocross series in the fall.
“I’m flirting with an endurance race, like the Arrowhead 135. It’s one of the top fifty hardest races in the world. This year, it was negative thirty-seven at the race start and the race went all the way through the middle of the night.” Josh adds with glee, “Half-way through, riders had to change in warming tents. They were encased in ice from sweating in the freezing temperatures.” With his infectious laugh, Josh admits, “I think it would be cool to do it, to check it off the list.”
Josh hopes to spend a few days fat biking in Methow Valley, a river valley in Winthrop, WA that has permanent access to fat bikers on cross-country ski trails.
Josh also wants to do a fat bike race next year. For now, he uses his fat bike for running errands and, when time allows, getting in shorter rides during the week. It’s proving to be good training. “The fat bike can make you a better bike handler. You’re doing a lot of squirmy movements – like riding a cyclocross bike through sand. You feel it in core, abs and back when you’re riding through unpacked snow. It’s really hard to keep a line.”
There’s also the cardiovascular benefit. “Your heart rate will be at one hundred sixty for the duration of the ride. When you’re finished, you’ll see your average speed for the ride was six miles per hour. You’re slogging through and it’s tough.”
But, mostly, what Josh appreciates is being able to embrace this otherwise grueling winter. “It’s about being able to get out there.” Josh says, “The neat thing about winter sports is it’s so much quieter. You’re so much more likely to see wildlife. You see more cool things.” Josh adds, “I’ve seen way more deer on the fat bike, probably because I can sneak up on them without the sound of breaking branches or tires on dirt.”
Ultimately, for Josh, the fat bike has allowed him to embrace this never-ending winter with its unceasing polar vortex-snow-warming cycles. “I find myself feeling good about a ten day forecast that has nothing but snow.”
Are you ready to embrace the winter – or the sand – on a fat bike? Come in to Higher Gear and we’ll get you set up.*
* Note: Fat bikes, including the Specialized Fatboy, Surly Pugsley, Surly Moonlander and Salsa Mukluk, are available to order at Higher Gear. These bikes, however, are not always in stock in the shop. If you’re interested in purchasing or test riding one, please contact us.
Learn more about Josh Kline, WBR and Team WBR Indiana:
- Meet all the 2014 WBR Ambassadors.
- Check out Team WBR Indiana.
- Like Team WBR Indiana on Facebook to learn about their fundraising efforts and events.
- Learn more about World Bicycle Relief.
Stay tuned to our website and to Higher Gear’s Facebook page for announcements about the WFRT. Sign up to stay connected with Higher Gear’s weekly newsletter.