There is a plan afoot to launch fat bike races on the beach at Peters Point this fall.
Ideal for navigating snow, the mountain bikes with cartoonish tires at least four-inches wide, are also perfect for traveling on sand. And now, for (pedal) pushing local tourism.
According to the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council, Fat Cross Amelia Island is planned for Oct. 14, which is midway through a slower month for tourism. The event is expected to attract 150 to 200 participants as well as spectators, “which we hope will fill hotel and vacation rental rooms during the need period in October,” according to AITDC communication with the county manager’s office. Event details were submitted with the agenda for the meeting held Monday.
The course would be a one-mile loop with races at eight, 16, and 24 miles, said the AITDC.
Planning has been in the works for weeks, though official sign-off awaits agreement between the County Commission, the AITDC, and organizer Set Up Events, based in Wilmington, North Carolina. The company produces triathlons, running and swim events and handled more than 50 races in North Carolina and South Carolina in 2016.
Initial plans had the races at Main Beach in Fernandina Beach, according to a Special Event permit request, which was later dropped. The AITDC said Set Up Events preferred the county beach at Peters Point for its parking area.
Lots of sand will move to create the course. Stainless steel beer kegs, sandbags, and rubber tires are expected to be buried in the sand and digging is expected to reach up to two feet. Kegs, held in place with sandbags, would create the base for mounds and cyclists would weave around tire obstacles. The work, said the AITDC, was “much like a kid building a sand castle.”
Except for the excavator. Set Up Events Owner Andrew Silberisen said the company will need one to dig into the sand. He said the company plans to leave the beach in the same condition as it was found. “If not better,” he said by phone Thursday.
AITDC Marketing Director Amy Lacroix Boek said environmental organizations have been contacted about the races. Ms. Boek said tourism officials have coordinated with the Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“No one had any issue with the event and no permits were required, but we’ll continue to communicate with each,” she said by email.
Ms. Boek said all set-up and break-down for the race will take place on race day and: “Nothing stays on the beach overnight.”
City of Fernandina Beach Commissioner Len Kreger, a local environmentalist and sea turtle watcher, said the AISTW did indeed approve of the event and steps will be taken to protect the turtles.
“It is late in the (nesting) season and there will be no equipment remaining on the beach overnight,” he said. “Any nests in the area will also be protected with a significant barrier.”
Mr. Kreger, who is working with city staff to write and adopt a Beach and Dunes Management Plan, said the ‘Leave No Trace’ ordinance, effective for beaches within the city limits and county beaches on Amelia Island, offers further protections.
While the ordinance prohibits leaving any item on the beach overnight, the county currently allows overnight beach camping, including sites with tents and chairs, without permits, according to the County Manager’s office.
Set Up Events is hoping to build a series of qualifying races for the U.S. Open Fat Bike Beach Championships in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. The company handles the stopwatch (timing) for the championships, but Shawn Spencer, the owner of a local bike shop, organizes and chairs the event, which is scheduled to hold its fourth annual race in 2018 on St. Patrick’s Day.
“It’s exciting they’re cranking up a race down there,” said Mr. Spencer about the event proposed for Amelia Island. “But the only championship is here.”
Mr. Spencer thinks Amelia Island is a great location for fat bike races. He knows the beach. His father lives in the area. “It’s ideal,” he said.
Mr. Spencer said he holds his race in March because it is a “shoulder” month for tourism. The races, he said, help fill hotel rooms at a slow time. He then offered an industry axiom: “It’s heads in beds.”
He said sponsorships are essential to a successful event and recommended partnerships with a resort, a local bike shop, and a local non-profit organization. (The AITDC has recently discussed creating a non-profit to support local beaches.) Having a national brand on-board helps too, he said. Spencer has Red Bull. The AITDC said no sponsorships are being pursued until county approval is finalized.
For Mr. Spencer, set-up begins at dawn and the races begin at noon. Obstacles, such as tires and metal ramps, are placed on the course, he said, and pits are dug into the sand to make the race challenging. He said the high school lacrosse team helps smooth out the beach at the end of the day.
Mr. Spencer said about 150 people participate in the race and the average cyclists is 46 years old. “The first year, the first 20 people who signed up were an average age of 56,” he said. That fits with tourist demographics. The AITDC said the average visitor is in their early 50s and has a six-figure household income.
Fat bikes are expensive. Drew Carver, owner of Super Corsa Cycles at 4925 S. Fletcher Ave., said they range in price from $1,000 to $8,000. “They are great bikes,” he said.
Mr. Carver said he had not heard about the event but he would like to be involved. He also thinks the American Beach Museum would be an ideal non-profit partner.
“It sounds great. Tell them to call me,” he said. “I’ll call them.”