I met Ben for the first time pedaling the first few miles of the Fat Pursuit, and we ended up riding about 50 miles together. Ben was a hammer when he was up front, and at one point in the race, I was worried I couldn’t keep up with him. In the short time chatting, I could tell he had a lot of experience and knowledge in the winter ultra game, so I decided to have him answer a few questions for us. I hope you can enjoy and take a few pieces of advice from this article.
Cover photo by: Petr Ineman
Hometown: St. Cloud, MN
How the heck did you get such a cool last name?
Ha! It’s Belgian…wish it made me fast like some Belgian riders!
What do you do for a living? How did you get into that profession?
I’m co-owner of a bike shop, Revolution Cycle and Ski. I started at a shop in high school, worked there through college, stuck around after college, that place closed so we opened our own shop.
How long have you been riding bikes?
Like most I rode bikes a lot as a kid. I saved money doing farm labor for two summers to buy my first mountain bike in 1989. I guess since then it’s only progressed. I held off on getting a fat bike right away. I wanted to make sure it was something I would ride. I eventually pulled the plug on a Surly Pugsley in 2010 I think.
What bikes do you currently own?
Seven Evergreen SL
Seven Axiom SL
Salsa Mukluk Carbon, mostly custom build
Salsa Ti Selma Single Speed
Salsa Ti La Cruz
Surly Cross Check
Salsa Carbon Spearfish
All City Nature Boy
Plus a few random bikes here and there. I’m looking to move a few of these. I’d like to get a Salsa Woodsmoke!
When did you start racing these ultra endurance events?
I like to ride, and some may say a lot. I’m not super fast at the short stuff, although it can be fun, but for the most part I can go all day. So as ultra events became more and more popular I was drawn to them. I don’t know for sure when this happened but it was close to the same time that gravel races started to pop up. 100 miles on gravel several years ago seemed crazy to me. Now it can be a training ride.
You have done a lot of winter ultra events, why?
I’m not sure what counts as a lot but yes I have done several.
Arrowhead 135 5 times (1 a DNF)
Tuscobia I think 5 or 6 times
Fat Pursuit 2 times (1 a DNF)
ITI 350 once
I like that not many people do them. I like the challenge they provide both physically and mentally. Accomplishing a winter ultra provides a great feeling. The people that do these are pretty like minded so the people are great too.
Which one is your favorite, and which one do you think is the most difficult?
I like them all for their own characteristics, but I have to say the Arrowhead Ultra is my favorite. It was my first winter ultra and it’s to blame for getting me hooked!
The Fat Pursuit is also a favorite but it requires a bit more planning and money saving. For me it’s also the hardest. It’s at altitude so being from a low state that provides a challenge right away. But more than that it’s the different weather systems that the mountains can toss at you. Cold, warm, blizzards, rain, and wind…all in one race!
The ITI I’m sure has had harder years, but my year was a low snow year with warm temps. The distance was the hard part.
Let’s dive into some of the gear you use on these rides. What are your thoughts on pogies and glove systems for warm and cold temperatures?
I get cold hands, easily. I used to ice climb and I did some damage to my hands then, so I always use pogies. I have several versions but my favorite are the Revelate Expedition. I’ve tried gloves or mittens in the past but when you try to eat or use your hands you have to remove a glove and hopefully not drop it. For me pogies are the bomb.
Do you use one boot for all rides or trade some in when temps dip below -15?
My go-to boot is the 45 NRTH Wolvhammer but I do have the Wolfgar and prefer it if the temperature allows for it. It is a warm boot so it works better in cooler temperatures. Everyone is so different with their hands and feet and what they require to stay comfortable. It’s really trial and error to figure out works best for you.
What does your sock system look like, and do you use a vapor barrier on your feet?
Most typically I use a CEP merino wool compression sock with a thick wool sock over it. I use this in both boots. I’ve tried vapor barriers before but did not like how they made my feet feel. I will be trying vapor barriers again as I DNF’d this year at the Fat Pursuit from wet, then cold, feet.
I have trouble with my forearms getting too cold. How do you keep your core from sweating too much while keeping your arms warm?
I’m a sweater! I dress as lightly as I can. Sometimes my forearms do get cold but it has never been much of an issue before. I have seen some riders (Kevin Breitenbach of Alaska) cut the foot section off of socks and slide them over their arms. Easily put on or removed.
What does your pants layering system look like?
I use regular bike bib shorts with a bib tight over. The bib tight has windproof material. I’ve yet to find a riding pant that works well for me. I’ve tried a few and have had issues. My mom sews really well so may have her make me some.
What do you think the most important thing is for riding in sub zero temperatures, same with near freezing temperatures?
Not overheating and getting wet. Man I’ve done this on training rides and ignored it as it wasn’t going to be an all day ride…I’ve never been colder. Also trying many different clothing options out and finding what works for you. I’ve tried what others use and love and it sucked for me. Find your balance.
Do you typically ride tubeless? Have you had it fail in cold temperatures?
Now, yes. But I was hesitant to make the leap. Since making the jump I haven’t had issues.
Gearing preferences are always changing with different events. What does your gearing look like?
I love the 1X setup. It’s clean and works. I built my Salsa Mukluk up with a Sram Eagle with a Wolftooth 28 chainring up front – so 28 x 10-50.
Training and the Fat Pursuit
What does your training look like before a race? How do you balance all of that with helping raise your family?
I’m a bit of a nut so I don’t have a prescribed training program. If I was scheduled to do a certain type of ride for a certain amount of time and I couldn’t I would be a mental mess. Thus I ride with what I feel is right and is fun. What the heck, it has to be fun. I try to pile on the miles when I can and get in some speed type work in too. Prior to an event I will taper but keep riding, just less.
It’s a juggling act for sure with a family and a business. In the summer it’s a lot of early mornings while during the school year it’s later nights. My wife is amazing and really helps me figure out riding times, etc.
How do you test your cold weather gear?
By using it as much as I can. Living in MN helps as it can get pretty cold at times.
Tell us your highs and lows of this year’s Fat Pursuit.
The highs of the fat pursuit, or any race, are the people. I’ve met some amazing people over the years at these type of events. That’s a huge reason why I keep going back.
Even though my race was cut short I had a blast. I love the course and I was feeling great for a good portion of my ride.
The low was realizing I messed up and my feet, socks, and boot liners were wet. I know better and assumed I would be fine without vapor barrier socks. When it’s 40 below you assume nothing. I messed up and this still bugs me, but we learn from mistakes and I have all my toes. Next time…next year!
Will you be back?
Oh hell yes. Shooting for next year.
Who would you like to thank?
I always have to thank my wife and kids. They travel to many races with me and put up with my crazy rides. Also my parents and in-laws. They help out if I’m not around but they also provide tremendous support. I’m not “sponsored” by anyone really but I get help (owning a shop helps!) so I thank all those people: Salsa, Hed, Podium Wear, Giro, and Onyx Hubs.
Good Luck at the Arrowhead, Ben! Check out his blog here.