Yes, Someone Really Did Race Kona on a Fat Tire Bike
With a bike split of 6:57:22 and an overall finishing time of 13:19:38, Audrey Maheu accomplished what she set out to do in Kona: prove that it’s possible to be fast and have fun.
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24 hours before the first day of racing in the 2022 Ironman World Championship, more than 2,500 athletes lined up along Kona’s Palani Road to check their bikes into transition. There were athletes with shiny new Cervelos and Canyons, tried-and-true setups from Trek and Felt, and even a few old-school Kuotas.
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There was also one bike that didn’t fit any category – a black Giant Yukon bedecked with yellow smiley faces, fat tires, a front basket, and stuffed animals hanging from the saddle. The only thing that even remotely resembled the other bikes in transition was the aerobars set up in the cockpit.
As Audrey Maheu wheeled the unconventional ride through transition, everyone stopped and stared. Was she really riding that bike in a triathlon – the Ironman World Championship, at that?
Yes, she was. And yes, she did. With a bike split of 6:57:22 and an overall finishing time of 13:19:38, Maheu accomplished what she set out to do: prove that it’s possible to be fast and have fun.
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The unconventional setup was born out of pandemic boredom turned pandemic ingenuity. Maheu, who had qualified for her third Ironman World Championships by winning her age group at the 2019 Ironman South American Championships in Argentina, had every intention of traveling to the Big Island with her trusty Cannondale Slice RS. But when the 2020 race was postponed, then canceled due to COVID travel restrictions, Maheu was forced to rediscover her relationship with triathlon.
“The world shut down, and I realized that with races canceled, I really enjoyed training for the pure joy of the sport,” Maheu says. “It didn’t matter to me if there wasn’t a red carpet to run across, cheering spectators, or a podium to stand on at the end of the day. I also realized that my former competitive approach had me training in aero for numerous hours at a time or focusing on my watch for the majority of a run session, which caused me to miss out on a lot of the other joys of training like the beauty of my surrounding and the social component of a group workout.”
The focus shifted from being the best in the world to being the best version of herself. “I learned that I got much more out of this new, different, non-competitive approach, and I had somewhat lost interest in competing for a podium spot,” Maheu says.
While talking with her swimming coach Jimmy Javurek about this realization, she wondered aloud if she should just withdraw from the world championship. Javurek’s response was sarcastic, but also not: If she wanted to have fun, why not have fun in Kona? Heck, why not ride a fat tire bike, just for the heck of it?
Most people would have just laughed at the silliness of the idea and moved on. Not Maheu: “My coach and I sat down with Brian Corcoran, who owns the local Champion Cycling shop [in Jacksonville], and presented the idea to him. Brian generously sponsored me with the Giant Yukon in December 2020 to support the idea, and I began training on it from there.”
Of course, the Giant Yukon rig isn’t a tri-friendly bike – far from it. Rob Bridges, the head mechanic at Cocoran’s shop, worked with Maheu to customize the bike for the race: a modified cassette to accommodate the long climbs in Kona, cutting the handlebars so they fit within the width parameters set by Ironman regulations for bikes and adding aerobars for comfort. Bridges searched high and low for a faster race alternative to the 4.5-inch knobby Maxxis tires that came standard on the bike, and hit the jackpot with Speedster tires. By knocking off 1.5 inches in width and rolling on a more slick tread, the yellow Speedsters made Maheu feel like she was riding her tri bike again.
But those weren’t the only modifications made to the bike. As race day drew closer, Maheu decided to double down on the fun factor: “A basket was added first to accommodate all my snacks – PB&J sandwiches, Pop-Tarts, and pickle juice,” she says. “Then the cup holder, bell, and streamers were added, mainly just because they add to the fun. But I did discover on a training ride that the cup holder perfectly fits a pint of ice cream! In Kona, it fit the bottles of Coca Cola perfectly.”
As one can imagine, preparing for a race like Kona on a fat tire bike comes with its challenges. After training through a few flat tires, she learned CO2 cartridges just didn’t suffice to air up the fat tires. To carry a pump instead, she installed a rack on the back of the bike. As a joke, a friend built her a Snoopy doghouse to contain the pump and tool kit, so Maheu decided to bring a stuffed Snoopy and Woodstock along as co-pliots.
“I took the rack and doghouse off to transport the bike to Kona, and put the tool kit and pump into the smiley bag behind the saddle instead,” Maheu says. “But I couldn’t leave Snoopy and Woodstock at home after the thousands of miles that they rode with me in training, so that’s how they ended up zip tied to the back of my saddle during the race.”
On race day, Maheu was most definitely the talk of the town – throughout the day, spectators were overheard talking about what they had just seen: “Was that someone riding a fat bike? With Snoopy on the back?”
Maheu loved every second. “I raced Kona twice before in 2017 and 2019, taking a more serious approach. This was my first fat tire race in Kona, and it ended up being the most fun Kona experience.”
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