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Extreme GJ athlete turns passion for mountain biking into busy career

Caitlin Row
crow@gjfreepress.com
Mountain biker Mike Curiak taking on the Iditarod challenge — on a mountain bike with no support or assisted rest or warm-up stops! Pictured is Curiak on the frozen Yukon River between Ruby and Galena, Alaska. Temperatures dropped to below minus 40 degrees at times.
Submitted photo |

MIKE CURIAK’S NOTABLE ACCOMPLISHMENTS

2009 - Mountain Bike Hall of Fame Nomination

2005 - 350-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational

1st place, course record at 3 days, 6 hours.

2004 - Great Divide Race

1st place, course record at 16 days, 57 minutes.

2004 - Kokopelli Trail Race

1st place, new course record 14:17.

2003 - 340-mile Grand Loop

1st place, new course record 74 hours, 37 minutes.

2003 - Kokopelli Trail Race

1st place, course record at 16:00.

2002 - 1100-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational

Historic route across Alaska in just over 17 days.

2000 - Iditasport Impossible

Curiak’s 15-day time was more than six days faster than the previous record. It remains the World Record for human-powered travel on the Iditarod Trail.

SOURCE: http://www.lacemine29.com

When Mike Curiak landed in Crested Butte with snow on the brain more than two decades ago, the aspiring lawyer changed course all together.

One winter ski bummin’ turned into seven, he became a professional mountain biker instead of a law school grad, moved to Grand Junction, set a world record in Alaska, and was instrumental in starting two of the most over-the-top mountain bike races in North America (Kokopelli Trail Race & Great Divide Race).

“My goal as a racer was to create something that was rewarding to prepare for, to compete in, and something that we really weren’t sure we could finish,” Curiak said.

Now the 43-year-old Grand Junction athlete-turned-businessman owns and runs Big Wheels, a web-based specialty biz producing custom bike wheels, 29 inches and up, for cyclists around the globe.

“I’ve been at the forefront of that movement,” Curiak noted. “Not just designing them, but building them and testing them out.”

“Wheels are built one at a time, by hand, starting from a handful of components carefully chosen to match the needs of the end user,” he added.

Until recently, mountain bike wheels most often fell into the 26-inch category, but Curiak said he’s working hard to see that standard change through his Grand Junction-based shop, located at 2497 Power Road, suite 5.

“A 29-inch wheel doesn’t fall into a 27-inch hole,” he explained, with business for these larger wheels “exploding over the last few years.”

Plus, bigger wheels are meant for mountain bikes and fat bikes used in snow, a subject Curiak certainly knows a lot about. That’s because his main focus for years was to compete in punishing, long-distance bike races in all-weather conditions, such as the Iditabike, which is held every February in Alaska over miles of snowy terrain. He’s done it annually for 16 years, with last winter being his final trek … for now.

“It’s more of an adventure than a race,” Curiak said of the grueling Iditabike, with routes spanning 330-1,000 miles across snowy tundra. “I’ve done it every way I can imagine, and I’m now ready for new experiences.”

Though Curiak has refocused his energy toward business and no longer competes at the pro level, he still hits the trails regularly, especially around western Colorado.

“It’s a good way to refresh your perspective on where you are, what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it,” he said of his mountain biking passion, with cold weather never being a deterrent.

Curiak, in fact, chooses to ride the same trails year-in, year-out throughout the Grand Valley: “It doesn’t need to stop when the snow flies.”

But he does amend his schedule a bit.

“In winter, I generally ride after sunset. Trails turn to soup in late morning or early afternoon.”

And when there’s lots of snow on the Grand Mesa, Curiak still pulls out his competition fat bike.

“The most fun place I’ve ridden in the valley on fat tires is a short ride called West Bench Trail on top of the Grand Mesa,” which is found near Powderhorn Mountain Resort.

According to Curiak, West Bench is low-intermediate, out and back, and popular enough that it gets packed down quickly after a snow storm.

“Riding any kind of snow, there’s a steep learning curve to know how much tire pressure is needed to float on top of it,” he said. “It used to be learning by doing, but now there are so many websites and blogs with people sharing their mistakes so you can learn before doing it.”

Curiak suggests visiting http://www.fat-bike.com for snow-bike tips. And to check out Big Wheels, visit his website at http://www.lacemine29.com.


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