It arguably began with Payson McElveen’s Red Bull video in 2019. Then, the lack of racing during the pandemic helped make it a hot spot in 2020.
For years, tackling the 100-mile White Loop loop in Utah has been a bucket list thing for many mountain bikers. For some, it’s a multi-day backpacking adventure. For others, completing it in one day is a challenge. For yet others, racing it self-supported to achieve the Fastest Known Time, or FKT, became the quest.
But while the loop just west of Moab has long existed, there wasn’t an agreed-upon start and finish for a timed pursuit.
“It is arguably the most famous marathon loop in the country,” McElveen said in a 2019 film. ” It is such a legendary loop that you get all of these myths about what’s been fastest.”
For his effort, McElveen started where most recreational riders do, at a paved high point, instead of where would be tactically the fastest.
After McElveen set the record at 5:45:16 in 2019, Quinn Simmons went out and set a faster time on the loop but starting from a different spot. Then Keegan Swenson went out at did it on McElveen’s route, with a faster time than both Simmons and McElveen, and arguably solidified that route — White Rim in One Night on Strava — as the one.
Since October, there have been at least 11 attempts, with the women’s record shifting four times.
On October 21, Reese Ruland of The Pro’s Closet set the best time after her friend George Simpson targeted the FKT and invited her along.
“I was like, ‘Great, I don’t mountain bike, but okay,’” Ruland said. “Being an ultra-runner, I knew friends who had run it.”
Ruland borrowed a Santa Cruz Blur, made a few adjustments, and did a few trial runs on the bike before her attempt, which set the record at 7:17:51.
She suffered some nerve pain during the ride, but said she ultimately appreciated the challenge. Simmons’ effort of 5:47:05 slotted him into third behind Swenson and McElveen.
Days later, pro mountain biker Alexis Skarda set the new women’s FKT at 6:57:17 on October 31.
“I had the White Rim on my 2020 calendar before the pandemic happened,” Skarda said. “This was something close to home that I thought would be a cool challenge ever since I saw Payson’s video. When COVID hit, at first I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to go for epic independent FKT rides like this in the spring. It became apparent pretty quick that things with the virus were really serious and it wasn’t an appropriate time to travel. I decided to hold off until it was safe to travel again. It’s too hot in the desert to do a ride like that in the summer, so fall seemed like the perfect time to go for it.”
Skarda didn’t use Strava Live Segments, but instead just used her computer’s timer and a few midpoint checks to monitor her progress.
“I didn’t want to stress out too much about getting a certain time for each segment and [instead] just pace more by feel and ride hard,” said Skarda, who targeted the FKT with a sub-7-hour goal. “I knew this was going to be a tough challenge and there wouldn’t be much room for error. Since these long efforts aren’t what I normally train for and I’ve never ridden the White Rim, I wasn’t sure what I was capable of out there. Not knowing what to expect on the route actually ended up making the time go by quicker because everything was a surprise.”
Last week, McElveen drove to White Rim almost on a whim to give it another crack, and finished in 5:33:58, just behind Swenson’s FKT of 5:30:21.
Pete Stetina has made the White Rim FKT a target of his season, and has completed the attempt but not yet uploaded his ride. Contacted for this story, Stetina would only say that he came within seconds of Swenson, but wouldn’t say whether he beat the U.S. cross-country champion or fell just short. His effort will be released tomorrow.