“I went out and rode my bike out in the state forests… I ended up in Kalkaska and thought, ‘Man, we should make a point-to-point bike race,’” said Brown.
The event made its debut in 1990. Brown chose the first weekend in November, which slotted in nicely between tourist season and deer-hunting season. All of 35 people participated.
“I charged them $5,” said Brown. “I bought hamburgers and buns and I cooked hamburgers for them.”
The event was low key, not even really a race. There were no sponsors, no prize list.
This year, more than 12,000 people attended, 5,000 of them racers. And there was a sizable prize purse — more than $50,000 — with equal payouts for men and women.
“Every year… it has gotten more and more complicated. It’s insane now,” said Brown in the days leading up to the event. “People ask me, ‘Do you race it?’ I get five hours of sleep this entire week trying to stay one step ahead of everyone else.”
The race now attracts racers of all levels, from beginners to professionals. This year a pair of Olympians took top honors in the elite races — Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek) and London Olympic bronze medalist Georgia Gould (Luna). Olympians took the runner-up sports, too — Canadians Emily Batty (Subaru-Trek) and Geoff Kabush (Scott 3Rox Racing).
“It’s one of my favorite races that we get to go to. It’s so cool. And everyone is so excited,” said Schultz. “Racing in the nastiest conditions possible and I’m super happy to do it. The expo is super fun. We signed posters there and it’s a place where the line never diminishes. Everyone is just so psyched on mountain biking here.”
The finish line at the Timber Ride Resort is also a small festival. There are taps with a steady supply of beer from title sponsor Bell’s Beer, as well as food and campfires for the early finishers as they wait for the pros to arrive later in the afternoon.
“They are the ones having fun. They are the ones that have created this mystique,” said Brown. “It is just a bike race, but with everybody else, they have turned it into a festival. I’m just trying to make it all work. And that’s the fun part.”
Brown’s hard work pays off for the athletes, according to rider Bryan Underwood (Hometown Bicycles). The 22-year-old from Davisburg, Michigan, has been racing Iceman for five years and this year tackled the men’s pro race, finishing 58th.
“Iceman is an event unlike any other,” he said. “It’s an American mountain-bike classic with the best atmosphere one could ask for from a race. Steve Brown and his volunteers have a deep passion for his race and it shows. That’s what makes this event top notch and keeps me coming back. I will continue to do this race until the day I can no longer ride a bike.”