KURT REFSNIDER AND HIS PIVOT TRAIL 429 ULTRA ENDURANCE RACE SETUP
Meet The Riders And Their Rides
KURT REFSNIDER’S PIVOT TRAIL 429 ULTRA ENDURANCE RACE SETUP
Kurt Refsnider is one of the top ultra-endurance racers in America. He also has a PhD in geology. In fact, he spent six years as a college professor before he decided to put his academic work behind him so he could focus his efforts on being a professional mountain biker and ultra-endurance coach.
Kurt normally rides his Pivot Trail 429 bike at home in Arizona, and that’s the bike we’re featuring in this article, but he will also ride other Pivot bikes when they suit his needs better.
Three years ago, Kurt competed in the Iditarod Trail 350. It’s a multi-day, 350-mile race through the winter snow in the interior of Alaska. For that event, Kurt raced his Pivot LES Fat. It took him a little over four days of racing through the snow in Alaska in temperatures that started out at 20 degrees Fahrenheit with heavy snow on the first day and dropped to -30 degrees for the next couple of days, then dropped as low as -47 degrees in the final days of the race.
Kurt shared his story about competing in that race on Shimano’s website where he said, “I spent the entirety of the race at or near the front, hopping back and forth with veterans Tyson Flaharty and Clinton Hodges, trying my best to conserve energy and take good care of my body. At times, two or three of us moved together through particularly taxing sections—miles of unrideable drifts, heavy winds and occasional zero visibility in the mountains. At other times, we were strung out over a few miles, all in pursuit of one another and pushing hard at a whopping 5 or 6 mph. The elastic finally broke 50 miles from the end when I managed to get away from Tyson and Clinton with a sustained, hard attack on some delightfully firm trail across a long series of swamps. After just over four days of racing, I rolled into McGrath alone for the win, becoming the first rookie to ever win the overall title.
Shimano’s article about Kurt’s Iditarod experience in Alaska added this: “Unlike during dirt ultras, Kurt relied on the warmth of checkpoint shelters as opportunities to sleep. By the time just over four days had passed, Kurt had slept a total of 9.5 hours—none the first night, then six hours the second night, two the third and one early in the morning of the fourth day. And after enduring 15 hours of pushing his bike on flat ground in -40 degrees due to unrideable soft snow, he relished the final mile into McGrath when he realized he was actually going to take the win after racing with some incredibly talented and enjoyable competition for four days.”
When Kurt isn’t racing, he trains other riders to be endurance cyclists with his company, UltraMTB. He shared the following information on his website: “UltraMTB founder Kurt Refsnider, PhD, the first (of only two!) person to have won each of the bikepacking Triple Crown events—the Colorado Trail Race (2019), the Arizona Trail 750 (2018) and Tour Divide (2011). He was also the first rookie ever to win the overall Iditarod Trail Invitational Winter Ultra title (2020).”
Read on to learn more about Kurt and his Pivot Trail 429, his favorite bike—the one he rides when he’s not racing fat bikes in the snow.
Name: Kurt Refsnider
Weight: 150 pounds
Current home: Prescott, Arizona (although I spend probably half the year elsewhere)
Car(s) or truck(s): Rattly Chevy Express van
Started racing: 1996
Turned pro: Late 2010s (it was a gradual process)
Racing specialty: Ultra-endurance/backcountry MTB
Favorite course: Arizona Trail
Goals: Be strong enough to be able to enjoy even the toughest multi-day, self-supported MTB events; immerse myself deep in the backcountry regularly; and use my own riding and platform for trail and climate advocacy.
Favorite recording artist: Satyricon (changes monthly)
Favorite hobbies: Bikes!
Jobs held (other than racer): College geology professor, cycling coach, non-profit executive director
Always takes on a trip: A big toolbox so I can fix [hopefully] anything that goes wrong with a bike or my old van
What you would be if you were not a racer: I haven’t concocted that part of the plan quite yet
INSIDE THE PROS’ BIKES
ULTRA-ENDURANCE RACER KURT REFSNIDER’S PIVOT TRAIL 429
Frame: Pivot Trail 429, medium, 140/120mm travel front/rear
“It’s the most versatile mountain bike I’ve ever ridden! If I had to choose having just one bike, this would be it.”
Fork: Fox Factory 34, 140mm travel
Tires: “Some combo of Maxxis DHF/Aggressor/Assegai/Rekon.”
Tire sealant or tubes: “I carry Tubolitos as spares, and sealant honestly just depends on what I’m able to find locally when I need to stock back up. I don’t really have a go-to sealant.”
Rims: Industry Nine Trail 280, 28-hole
Spokes: “Industry Nine’s green aluminum ones.”
Front hub: Industry Nine Hydra
Rear hub: Industry Nine Hydra
Brakes: Shimano XTR Trail with 180mm or 203mm rotors
Handlebar: Fasst Company Flexx MTB
Stem: Phoenix Team Enduro/Trail
Bottom bracket: Shimano
Grips: Ergon GA3
Cranks: Shimano XTR, 170mm
Chainring: Shimano XT 28-tooth
Pedals: Shimano XTR Trail
Chain: Shimano XTR
Rear derailleur: Shimano XTR
Shifter: Shimano XTR
Rear cassette: Shimano XT 11-51
Saddle: Ergon SMC Sport
Seatpost: 9Point8 Fall Line
Shock: Fox Factory DPS
Extras: Garmin Edge 1040 Solar GPS, Revelate Designs bags, Wolf Tooth multi-tools
Head angle: 66.5 degrees
Bottom bracket height: 34.7cm (13.66 inches)
Weight of complete bike: “I haven’t weighed a bike in years. I prioritize reliability and comfort over weight.”
Estimated value of bike: $10,000
MBA: Where did you grow up?
MBA: When did you first learn to ride a bike?
Kurt: As soon as I could sit atop a little bike with training wheels.
MBA: Who taught you?
Kurt: My dad. He also took me to every bike race I did before I got my driver’s license and patiently waited for me as I rode a solo century when I was 13. I’m still not quite sure what compelled me to do that, but seeing him every 20 miles for a snack and full bottles sure was a boost!
MBA: Did you compete on other kinds of bikes before mountain bikes?
Kurt: Nope. I did my first race in 8th grade, a mountain bike race at the Minnesota Zoo. In high school, I also raced on the road and track. I wasn’t especially great at any of it, but I really enjoyed it all. After college I spent a few years focused on road and cyclocross before getting back into mountain bike races and finding a love for multi-day self-supported races.
MBA: When did you get your first mountain bike?
Kurt: I think I treated every bike I had as a kid like a mountain bike. Dirt has always been my favorite place to ride.
MBA: How did you finish in your first mountain bike race?
Kurt: I finished! I have no recollection other than navigating giant mud puddles, oppressive humidity and being solidly in the middle of the field.
MBA: What have been your best results as a pro?
Kurt: Wins in some of the toughest events out there: the Arizona Trail 750, the Colorado Trail Race, the Iditarod Trail Invitational 350 Winter Ultra in Alaska, and setting a couple records on the Kokopelli Trail.
MBA: How far did you go in school?
Kurt: I spent 10 years in college and grad school, studying geology and climate science. After that, I spent a few years as a professor at Prescott College in Arizona before realizing that academia wasn’t the right place for me. But while there, I did get to co-teach a new course called Geology through Bikepacking a few times! Getting to take a dozen students bikepacking all over the Colorado Plateau for a month and studying the geology along the way was certainly a highlight of my teaching career.
MBA: What other sports have you done?
Kurt: I spent a decade putting a lot of energy into Nordic ski racing. It really helped build my aerobic engine, but eventually I burned out from spending so much time traveling to find good snow for training and racing on. Winters in the Midwest just aren’t as snowy as they used to be!
MBA: Can you tell us something interesting or unusual about yourself or your family?
Kurt: I certainly didn’t follow the common path to riding professionally, nor is my riding and racing all that “normal” compared to most pros. I split my time between racing, backcountry adventuring, and trail and climate advocacy work. My sponsors love the combination of all that work, and I’m grateful to have the freedom to be able to spread my energy and passion in a few different directions, all tied into my riding in one way or another.