For more than 100 years people have been doing amazing things with bicycles in Alaska. In 1898, a handful of hardy souls rode more than 1,000 miles from Dawson to Nome — well before cars, trains or even roads.
Not long after the invention of the mountain bike, Alaska adventurers began exploring winter trails. In 1989, four men rode the entire Iditarod Trail. That expedition and the human-powered race “Iditasport” inspired the quest to design a better-suited bicycle — with more “floatation.” Backyard tinkerers, hobbyists and a few bike shops began experimenting with bicycle, wheel and tire designs through the ’90s.
Fat is a relative term. When All Weather Sports in Fairbanks came out with the Snowcat, a 44mm-wide rim, it looked, to many, clownishly large and suited only to the winter “crazies.” Yet, the push for floatation continued. The Achilles heel was the tire. Small businesses or hobbyists could not afford designing or manufacturing suitably wide rubber.
The first commercially available fatbike was the “Wildfire.” Mark Gronewald of Palmer teamed with Ray Molino of Texas to design a bike around 80mm-wide rims and a 4-inch tire. The Wildfire was the vanguard of what we now identify as a fatbike. Gronewald coined the term “fatbike,” and everyone who rides one owes a debt of gratitude to this Alaska visionary.
Increased interest and a persistent pressure from Alaskans finally convinced Surly Bikes to jump into this fringe market. The Surly Pugsley was the first affordable snow-bike with 4-inch tires. Every year since has seen an almost exponential growth in design and appeal — similar to the mountain bike in the 1980s.
In a state full of “not road or trails,” the fatbike is an obvious choice for year-round adventurers and cyclists. From beaches to alpine tundra, gravel river bars, snow trails and spring crust — the fatbike works.
In less than a decade, sub-generas of fat tire bikers have evolved. Some strip their bikes down to the bare bones and take them on long overland bike-packing adventures; others employ suspension and hydraulic disc brakes, using them like cross-country/free ride bikes. Many use them as a logical choice for year-round commuting in areas experiencing extreme inclement weather. There is no wrong answer.
Homer Cycling Club celebrates bicycles and people who ride them. Due to our beaches and great winter trails, Homer is an amazing place to own and ride a fatbike.
Each winter for the past two
years Homer Cycling Club has organized Big Fat Bike Festival. This year is no exception. The dates always fluctuate based on two factors: not conflicting with Winter Carnival and the best daytime tides. This winter, Big Fat Bike Festival lands
on Friday through Sunday.
Events include beach bonfires, a group ride from Anchor Point to Homer, burger and brew, silent and live auction, obstacle course and much more.
Whether you are a seasoned rider or first timer, Big Fat Bike Festival is a great time to come out and experience this uniquely Alaskan pursuit.
Saturday, noon-3 p.m.: Finish line and obstacle course, Bishop’s Beach.
Saturday, 3-p.m.: Burger and brew at Beluga Lake Lodge for participants, family, friends and interested member of the public; an auction benefits Homer Cycling Club.
Sunday, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Obstacle course time trials and demos at Bishop’s Beach.
Hope to see you there.
Bjørn Olson is a Homer Cycling Club board member.