By stealing an idea from some of the first, fledgling “fat bikes” of Alaska’s fabled “Iditabike,” a Canadian adventure has created the fattest of the fat – a super-wide-tired monster he hopes to ride from the South Pole to the Antarctic coast.
Fifty-year-old Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, native Hank Van Weelden claims 11-inches of float both front and rear on paired, carbon rims and dually Vee Snowshoe tires of 5.5-inch width.
The paired rims are where fat biking got its start on the snowy Iditarod Trail. Paired rims and dually tires lead early attempts to gain a bigger footprint for float on snow. The duallies eventually gave way to 80mm to 100 mm rims and 4-inch tires to save weight.
Van Weelden’s bike looks like one of those early Iditabikes on steroids, and it is as bulked up as any steroid user.
Despite a titanium frame and carbon-rim wheels, the bike is a tank. GearJunike.com which featured Weelden’s $17,000 beast reported its weight at 60 pounds.
For comparison sake, Iditarod Trial Invitational champ Jay Petervary’s fat bike fully set up and packed with the survival gear necessary to ride the Iditarod Trail for 1,100 miles from Knik to Nome weighs 46 pounds. But, of course, Petervary and other Iditarod riders have access to resupply for food and fuel at checkpoints along the trail, and the Iditarod is far less exposed than Antarctica.
Iditarod cyclists can usually find a place to make camp in the woods, or at least a thicket of brush for cover. And in a pinch they can usually start a fire to get warm if the temperature drops to 50 degrees below zero.
Van Weelden plans a 750-mile trek across the barren, windswept, snow-covered ice cap atop the planet’s southernmost continent. His trek from the south pole to the coast is “something new,” Gear Junkie reported. “Previous expeditions by Eric Larsen, Daniel Burton, and others begin from the coast and travel inland, and ended at the pole.”
Burton was the first to make it to the pole in 2014. The owner of Epic Biking in Saratoga Springs, Utah, Burton made his 51-day, 750-mile ride on a pretty standard, carbon-fiber fat bike with four-inch tires. He later wrote a book about the adventure, “South Pole Epic.”
“Burton’s tale is one of perseverance, learning, and succeeding against odds,” Iditarod veteran Jill Homer writes in a review on her blog, Half Past Done. “The take-home message is worthwhile, causing a reader to conclude, ‘Wow, if Daniel Burton can one day just decide he wants to ride a bicycle to the South Pole, then do it, maybe I shouldn’t give so much credence to the obstacles standing in the way of my dreams.'”
Burton proved a lot of doubters wrong by reaching the pole. Van Weelden, given his strange bicycle, will likely encounter his share of doubters, too. Along with the heft of what he calls his “Antarctic assault vehicle,” there is the pinion gearbox instead of a conventional crankset and derailleur.
“The real engineering genius lies in the drivetrain, though. An 18-speed internal hub with Pinion transfer case gives Van Weelden ‘more range than mountain bikers with a triple chainring,'” claims Adam Ruggiero at Gear Junkie. “Running this setup has two advantages: It keeps the gears largely out of the snow and ice that would otherwise confound a typical drivetrain.”
Actually, the gearing is all in the 18-speed gear box. The hub is a standard single speed. Gear boxes are not known for their efficiency, and Iditarod Trail cyclists with tens of thousands of mile of winter pedaling behind them have reported few problems with standard, derailleur equipped drivetrains in snow and ice.
Fatbike designer, manufacturer and Iditarod cyclist Greg Matyas of Speedway Cycles in Anchorage has spent endless hours pedaling Alaska snow trails and largely scoffs at pinion gearboxes. They are getting better, he says, but remain much less efficient than an old-fashioned drivetrain. He’s not alone in this assessment.
“The extra weight involved in using the Pinion box isn’t the thing holding it back from greatness,” Jon Woodhouse reported at BikeRadar.com earlier this year. “While Pinion says there’s only a small percentage increase in drag versus a cassette, my legs disagreed, especially in lower gears.”
Woodhouse rode a test bike in warm weather. Drag from any drivetrain only increases as the temperatures drop. But Van Weelden, a bear of a man, appears to believe strongly in his bike and his plan.
“Barring medical or catastrophic bike issues, I’m confident in success,” he told Gear Junkie.
It is now summer in Antarctica, but temperatures remain Alaska winter cold. It was today 11 degrees at McMurdo Station, the U.S. research facility on the southern edge of Antarctica.