The city that helped to start a fad that put fat-tired bikes on winter trails around the globe plans to try again to grab the record for turnout at a fat-tire cycling event.
The Slumberland Birkie in Wisconsin, an offshoot of the non-profit American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation, now owns the distinction of being the nation’s record fat-bike gathering. Just over 1,000 fat-tire cyclists turned out to ride there last year.
Organizers of Anchorage’s second annual “Big Fat Ride” are hoping to top that Saturday. Last year’s inaugural Big Fat Ride in Alaska’s largest city drew nearly 500, a big turnout but short of what one might expect for community now believed to be home to as many 10,000 fatties and two pioneer, fat-bike manufacturers.
Fatback was first on the scene with lightweight titanium and aluminum frame bikes that followed on the heals of the durable, heavy and today seemingly odd Surly Pugsley, the first mass-produced fat bike.
The Pugsley had an offset-built rear wheel to make it possible to build a fat-tire around a then-standard, 135mm, mountain bike hub and still make the tire fit a frame. It had an offset front wheel also built on a 135mm hub so that the back tires and front tires could be swapped in the wilderness emergency no one ever encountered.
The offset wheels made the Pugs tend to pull to one side, and given its weight and geometry, it rode and steered a bit like a tractor. A loveable tractor, but a tractor.
The Fatback did away with the 135mm rear hub in favor of what was to become an industry-standard 170mm hub and added a front wheel centered on a 135mm hub. It then tweaked bicycle frame geometry to create a ride more like a bike and less like a tractor.
For a very short period, Fatback sort of had the market for aluminum and titanium fatbikes to itself, but by 2008, 9:Zero:7 was on the scene with the then lightest-to-be-found titanium frame. An aluminum-frame that copied the Pugsley in design followed the next year.
And from then on, Fatback and 9:Zero:7 waged their own little northern competition with both companies constantly refining their bikes.
They helped grow the fat-bike market big enough that by 2010 Minnesota-based Salsa, a sister company to Surly in the family of the major bike and bike parts manufacturer Quality Bike Products (QPB), showed up on the scene and the rest is history.
“It is only proper to acknowledge Salsa’s sister-brand Surly for the important role they played in the modern development of the snow bike,” Salsa’s Mike Reimer wrote at the time. “Their snow bike, the Pugsley, was the first to be widely available. Their tires continue to drive the category.”
There was no mention of Fatback or 9:Zero:7, though the Alaska bikes pioneered the front and rear wheel hub spacing utilized by that first Salsa Mukluk, which also pitched the idea of 29-inch wheels for summer use as a “regular” mountain bike.
That was an idea stolen from Fatback’s Greg Matyas, the first proponent of a bike designed to be used year-round in Alaska with tire size dictated by season and conditions.
The options for such a bike today are wide with tires having on one end grown from the old-fashioned 4-inch-wide range of “fat” to the 5-inch-wide range of “extra fat” while on the other end shrinking to the 3-inch-range of “mid-fat” or “plus bike” on down to 2-inch tires on 29-inch rims.
The fat world is today so full of fat, fatter and fattests options it can get a little confusing for new riders. The good news is that there are now so many fat bike riders in Anchorage it isn’t hard to find one to help guide you through the maze.
And if you want to get in on the ride, there’s still time to register. There’s even enough time to invest in a fat bike if you need one. (call me) Big Fat Ride registration will and bib pick up will be ongoing at REI, 1200 W. Northern Lights Boulevard, from 4 pm. to 7 p.m. on Friday and from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. Saturday.
The ride – now a premier Anchorage Fur Rendezvous event – starts on 3:30 p.m. on Fourth Avenue, follows the out-of-town route for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race down the avenue to Cordova Street (here’s your chance to make like a sled dog) and then down Cordova Hill to Mulcahy Park to pick up the Chester Creek and Tony Knowles Coastal trails to loop back to the starting line.
A get together at the Brown Bag Sandwich Company, Third Avenue and F Street, follows the ride.