Photo from the IndieAKFilms.com site for the "Fat Bike" movie
Living in Alaska means we have months of winter when snow and/or ice covers the roads and we don’t have a lot of daylight. For some people, winter becomes a time for hibernation. But many folks enjoy riding their bikes in winter, and in the right conditions some people find they can ride their bikes in places during the winter where it’s impossible to ride in the summer. During the winter, mountain bikers can ride on frozen rivers and lakes, and they can ride through frozen muskeg swamps. If they can ride over swamps, then winter bike commuting on snow-covered pavement also is a possibility.
Last week, Carl Battreall of Indie Ak Films took his short film, “Fat Bike,” about winter mountain biking in Alaska, to the Boston Bike Film Festival and won first prize. Congratulations, Carl. Tim (last name withheld to protect the guilty), who writes the Bicycles and Icicles blog, saw an early screening of the film and wrote this review. Carl’s site was down recently, so here’s a YouTube link to his movie trailer.
Alaskans have a long history of winter bicycling, dating back to 1900 when a couple of prospectors, Max Hirschfield and Ed Jesson, in separate journeys, used bikes to ride the frozen Yukon River during the dead of winter from Dawson City, Yukon Territory, to the gold rush fields in Nome.
Over the years, there have been several adventure treks and races inspired by the journeys of Hirschfield and Jesson. Kevin Vallely, Andy Sterns and Frank Wolf recreated Hirschfield and Jesson’s journey a century later for their Bikes On Ice project. For many years, there was a race called the Iditasport (formerly the Iditabike) that took mountain bikers over parts of the Iditarod Trail. The 350-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational Winter Ultra Race from Knik Lake to McGrath has replaced the now-defunct Iditasport, and it also offers an option for riders to continue on to Nome. The Susitna 100 offers racers shorter 100-mile and 50-kilometer options in the Susitna Valley north of Anchorage. Juneau journalist Jill Homer wrote a book, “Ghost Trails,” about her attempt to race in the 2008 Iditarod Trail Invitational. Many winter mountain bikers ride “fat bikes” during the winter that have extra-wide tires to help distribute their weight over the snow, especially when the riders are on trails that haven’t been maintained.
For the city rider, the “fat bike” isn’t necessary in most cases. But a good set of studded tires is helpful, especially in Southeast Alaska where winter cyclists encounter more glare ice than those riding up north. A good tune-up also is recommended before winter riding, because the cold can affect lubricants and the extra grime on the road can wear down brake pads. There are more winter bicyclists than ever in Alaska, and it’s not uncommon to see people riding in the winter no matter if it’s minus-20 with ice fog in Fairbanks or 35-above with glare ice and hail in Sitka. For Alaskans wanting to learn more about winter bicycling, the Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage have a page of winter biking tips on its site, the Fairbanks Cycle Club has a winter biking page on its site, and the Fairbanks bike shop All Weather Sports has a page of winter biking tips on its page.
Here are a few safety tips for the winter (besides the studded tires and winter tune-up):
* Wear clothing in layers, including a hat and gloves (this makes it easy to adjust your body’s core temperature when you ride),
* Stay hydrated (in extremely cold weather, water bottles may freeze and some people find a Camelback-style rig works better to keep water flowing, a wrap of foam insulation may be needed on the nozzle),
* Wear a helmet (this applies to both summer and winter riding),
* Have a strong, bright white headlight and a flashing red taillight on your bike and wear reflective arm or leg bands, vests and other bright clothes (winter is dark and many drivers don’t clean their windows like they should, so cyclists should do their best to make sure they are visible, the Anchorage Daily News recently ran this article on bike lights and reflectives),
* Ride in a safe, predictable manner when you are near traffic (if you can’t maintain your balance in the snow, then you might need to park the bike until the roads have been plowed),
* Have fun and enjoy the ride.
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