Welcome to Alaska, Where Winter Is Cold and Bikes Are Fat
Kevin Breitenbach runs the bike shop at Beaver Sports in Alaska’s second-largest city. Aboard a fat bike, he makes his way down a trail that winds through a forest as wet, quarter-sized snowflakes drop from the sky. Visibility is low, and the snow hides the roughest spots on the trail.
Breitenbach’s bike is his primary form of transportation. When he’s not commuting to work, he’s racing in ultra-distance events.
“Now, if we were out here on regular mountain bikes, you’d just be all over the place. The bikes are set up to be stable, and so you can go much slower and still maintain your balance,” he says.
The wider tires on fat bikes roll over the snow better than regular mountain bikes. The first fat bikes were made by welding the rims of three mountain bike wheels together.
In the late 1980s, cyclists in Alaska were looking for a good way to tackle snowy trails, so they welded three mountain bike rims together. That allowed for fatter tires that almost float on top of the snow.
Today, fat biking isn’t quite so do-it-yourself. The market for a bike like this is still small, but it’s the fastest-growing segment of the cycling industry. At Goldstream Sports, just north of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, owner Joel Buth specializes in cross-country skis and road bikes. But four years ago, he added fat bikes to his winter inventory.
“The bikes are typically a $3,000 sale, versus a ski package, which is much less. So there’s more customers in the ski, but the bike market is growing rapidly,” he says.
That $3,000 isn’t just for the bike. It includes all the other gear as well, like extra tire tubes, shoes and lots of winter clothing. It’s the fat bike clientele that surprises Buth most.