Words by Frank Hyman.
This story was originally published in Bicycle Times #25, October 2013.
My summer of hiking, biking and inflatable kayaking began with an embarrassing stumble. I planned to celebrate my fortieth birthday by spending four weeks hopscotching the islands of southeast Alaska. My boxed up bike had arrived intact with me at the tiny Juneau airport. The rainbow-colored Specialized mountain bike was all put together except for the rear derailleur cable. No amount of tugging could get it back into place. I’m kneeling in the airport with my bike upside down on the carpet and scores of travelers, in their Carhartt jeans or long skirts and leather boots, are moving quickly past me while I sit stymied. I’m not a wrencher. But before my trip I had met a guy who was. I brought my bike and a couple of six-packs to his backyard shop for some tutoring. I figured bike shops might be few and far between in what the locals call Baja Alaska. My new friend Tom helped me take my bike apart and put it back together again. We added a rear rack, a handlebar rack and fenders against the likely wet weather. Thinking back, by the time we were putting cables back into place, I’d had too many beers. A month later, I figured out how to pack my bike without disconnecting that cable. Whaddaya know? There’s not much of a road network in Baja Alaska so you couldn’t bike more than five or ten miles even if you wanted to. I was counting on getting from island to island on a state ferry with a little village of tents duct-taped to the aft deck. I made great plans to use my bike as a pack mule to cover the few miles from airports and ferry docks to hostels and campgrounds. My bike would carry me swiftly and scenically to trailheads, put-ins, restaurants and museums. With my inflatable kayak in a duffle bag strapped over the back panniers and a two-part paddle sticking up like smokestacks, I was only a short distance from any put-in. I could explore coves, harbors and icebergs. The planning and packing were almost as fun as the traveling. Baja Alaska is wetter than Baja, Mexico—the locals have thirty words for “drizzle”—so I bought a full set of rain gear. And I made up a recipe for a lightweight camping meal that was filling and delicious: quick grits, a bouillon cube and Parmesan cheese. I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a cathedral-sized tunnel through Mendenhall Glacier waiting for me to explore its blue, icy-smooth interior. But for now, I couldn’t even get myself out of the airport. “Want help with that?” says a fellow with a beard and business suit as he crouches down with the bike between us. “Got it all together but the cable,” I say. The stranger reaches for the bike with both hands and, like a harp player, strikes a happy note as the cable pops into place. I’m speechless, but my face shows equal parts gratitude and wonder. “Lots of late nights putting bikes together before Christmas,” he says with a smile and a wink as he walks away. Thank. You. Santa.
Photos courtesy of Revelate Designs
Eric Parsons began his company making bags for Iditarod Trail racers from his basement apartment in Alaska. Now he’s grown the brand, Revelate Designs, into an industry leader in stock-size, American-made bikepacking and touring bags.
The latest product is a framebag built or road, gravel and touring bikes. While folks have been building custom bags like these for years, the new Ripio line offers four stock sizes that will fit most bikes. They are made from waterproof X-Pac woven panels with heavy duty, water-resistant zippers.
There is an exit port at the top for hydration tubes or wires for headlights or other accessories. The left side pocket is flat for small items or maps, while the main area has a horizontal Velcro divider that can divide it into two compartments with separate zippers.
There is an additional vertical divider at the top in the Large and XL sizes to keep it from bulging and interfering with your pedal stroke. There are also extra loops for securing a pump so it doesn’t sink to the bottom.
The Ripio bags are available now for $165 on the Revelate Designs website.
One of the original trendsetters in the fat bike market was Fatback out of Anchorage. Pioneers of the wider hub spacing that made 4-inch tires possible in the first place, the company’s latest products continue to push the envelope of fat bike mountain biking. Both are suspension corrected for the RockShox Bluto fork and presumably new suspension forks to come.
The carbon fiber Skookum was built to handle not like the trumbling fat bikes of yore, but like a modern mountain bike, with shorter chainstays (440 mm) and a slacker head tube angle (68.5 degrees) while making room for 4.8-inch tires thanks to the 197 mm thru-axle. There’s also internal routing for a dropper post and can fit 27plus and 29plus rims and tires too.
It will be available in three sizes and four complete bike build kits, as well as a frame-only.
The new Rhino frame takes the attitude of the Skookum and adds a bit of versatility with rack mounts and the sliding dropouts give it the ability to run geared or singlespeed, or even with an internally geared hub now that Rohloff is making fat bike versions. The aluminum frame ships with a matching aluminum fork but build kits are available with Bluto forks or the Lauf leaf spring forks. It too can fit 4.8-inch tires on 100 mm rims as well as 27plus and 29plus.
The Rhino is available in five sizes and two colors, blue or green.
Explorer Bjørn Olson has released a teaser from his next film project, reEvolution, from a recent week-long expedition along Alaska’s southern coast. Can’t wait to see the finished project!Tweet Print
Bicycle Times contributor Nicholas Carman is organizing an evening event in Anchorage called “The Art of Bikepacking” on July 16 at 7 p.m. at The Bicycle Shop, on Dimond Boulevard. According to Carman, the evening will be part art opening, technical seminar, and inspirational storytelling. There will also be a special presentation with Eric Parsons entitled “A History of Revelate Designs”. Of course, there’ll be free food, beer, and stuff!
Read more about the event.
It might be the middle of summer but maybe that’s why “Crisp” looks so appealing—a documentary of the 1,100 miles from Knik Lake to Nome, Alaska, along the Iditarod Trail. Ausilia Vistarini and Sebastiano Favaro did it with only their courage and their bikes. Theirs are not just physical feats, but mental conquests.Tweet Print
I just stumbled across this amazing documentary originally shot for the Discovery Channel about the second-ever Iditabike race across Alaska—210 miles of frozen toes and ruddy cheeks. Produced by Mark Forman, it won the Interbike Film Festival in 1994.
The technology (and fashion!) sure has changed over the last 25 years. I can’t wait to see what bikes we’ll be riding 25 years from now.Tweet Print
Fatbikes and packrafts are the only way to explore a remote section of Alaska before mankind’s approach changes the landscape forever.
On a late July afternoon, we rode our fatbikes off Homer Spit and onto a 176-foot landing craft, a ship loaded with cargo for transport to the remote side of Cook Inlet. Though the vessel had made this crossing many times, passengers were uncommon and in our case, a curious sight. In addition to our oversized bicycles, Brent and I carried one packraft apiece, five days worth of food, plus some minimal camping gear and camera equipment. After an exciting and sleepless night onboard the vessel we were deposited on the far shore of the inlet at 4 a.m. Waiting for the light, we watched the boat unload its cargo and then began cycling the gravel Pile Bay Road to Iliamna Lake in the early dawn.
I was drawn, in part, to this route because Alaska is in the midst of mineral development projects that could entirely transform the landscape. Our route would bring us through a proposed, controversial, open pit copper mine—the Pebble Mine. I wanted to see clear streams full of sockeye salmon, bears and untamed landscapes, as it has been for millennia, before it is allowed to be transformed—forever.Tweet Print
Fat bike rider and Alaskan explorer Bjorn Olsen embarked on a journey from Cook Island to Bristol Bay, Alaska, last summer and more than just document the trip, he turned it into a film, “Hunting For Monsters”.
The full film will premiere Saturday, November 16, at the Homer (Alaska) Outdoor Film Festival and HoWL Annual Auction.Tweet Print