PALMER – Though the great weather has delayed snow, many trails in the Valley are in excellent condition for fat biking. Low precipitation in the Valley has left the numerous trails dry, though trails up in the Talkeetna Mountains have experienced more precipitation than the rest of the Valley.
“A lot of people think that fat bikes can only be ridden in winter. That’s not true. Even without suspension they are fun and capable mountain bikes in the summer months as well,” Phil Block, an avid cyclist and member of the Valley Mountain Bikers and Hikers, said.
Around two inches has fallen in the mountains in the last two weeks compared to about half-an-inch in the rest of the Valley leaving the trails up at Government Peak a muddy, burrowed mess.
Tony Berberich, owner of Backcountry Bike and Ski, said that the Matanuska Lake trail system and Crevasse Moraine is amazing right now.
VMBaH hosts a series of bike rides called “Moonlit Miles” which is an evening riding group that organizes on the weekends closest to each full moon. This event specifically includes fat bikes with many of their excursions being in the winter on various trails like the Government Peak Recreation Area, Moose Range, Crevasse Moraine, and more.
“It’s a really good way to get to know other riders, learn about the good places to ride, and gain some winter riding skills,” Block said. “Fat bikers tend to be a really fun group of people to hang out with. We generally don’t take things too seriously. Riding clown-bikes makes it hard to be serious. Hook up with a group ride some time and give it a shot.”
Fat bikes aren’t anything new to the valley or Alaska. Joe Redington Sr., the founder of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, wanted to test the human limits and organized a race called Iditaski. Eventually, the race evolved to include snowshoeing and biking according to Alaska Iditasport, There, many cyclists had to overcome the challenge of traversing the grueling terrain with the then new mountain bike. Cyclists adapted by increasing the surface area of the tires. Initially, “rims were pinned or welded side by side, laced in a tandem to a single hub, with two tires,” according to Nicholas Carman who writes for the Adventure Cyclist Association. Eventually, the typical practice for outfitting theses types of bikes removed the inner rim walls so a single large volume tire can be used. Deflating the large volume tires allows for increased contact with the ground, essentially like a snowshoe.
Fat bikes have come a long way from that. Local businesses like Backcountry Bike and Ski offer rentals for fat bikes. Berberich started renting the fat bikes to sell them to customers and to the public perception.
“In Alaska it’s the bike to have,” Berberich said.
Fat bikes have become essential for commuters who want to continue riding through the winter.
“I started fat biking as a way to make my winter commute easier,” Block said. “My recommendation would be to rent a fat bike before buying one.”
Block rides to solve many reasons.
“Road riding gives me a good chance to wrestle with questions or problems or just thinks really deeply. Mountain biking gives me the chance to really focus on the now and being present in what I am doing,” Block said.
A fat bike allows riders to access otherwise inaccessible places and trails and areas tucked away from society “is an amazing feeling and just being in the world in a silent way is also really refreshing,” Block said.
For the last few years, Backcountry Bike and Ski has hosted a fundraiser for VMBaH who have volunteers tend to the trails throughout the valley after the Colony Christmas parade. Berberich says there will be beer, food and soda.
Anthony Jones is a senior at Mat-Su Career and Technical High School and is a Frontiersman intern for the 2019-20 school year.