Fat bike history
by Kathi Merchant- fat biker & Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) race director Alaska
Where did fat bikes come from?
Who invented them?
Does Iditabike still exist?
Were they invented to ride in the sand or in the snow or both?
When I first moved to Alaska in 2002 from Germany, I started racing and riding in the Iditarod Trail Invitational race, training and riding in the snow. One of my favorite places has always been riding to the Knik Glacier which is a place you can’t ride to in the summertime. We get there by riding through a glacial river valley crossing frozen creeks and crossing the main river channel of the Knik River several times. Few people had fat bikes back then. There were less than 50 fat bikes in the world.
People now recognize a FAT BIKE. They are ridden on surfaces such as snow, sand and mud, in many places such as Alaska, the Midwestern and Western states, beaches in Australia, California in Namibia, South Africa, in Costa Rica in the Fat La Ruta race.
Just a few years ago I wondered if they would ever catch on in Europe and they finally have. The fat bike wave has made it across the Big Pond to Europe. Switzerland hosted a fat bike event, called the “Snow Epic” with over 100 fat bikers this year in January.
There are dozens of face book sites and groups dedicated to fat biking. Fat bikes are everywhere now. What was a fad at one time has gone main stream in the last few years.
Today fat bikes are the fastest growing segment of the bicycle industry.
Exploring, riding and racing deep into the back country, off road surfaces and even off trail surfaces is where riders were pushing the boundaries of mountain biking. Always looking for a bigger adventure and more places to ride. Fat bikers seek out amazing places and take pictures of their fat bike on sand dunes, glaciers, frozen rivers and lakes, snowy mountains, then post it on it on the internet where more people get inspired to get a fat bike to reach such cool places.
The story of fat bikes may have unfolded at the same time in the United States in Alaska, New Mexico and in the Sahara trying to ride bicycles on sand and on snow. Places and surfaces difficult to ride a standard mountain bike with standard mountain bike tires.
Racing on the Iditarod Trail dates back to 1973, when Joe Redington and others devised a dog-sled race that would travel 1,000 miles across Alaska to Nome in recognition of the brave mushers and dogs who shuttled life-saving serum to the Western Alaska village during a 1925 diphtheria outbreak. Ten years later, Redington and others launched the inaugural Iditaski, the first human-powered race on the Iditarod Trail. In the mid-1980s, a hundred-mile snowshoe race formed. But human-powered Iditarod racing took a turn toward international fame in 1987, when what was then still a relatively new sport — mountain biking — found its way onto the Iditarod Trail. Iditabike was born.
Charlie Kelly wrote a piece for Cyclist Magazine about the inaugural race, “The Brotherhood of Pain.” According to Kelly, Redington also dreamed up the bike race. “In 1986 70-year-old Joe Redington Sr., who dreamed up the lditarod 15 years ago, suggested to the Mountain Bikers of Alaska that they race mountain bikes on the 210-mile ski-race course which follows the lditarod Trail out of Knik for a hundred miles and returns,” Kelly wrote. “The kicker was that they should do it in the winter, leaving the day after the dogsled race. The MBA accepted the challenge.”
“We don’t have any idea what’s going to happen, but we’re willing to give this thing a try,” race organizer Dan Bull told Kelly.
The Mountain Bikers of Alaska figured ten Anchorage-area riders might take on the challenge. But after a cycling publication picked up the story, the race drew twenty men and six women, most of them sponsored riders, from six different states and as far away as Los Angeles. Although small in terms of riders, the extreme nature of Iditabike drew sponsors and international media attention before the word “extreme” was even embedded in mountain bike racing’s nomenclature.
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