In our own Backyard

Story last updated at 5:18 PM on Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cruise on snow and beaches with fat bikes

In our own backyard

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by Bjørn Olson

Kim McNett rides a fat-tire bicycle on the Iditarod Trail. The wide tires offer more floation, making cruising on snow, sand and even cobblestone beaches a breeze. McNett also rides a rough-terrain unicycle. Fat-tire bike demonstrations are offered noon-4 p.m. Saturday at Bishop's Beach for the Big Fat Bike Festival.

On beaches and snowy trails around town, Homer's dedicated bicyclists have been popping up with bikes that evoke the big tire cruisers of the 1950s. These bikes make those cruisers look like skinny-tire racing bikes, though.

Yup, they're fat-tire bikes. Big, fat-tire bikes, in fact, with some tires 4.7-inches wide. This weekend, Homer invites fat-tire bike enthusiasts from around the state for the first ever Big Fat Bike Fest, running Friday night through Sunday.

"It's the latest thing to be a bike geek about," said Bjørn Olson, an active year-round biker and one of the first Alaskans to embrace fat-tire biking.

With his partner, Kim McNett, Olson has been exploring the possibilities of fat-tire biking around Kachemak Bay. With their wide, low-pressure tires, fat-tire bikes make cruising on snow and sand a breeze. McNett and Olson have ridden snowmachine trails out to Caribou Lake and sand and cobblestone beaches from town to Anchor Point.

"The beaches in Homer are great," McNett said. "When the tide goes way out you have a really nice sandbar you can ride on."

The highlight of the Big Fat Bike Fest is a Saturday beach ride. For a $15 fee, bikers can take their bikes and ride a shuttle van to the Diamond Creek trailhead or to Anchor Point. Don't show up on Homer time, though — the tide waits for no one and the van leaves promptly at 8:30 a.m. from the Homer Elks Lodge. Bikes also can be rented through the Seward Adventure Company.

Fat-tire bikes, and even a rough-terrain unicycle, will be available for free demonstration rides from noon to 4 p.m. at Bishop's Beach. Olson emphasized that fat-tire biking isn't just an adventure sport like last weekend's winter bike races, the Susitna 50 and Susitna 100.

"It's not extreme, aggro-dude stuff," Olson said. "It's a reasonable pursuit."

That's part of the point of the Big Fat Bike Fest, billed as "a low-pressure weekend." The festival's goal is to get people excited about fat-tire bikes and their possibilities for biking beyond paved trails — and also build support for the Homer Cycling Club and enthusiasm for year-round biking.

The fat tires soften the ride and grip better on snow, sand and cobbles. It's a good sport for people with knee and other injuries, said Hayley Norris, one of the festival organizers.

"A lot of people can do it," she said. "It's a very accessible sport."

Norris said festival organizers debated holding it in the summer, but decided on a winter weekend because the fat-tire bikes work so well on snow. They also wanted to bring some tourism to Homer during the off season.

"They're ultimately a winter bike," Norris said. "Having the snow on the ground opens up a lot of terrain. You can ride practically anywhere right now."

McNett commutes to her job on a fat-tire bike. With quick release hubs, she also can swap out fat tires for regular mountain bike tires with studs when the roads and trails turn icy.

"Depending on the day, I can wake up in the morning and decide what wheels to put on — which is a good thing in Homer," she said.

What's cool about fat-tire bikes is that like pack rafting, it's a sport born in Alaska and exported to the rest of the world, Olson said. When winter bike races like the Iditabike and the Susitna races became more popular, Alaska bike mechanics started tinkering with ways to give tires more float on snow. First they welded two rims together. Then they welded three rims together.

"It worked really great," Olson said. "I knew that was the answer — getting somebody to make the leap of faith on a real super-duper subculture."

That happened when Homer bicycling enthusiast Pat Irwin, who then had a shop in Anchorage, talked Surly, a bike company, into making a fat-bike tire. Surly now makes the Pugsley. Other companies include the Salsa Mukluk, the Fatback and the 9-zero-7. Bikes start at about $1,200.

For the Big Fat Bike Fest, participants don't even need bikes. Events include an art show at the Yurt Village, a meet-and-greet Friday night and dinner with live music by Goat Rodeo starting at 6 p.m. Saturday.

"You don't need to have a fat bike to participate," Norris said. "We just want to get people out and have a good time."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at

Big Fat Bike Fest Event



5 p.m.: Art show reception at the Nomad Yurt Village.

6 p.m. - Meet and greet bonfire at Bishop's Beach with demos, beach obstacle course, fire and revelry


7:30 a.m.: Check in at the Homer Elks Lodge

8-8:15 a.m.: Board buses

8:30 a.m.: Buses leave for Anchor Point and Diamond Gulch

9:30 a.m.: Bike rides back to Homer on the beach

Noon-4 p.m.: Demonstrations, time trials, fat tire unicycle, hot drinks, snacks, games and obstacle course at Bishop's Beach

6 p.m.: Reception, dinner, raffle, live auction and awards, Homer Elks Lodge

8 p.m. - Live Music with Goat Rodeo


Trail Ride (Self-shuttle to rides on local trails).


$15 ride only, shuttles to beach trailheads.

$35 weekend pass: Transportation, Saturday night dinner and all Saturday night events.

Information at and

Bike rentals at Seward Adventure Company, (907) 363-7433,