By JOEY KLECKA
Call them back country backcountry beasts, call them wilderness warriors, call them beach bums. But just don’t call them fat.
As the explosion of fat tire cycling has injected a new type of biking craze into the central Kenai Peninsula recreation scene, locals have been cleaning the racks previously sporting fat-tired fat tire bicycles.
But what exactly are these machines? It is just what it sounds like, bikes that are fitted with larger tires that are made to easily grip any natural terrain surface, whether it be sand, dirt, grass, rocks, ice, snow or even muskeg. When the few short months of summer release their hold on the land, these fat tire bikes can still be used to tackle the winter doldrums.
That is what makes them so addicting, said Sheila Pollard Best, a Kenai fat tire biker.
“It’s just another way to get out and enjoy the winter,” she said. “In my personal opinion, if you don’t get out to enjoy the winter, it’s awfully long.”
Pollard Best helps run Freddie’s Roadhouse, at Mile 16 Oilwell Road out of Ninilchik, a restaurant that doubles as the doors to the Caribou Hills recreation area on the central Kenai Peninsula. The Hills roll on for miles, from the shores of Cook Inlet to the mountains, and are generally known as the “playground of Alaska.”
Freddie’s Roadhouse is owned by Freddie Pollard, who purchased the location six years ago with his wife, Lynn, who has since passed away. Before that, it was known as Rockie’s Straight Inn, but in any form, it has provided direct access to the Caribou Hills.
As snowmachiners and backcountry skiers and snowshoers have made the area their home away from home for many years, fat tire biking has quickly joined them in popularity. Previously, when the brief summer season in Alaska has left cyclists hungering for more miles to tread in the winter, the only thing possible was to pack it up and head to the gym for a stationary bike.
Now, the handyman’s bicycle has offered the full 12 months of the year to go unwasted. The big, soft tires — which measure 4 to 5 inches across, more than twice as big as the typical 2-inch tires of mountain bikes — can not only stand up to rougher terrain, but it can handle it with ease, whether it be a beach that stretches on for miles, a snowy singletrack trail like those of the Tsalteshi Trails south of Soldotna, or the root- and rock-strewn trails of Cooper Landing.
“It’s been growing like crazy,” Pollard Best said of the craze.
Prior to this current winter, the previous three snow seasons have driven winter enthusiasts crazy with a meager snowpack nearly unsuitable for skiing.
But when the powder is lacking, the fat tires are the best alternative.
Pollard Best is one of several people coordinating the First Fat Freddie’s Bike Race and Ramble this Sunday in Ninilchik, a 15-mile fat tire race that welcomes outdoor adventurers of all ages and ability levels. Race registration can be found online on the Freddie’s Roadhouse Facebook page, or can be done in person an hour before the race Sunday.
The race begins Sunday at 11 a.m., and features two courses — a 15-mile rumble that takes racers down the daunting Waterhole Hill, or a smaller 13-mile version that cuts out the steep hill for less experienced bikers that wish to travel at their own, comfortable pace. The shorter course will be known as the Rambler course, and it will begin 15 minutes after the initial field of racers takes off.
The trails are groomed by the Snowmads Snowmachine Club, which helps in preparing the trails for a 150-kilometer fat-tire bike race in March.
Pollard Best said the current field stands at 22 registered bikers, with many more showing interest on the Freddie’s Roadhouse Facebook page. Pollard Best was once a summer cyclist who discovered the big tires on a whim after noticing the growing popularity of the bikes. At first, she rented a fat tire bike, then received one as a Christmas gift, proving that all it takes is a little taste to become hooked.
Other than the larger-than-life tires, the structure of a fat tire bicycle is not much different than that of a road bike. The most noticeable alteration is the suspension fork, the two prongs that hold the front tire. The fork is obviously much wider to hold the tire, which can be manipulated with varying air pressures depending on the terrain.
“It’s kind of an art to how you use the pressure based on what the terrain is like,” Pollard Best said.
And the bigger tires do not mean the maintenance is greater either. Pollard Best said most of the time spent on keeping her bike in good condition is hosing the dirt off after a rocking ride.
Beemun’s Variety store and Cycle Logical in Homer are among the places to rent a fat tire bike, but Pollard Best said before heading off to places such as Crescent Lake or Russian River falls, it’s smart to start on the simpler roads or beaches around town.
From there, the world is your oyster.