“The bottom lever will put you into a lower gear,” Jeff Worrell advised for the sixth time as I sluggishly pedaled along Eklutna Lake on a fat-tire bicycle. It was my first ride on one of these relatively new and popular devices.
As I struggled to shift gears – which were concealed inside the large black mitts attached to the handlebars – words describing my situation began popping up in my mind: “klutz,” “flummox,” “dork,” even “nitwit.”
Here’s my gilded excuse: The bike I was riding had entirely different gears than my mountain bike, and with those gears concealed inside the large protective mitts, I couldn’t see what I was doing.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it,” Jeff assured me.
It was Dec.12 of this year and the temperature was somewhere around 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
“With these thin gloves, my hands are going to freeze!” I complained.
“Don’t worry. They’ll warm up inside the bar mitts,” Jeff said calmly.
I felt like I was eight years old trying to ride a bike for the first time. There was one thing I noticed right away: I wasn’t going very fast.
I watched Jeff ride effortlessly over a large patch of glare ice. I took a deep breath and followed. The second thing I noticed was that fat-tire bikes have great traction. I expected to be sprawled unceremoniously all over the cold ice but instead moved across with ease.
We rode on. The third thing I noticed was that my legs were getting tired rather quickly. The word “wimp” came to mind.
“These bikes are heavier than the normal bike,” Jeff said. “I call it ‘pushing the pig’. You’ll get used to it.”
Once I started getting the hang of the gears and into a regular pace, I felt much less tired.
The fourth thing I noticed was that my hands were no longer cold.
“These mitts are really good – way better than I expected,” I declared.
I later learned they are made of Neoprene and designed to keep hands warm, even in subzero temperatures. With a lightweight glove inside, there is enough finger dexterity to shift gears.
The restless lake ice was groaning and popping. It wasn’t frozen solid yet and probably wouldn’t be safe to cross for another few weeks, that is, if it remained cold.
We took a break at the Yuditnu Creek Cabin, which is off Mile 3 of the Eklutna Lakeside Trail. The cabin can be rented for $60 per night from the State. For information on this or other Chugach State Park cabin rentals, go to:
I won’t offer a primer on fat-tire bikes, except to say that new ones range in cost from about $1,200 all the way up to $5,000. Generally, the lighter the bike, the higher the cost.
Bikes with lightweight materials such as carbon fiber, titanium, and aluminum alloys are much lighter, but they’re pricey. The one I borrowed cost about $700 and weighed about 30 lbs. It was a perfectly good ride, once I figured out what I was doing.
I’ve heard that second-hand fat-tire bikes can sometimes be found on Craig’s List or Amazon, particularly as spring approaches.
But before buying one of these “beasties,” it might be a good idea to rent one to see how you like it. There are several places in the Anchorage area, including REI and The Bike Shop, etc., where they can be rented. The Bike Shop’s owner, Mike Shupe, advises that biking in winter requires some extra preparations in addition to bar mitts that keep hands warm. These include warm boots, or neoprene “overboots;” face and even eye protection.
If you want to purchase a fat-tire bike, or any type of bicycle, Alaska Velo Sport, Inc. in Eagle River is a great place to go. They’re located at 11000 Old Glenn Highway near Pizza Man restaurant. The owner, Eric Morrison, says they’re now entering their eighth year of business and are experts at offering the “skinny” on fat-tire bikes.
I’ve never been a tremendously strong bicycler. At the outset I thought there was a slim chance I’d like fat-tire biking. But that first time out, with an extremely patient person, was a rewarding experience. It’s certainly another great way to enjoy Alaska’s great outdoors during our long winters.
Editor’s Note: Frank E. Baker is a member of The ECHO News and is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.