Around the Nation


The frigid temperatures in Alaska this time of year are not enough to scare off cyclists in that state. More and more of them are heading to recreational trails and to the office on something called fat bikes. They look like mountain bikes on steroids, with tires wider than most people's arms. From member station KUAC in Fairbanks, Emily Schwing the story.

EMILY SCHWING, BYLINE: Kevin Breitenbach is giving me a lesson in fat biking. He runs the bike shop at Beaver Sports in Alaska's second largest city. We make our way down a trail that winds through a forest as wet, quarter-sized snowflakes drop from the sky.

KEVIN BREITENBACH: Do we agree on eight, eight degrees?

SCHWING: About that.

BREITENBACH: About that, and really gray.

SCHWING: Visibility is low and the snow hides the roughest spots on the trail.

BREITENBACH: Yeah, yeah, you're feeling the trail. A lot of it's like hearing the trail and feeling it and knowing if you're in the middle.

SCHWING: This bike is Breitenbach's primary form of transportation. When he's not commuting to work, he's racing in ultra-distance events.

BREITENBACH: Now, if we were out here on regular mountain bikes, you'd just be all over the place. The bikes are set up to be stable, and so you can go much slower and still maintain your balance.

SCHWING: In the late 1980s, cyclists in Alaska were looking for a good way to tackle snowy trails, so they welded three mountain bike rims together. That allowed for fatter tires that almost float on top of the snow. Today, fat biking isn't quite so do it yourself.


SCHWING: The market for a bike like this is still small, but it's the fastest growing segment of the cycling industry. At Goldstream Sports, just north of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, owner Joel Buth specializes in cross country skis and road bikes. But four years ago, he added fat bikes to his winter inventory.

JOEL BUTH: The bikes are typically a three thousand dollar sale versus a ski package which is much less. So, there's more customers in the ski, but the bike market is growing rapidly.

SCHWING: Three thousand dollars isn't just for the bike. It includes all the other gear as well - things like extra tire tubes, shoes and lots of winter clothing. It's the fat bike clientele that surprises Buth most.

BUTH: Mostly what I see is the backcountry enthusiast and older couples too that want to get out and get exercise in the winter and don't want to mess around with skis and they just like to bike.


SCHWING: Yeah, that's a little tricky. Back on the trail with Kevin Breitenbach, I'm still trying to feel my way through the falling snow. This is fun.

BREITENBACH: Hell yeah, it's fun. It's more fun than skiing.

SCHWING: And for Breitenbach, fat biking is even fun when temperatures hit fifty degrees below zero. For NPR News, I'm Emily Schwing in Fairbanks.


MARTIN: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from