The fat-bike fad sweeping sections of the nation shows no signs of letting up, with retailers in Anchorage and the Lower 48 scrambling to meet demand for the balloon-tire bikes that float over snow.
The bikes were born more than a decade ago for winter adventure racing along the snow-packed Iditarod Trail. They still shine in winter, with big hand muffs and multiple layers keeping riders comfortable when temperatures plunge. But fat bikes have evolved in recent years, replacing mountain bikes for fans using them in summer to access a range of backcountry terrain.
Anchorage's police chief uses his for ptarmigan hunting in Chugach State Park. Federal biologists have ridden them across rocky beaches to study walrus. And the bikes help park rangers in Southwest Alaska patrol remote wilderness.
The so-called flotation bikes are the monster trucks of two-wheel riding. With motorcycle-width tires supporting a relatively light bike frame, they cruise over soft ground and snow that stop thinner wheels in their tracks.
Signs of their popularity are everywhere. Snow-bike races are popping up around the country. Anchorage saw about 40 riders this month at its first race, part of the Abominable Snow Series. There's even a websitededicated to snow bikes and related gear and a busy forum for fat-bike aficionados atmountainbikereview.com.
"Fat bikes are definitely the buzz," said David George, a salesman at Speedway Cycles on Spenard Road, home of the Fatback.
The other day, scores of customers were waiting for their Fatback to arrive from manufacturers in the Lower 48. Many call daily, anxious to get theirs. This year's aluminum models, with lighter forks, wider rims and a stronger frame, sell for about $2,300 fully assembled.
“It's unbelievable," he said. "We're getting calls from all around the world. The Czech Republic, Australia. People from Baja want them for riding in the sand."
So many orders are coming from the Lower 48 that Speedway plans to open a small distribution center in Bend, Ore., to reduce shipping costs for orders to the contiguous U.S.
In South Anchorage near Huffman Road, the 9-Zero-7 is flying out the door of Chain Reaction Cycles.
"We can't get ahead," said co-owner Bill Fleming.
His shop is taking orders from around the world as well. Customers in Russia, Finland and the United Kingdom have all asked about the basic aluminum model, which costs $1,900 assembled. Fleming wouldn't disclose how many 9-Zero-7s he sells, but said the numbers are in the hundreds annually. Most are pre-sold, with the buyer purchasing the bikes before the frames reach Anchorage.
"It's nonstop," he said. "People just love the bikes. It's changed the way they look at winter. These die-hard Nordic skiers get on them, and they realize it's an easier sport. You don't have to wax. You can ride out your front door. You're on little single-track trails in the middle of winter and it's beautiful."
The two local companies are up against two national retailers based in Minneapolis that offer cheaper models. Salsa makes the Mukluk, and Surly makes the Pugsley as well as the new Moonlander, a mammoth monster-bike with tires approaching five-inches in width. Sales are booming at Surly and Salsa, too, both owned by the larger Quality Bicycle Products, a Surly sales manager said.
"It's absolutely beyond our wildest dreams," said Greg Patterson, who handles fat-bike sales at Surly. "It's like wildfire." Surly doubled its fat-bike sales from the previous year, selling more than 1,600 this year, he said. As for the Salsa Mukluks, "They're seeing the same success we're seeing and almost to the same degree."
Surly created its fat bikes for local riders in Minneapolis, but their popularity is spreading by word of mouth across the country.
5:00pm - 12/31 - Cakes - The first one I ever saw was Rick from the Mystic Cycle Centre - he did the Iditabike way before their was much of an ultra-endurance genre. If I remember correctly, he had two rims welded together to accommodate his big-ass tires.
5:00pm - 12/31 - Chally - I agree
5:00pm - 12/31 - Cakes - I have not, but I've seen tire tracks from them on cross-country ski trails, snowmobile trails and in variable conditions with mud, sand and snow. It would be fun to ride on in the right conditions.
5:00pm - 12/31 - Chally - Have you had a chance to ride one of these cakes?Looks interesting.
5:00pm - 12/31 - Cakes - I guess the winter conditions were so bad in CB that you wouldn't need a fatty right now, but they sure look like a viable choice when the snow (or sand) get too deep.