This page refers to the winter bikes used for commuting, recreation, and exploration during my first winter in Alaska (2011-2012), our return for a season of work (2013-2014), and again in the spring of 2016.
Specialized Fatboy Comp
Returning from Baja after three months of route research for the Baja Divide, Lael, Alex, and I planned a month of winter riding in Alaska during the month of March. I bought a Specialized Fatboy Comp, and outfitted the bike with carbon Dirt Components Thumper wheels and 45NRTH Dillinger tires, setup tubeless. After years of modifying and innovating fatbikes to perform better, it is refreshing to see well-priced fatbikes with the features I seek, including 1x drivetrain systems and tubeless rims and tires. Lael rode a Specialized Fatboy Expert carbon with HED Big Deal carbon rims, which may be one of the most innovative and lightweight bicycle products I’ve ever seen. Alex borrowed a Trek Farley 5 while in Alaska, which we also setup tubeless on MuleFut rims.
The most notable feature of these bikes, aside from lighter weight materials and component systems than we’ve ever ridden in the winter, are the tubeless wheels. Comparing all three tubeless systems we used (Dirt Components Thumper rims with non-tubeless Dillinger 5/HED rims with tubeless ready Dillinger 4/SunRingle MuleFut with non-tubeless Dillinger 4), reliable winter tubeless systems are now possible. Lael’s system– especially with a genuine tubeless ready tire casing– was the only one to perform flawlessly at low pressures and in the cold. Both Alex and I suffered notable air loss from the bead of our rear tire when running low pressures, front tires were always fine. We ran pressures down to about 5psi at times. In 2017, more fatbike tires, including studded tires, will be offered with tubeless ready casings. In many ways, to anyone that has drilled rims, or modified bikes to fit large-volume winter tires, or tried to shave grams off a 35 pound bike, the future has arrived.
Salsa Mukluk 3
Lael and I are each riding off-the-shelf Salsa Mukluk 3 bikes. Some improvements have been made, including drilling the rims, lighter tubes, and the addition of Grip Studs to the tires. While these bikes were purchased with the express purpose of being reliable commuters and winter singletrack trail shredders, there is a chance that one or both bikes will be reinvented as an off-pavement touring bike next summer. Stay tuned.
The Surly ECR will do service this winter as a fast and light alternative to my Mukluk. With 50mm rims and 3.0″ tires, the bike can handle some snow, without the heft of a true fatbike. The low tread pattern of the Knard tire bites into frozen hardpack snow conditions and rolls on some of Anchorage’s premiere multi-use trails with less effort than an aggressive fatbike tire, such as the Nate tires on our Mukluks. A pair of large-volume studded tires on 50mm rims would make this bike an excellent commuter for many of the conditions found in the Anchorage, and other frozen cities across the globe.
More details about the Surly ECR as an off-pavement tourer can be found in my post entitled “Dissecting the Surly ECR”.
Shogun Prairie Breaker 2
An older mountain bike with studs. It isn’t mine, a least not anymore, but it lives in the same house and gets some ride time when ice dominates the scene. This Prairie Breaker 2 has history, and joins the list of older mountain bikes that I have enjoyed.
For most conditions including fresh snow I ride a first-generation Surly Pugsley. The color is described by Surly as “Barney Blue/Purple Pearl Sizzurple”. It rides well, like a bike.
This bike remained in use long after the snow melted. I rode it all year, including a six month trip from Alaska to New Mexico. Check out my post “Pugsmorphology” to see the evolution of the bike, and to see how it got from AK to NM.
1985 Specialized Stumpjumper
For $100, this was my tourer several summers ago when I lived near Denali NP and was my (re)introduction to vintage, lightweight steel ATB’s. I rode from Anchorage to Denali for a season of work, and toured some premiere dirt tracks on this bike including the Denali Park Road and the Denali Highway.
A superbly nice frame featuring lightweight tubing and a natural, capable geometry. In 1985, it was one of only a few production frames with a rear spacing of 130mm, which is mostly irrelevent, but a nice feature. Paired with a five-speed freewheel, the rear wheel is built symmetrically, and is thus quite rugged. Note: the lugged Unicrown fork, and the chrome under the paint on the stays and fork. Stem and fork are both Specialized branded but manufactured by Nitto, while the front hub features sealed cartridge bearings. In all, this is about the nicest production ATB from the era. Studded tires are optimal on hardpacked icy roads and trails.