Big Fat Bike Festival celebrates big tires and bikepacking
As the snow melts, many people are dusting off their bicycles and looking forward to springtime riding on paved roads and trails. But some cyclists use wider tires to access a variety of terrain inaccessible on standard bicycle tires. Several dozen fat bikers participated in the three-day Big Fat Bike Festival organized by the Homer Cycling Club. The main event was a group ride along the beach on Saturday, April 9.
By all accounts, it was a perfect day. A clear, blue sky and the afternoon sun showcased Kachemak Bay’s beauty. Big tire bicycles rest in piles, leaning against driftwood and on warm beach rocks. Their riders rested too; they gathered around a campfire several miles northwest of Homer, near Diamond Creek. Barefoot cyclists peeled off socks and thermals and dried them by the fire. The cyclists enjoyed beers and homemade burritos in the midday sun. Most just completed a 10 mile beach ride from Anchor Point. The Diamond Creek trail was their turn-around point.
Across the campfire is Homer resident Daniel Countiss. He spoke in short sentences, rarely giving more than a one-word response, except when he talking about one of his passions.
“I always wanted to build bikes,” he said. “Probably for the last 20 years, I wanted to build bikes. And maybe 10 years ago, I just decided to do it.”
Countiss is the owner of Defiance Frameworks, a company that sells bicycle frames online, mostly to fellow Alaskans. Countiss fabricates the frames, which are primarily made of steel or titanium.
Another rider, Anchorage resident Shawn Grady, showed off bike handlebars welded by Countiss. He traveled to Homer specifically for the festival. He said he’s been riding bicycles his entire life. He loves cold climates and fat bikes allow him to explore winter terrain such as beaches and snow machine trails that would be inaccessible with thinner tires.
“I moved to Alaska from New Jersey basically for the winters and for biking in the winter,” he said. “So fat bikes quickly became a necessity.”
While he speaks he checked the pressure on his tires and secured a bag of tools attached to his frame. He’s was preparing for the group ride back to Anchor Point. The group needs to start pedaling before the tide moves in.
Later I met with Derek Reynolds at his shop. He is tuning up a Fat bike from the weekend’s ride.
“I am adjusting the rear derailleur on this bike It’s a little out of whack”
Reynolds is the owner of Cyclelogical, a Homer-area business that specializes bike and ski- equipment. He’s the “behind the scenes” man of the festival. He handles most of the logistics, from organizing volunteers, to shuttling bikes in the large Econoline Van that he calls "the Fat Van.” This year he had to make sure that the campsite was plowed for festival participants. He rarely is able to join them for the rides.
“I don't get to participate in the Fat Bike Festival," he said. "I just get to help put it on. And yes, every last one of them. I've been there.”
According to Reynolds, this year's event had 42 registered riders and over 20 volunteers who helped with check-ins, providing water and snacks for participants and hauling firewood to the beach and campsites. The event was focused on bike-packing, essentially hauling gear on your bicycle and camping.
The Homer Cycling Club organizes the Fat Bike Festival and is one of its main sponsors. HCC also organizes the Homer Epic, a multimodal race through the Caribou Hills, where participants can choose to run, bike or ski a fifty or one hundred kilometer course. Both the Fat Bike Festival and the Homer Epic are fundraisers for the Homer Cycling Club. Although the club has several initiatives, their current focus is trail building. They have built trails along the Diamond Creek State Recreation Center where this year’s group of riders gathered on the beach. Although fundraising is important Reynolds said that money wasn’t the point.
“We really wanted to just have a good time.”
The Homer Cycling Club meets monthly on ZOOM. Their mission is “to promote bicycling as an environmentally friendly, healthy and enjoyable pursuit within the Homer area and beyond.” When asked about other ways to learn about cycling or fat-biking specifically, festival participant Shawn Grady provided some advice.
“I would say just get out and do it, that's the best way to learn,” he said. “And don't be afraid to mess with your tire pressure.”