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Alaska fatbike wiz gains national recognition in Outside magazine

Craig Medred

For winter cyclists who want to go fat and go fast, Outside magazine's buyer's guide is pitching the Fatback, a fat-tire bike designed and first built in Anchorage by Speedway Cycles.

Being selected for Outside's 2013 Winter Buyer's Guide, which has just hit bookstores across the country, is a boon for the small, Alaska company run by Anchorage-born entrepreneur Greg Matyas. A pioneer in fatbike design, Matyas now operates out of offices in Alaska and Bend, Ore.

His sales have increasingly gone national, a good thing in a year when sizable parts of Alaska have seen little of the normal winter riding season for fat-tired bikes. The bikes are designed for travel on foot-packed, snowmachine-packed or piston-bully-packed winter trails of snow. But at the moment, snow is in short supply in coastal Alaska, where most Alaskans live.

Winter riding is actually better in some places Outside, as Alaskans call the Lower 48 states. And Outside says Fatback's $3,299 aluminum Fatback SL is the ticket for winter riders there who can afford it and who don't want to try to power 35 to 40 pounds of conventional fat bike up every hill.

"Tons of standover (height) and minimal heft (just 27 pounds) make it feel more XC (cross-country) than XXL,'' the magazine's review notes. "For going fast when it's freezing, there's no better choice." The bike has long been the pick of winter racers.

"Every major snow-bike race in 2012 (including the granddaddy, the Iditabike) was won aboard one of these Alaskan race rigs,'' notes Outside, which per its norm gets something about Alaska wrong. The Iditabike has been gone for a couple decades. It was replaced first by Iditasport -- which for a short time married the Iditabike, the Iditaski and the Iditafoot -- and finally the Iditarod Trail Invitational. The Invitational has organizing human-powered races from Knik along the Iditarod Trail up and over the Alaska Range to McGrath, and Nome, since 1997.

Fifty-five people are now signed up to leave the Knik starting line Feb. 24. More than half of them plan to be riding fatbikes. The others will ski, snowshoe or walk the trail. Most are only crossing 320 miles of wilderness to McGrath, but a few are hopeful of going a full 1,000 miles to the Bering Sea. More than 60 percent of them are tourists from the lower 48 or Europe who've decided to spend their hard-earned income to venture north to cold, dark Alaska (as opposed to the warm, light, midnight sun state that greats most tourists) for the adventure of a lifetime.