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Inaugural Fat Bike Expo starts Friday, followed by Iditarod Trail Invitational

  • Author: Mike Campbell
  • Updated: September 30, 2016
  • Published February 24, 2016

Forgive the Iditarod Trail Invitational human-powered race for going a little record crazy.

After all, it was just a year ago that Anchorage cyclist John Lackey pedaled 350 miles on the Iditarod trail to McGrath in the jaw-dropping time of 1 day, 18 hours, 32 minutes, demolishing the race record by 10 hours, 11 minutes, which, until Lackey's ride, was some 14 hours faster than the second-fastest time in race history.

Now compare Lackey's time to Aliy Zirkle, who led the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race into McGrath two years ago behind 15 dogs. The elite Two Rivers musher needed 2 days, 2 hours, 37 minutes.

Whew. How do you top that?

If you're Kathi Merchant, who runs the Invitational with husband Bill, you turn from speed to volume.

This year, Merchant has linked the Invitational to the inaugural Fat Bike Expo on Friday and Saturday at the Egan Center, capped by a 5-mile ride from downtown to Westchester Lagoon and back that months ago she hoped would be a world record for the number of fat-tire bikers in an organized event.

"We need at least 1,000 riders to get the record," she said months ago, "but we're hoping for significantly more."

But deep into Anchorage's winter of weather discontent — warmth, rain, snow-starved — Merchant has altered her expectations.

"We've had 190 sign up so far," Merchant said in a phone interview. "So, seriously, I've got a ways to go. I've been on at least five radio stations talking it up. But I think with the warm weather and ice, people might be a little skittish."

There's no official record, Merchant acknowledges, adding that the biggest gathering she's been able to find is the Fat Bike Birkie on the renown American Birkebeiner Ski Trail in Cable, Wisconsin. This year's field is full with 1,000 bikers signed up.

In Alaska, Merchant believes the biggest fat-tire bike event is January's Frosty Bottom race, which this year had 250 bikers finish.

To help lure riders, organizers are offering a free beer or hot chocolate to riders that sign up.

Meanwhile, the expo opens at the Egan Center at 10 a.m. Friday, finishing up Saturday. A full schedule of events is at Most of the 70 endurance bikers registered for the Invitational will be at the Expo 3-4 p.m. Friday to answer questions.

The next day they'll be at the Knik Bar start line at 2 p.m., ready to begin a 350-mile race to McGrath, a 1,000-miler to None or — new this year — a 130-miler to the Susitna Valley.

"When I arrived in Alaska, there were like 50 fat bikes in the state and now it's booming," she said. "People told me I was nuts to push fat biking, but I have a lot of passion for it, and put my heart into it. "It's getting really, really big. What's so significant is that it started in Alaska and was started by Alaskans."

Lackey, an electrical engineer and former road bike racer at Montana State University, isn't back this year to defend, and the conditions are much different. Gone is frozen ribbon of brown and frozen earth from Knik into the Interior, replaced my much deeper snow.

"I think it's great that we've got some snow out there," Merchant said. "The last three years have been super fast. It was literally a sprint race. This year there's going to be some pushing out there."

Pushing means a slower race pace in an event where the winning time, in three years went from 6 days, 15 hours in 2012, a year when 30 inches of powder blanketed course just before the start, to last year's blazing time of less than 1 day, 19 hours.

Without Lackey, expect Alaska riders Tim Berntson and Jeff Oatley to challenge for victory in the 350-mile race to McGrath along with Jay Petervary of Idaho. Heather Best leads the women's field.

And on foot, ultramarathoning wizard David Johnston of Willow should be hard to beat — as he is in any race that's seriously long. A little more than a year ago, Johnston ran 551 miles to win the Across The Years Six-Day Race.

Contact Mike Campbell at

Fat-tire bike events

Big Fat Ride: Downtown Anchorage to Westchester Lagoon, including 2-mile and 4-mile routes. The ride is a mass start starting Saturday at 2 p.m. at 400 W. Fourth Avenue downtown, heading to the Chester Creek Sports Complex and finishing at 700 W. Second Aveune. Two-mile riders should line up at the back of the pack. Check the course map or register online:

Fat Bike Expo: Friday and Saturday at Egan Center, beginning 10 a.m. Free.

Iditarod Trail Invitational: Seventy racers head west in 130-mile, 350-mile and 1,000-mile races Sunday beginning at the Knik Bar at 2 p.m.

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