“Early on Sunday, Mar. 27, about 65 intrepid souls will cross the starting line of the second White Mountains 100, a 100-mile human powered endurance race that loops over the ridges and through the valleys of the one-million-acre White Mountains National Recreation Area north of Fairbanks. The BLM issues a permit for this race event.

Roughly a third of the racers – those not skiing or running – will be on bicycles. Bikes are a conveyance not often associated with winter transportation in Alaska, but for more than 100 years, bicycles have held a steady, though unheralded, role in how Alaskans move across snow and ice.

The White Mountain 100 race’s co-founder, Ed Plumb, said that when he and Ann Farris decided to establish a new human-powered endurance race in the Interior, it seemed natural to include bicyclists. “We just wanted to include as many people as possible,” Plumb explains.

That doesn’t mean that Plumb, an avid skier and veteran of many frigid backcountry ski trips, necessarily sees the attraction of winter biking himself. “It seems like it would be really cold sitting on a bike,” he says with a laugh.

Endurance racers who participate in Plumb and Farris’ race – or in similar Alaska races like the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the Susitna 100, and the Sheep Mountain 150 – represent the hard-core fringe of a winter biking scene that today largely focuses on recreation and fitness.

What most people don’t know is that the bicycle’s roots in Alaska date back at least as far as the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897. That year brought thousands of gold seekers to Alaska soon after
a bicycling craze hit the nation. Some of those newcomers saw packed winter trails left by dogs, horses, and foot traffic, and thought, “Why couldn’t we ride bicycles on those trails?”

Soon “wheels,” as many people called bicycles at the time, and their riders, were riding the trails across Alaska and the Yukon.”

Find out more about winter biking in Frontiers magazine