Iditabike is a 100mile race on frozen snowmachine and dog-sled trails in Alaska. It’s run at the beginning of February every year. The weekend following it is Iditabike Extreme, an even tougher 350mile race. You won’t need this information for Iditabike Extreme, as you usually have to complete Iditabike to enter.
I first attempted Iditabike in ’96 when the course was 140miles. It took a couple of days and I placed 14th. This was written up for MTB World magazine. A year later I did it again, this time on the shorter 100mile course which is now in place. This was written up in the 2nd issue of mbr magazine.
The following information is culled from the emails that I’ve sent people since then, because I’m getting tired of repeating myself! If you need further assistance email me here or look about the ‘net. You’ll have to go along way to find better advice than the folks at
All Weather Sports. Simon who works there is an Iditabike regular and what he doesn’t know about the race isn’t worth knowing.
You MUST get a set of their Snowcat rims. They are essential. Forget trying to do it without them. Snowcats are 44mm wide rims which give the tyre a super-wide profile, allowing you to ride through really soft snow without a problem. You stick your tyres to them and run them as low as 2psi. They do a superlight 28hole version with big cut outs which are nice. They also do good prices on complete wheelsets. Pick them up in Alaska and save on freighting.
Follow All Weather’s clothing advice to the letter. They know their stuff. I used a Karrimor Kalahari fleece/nylon jacket one year, and a custom Pace Winteractive the second year, with 1 thin baselayer, a pair of Pace shorts, Pace Winter tights and that was it. Temp down to about -15C I think. As long as you’re riding it’s fine.
I’ve been colder here than in Alaska. Although the cold at 4am on the 2nd day of the first Idita I did was horrible. -30C is totally perculiar. Especially when you’ve burnt all your fat and energy stores. And you still have 25miles to go. And you’ve had no sleep for 2 days.
Keeping my hands warm really worried me. Get some Pogies from All Weather Sports. They let you ride with bare hands down to about -10 and with really thin gloves down to -15 easily. I rode with thin mountaineering thermals on. If I did it again, I’d probably ride with my favourite full-finger gloves (Scarey Fast) inside Pogies. I dig them out sometimes when it’s really cold here and can’t believe how warm they are. You can also keep you gell or powerbars in the pogies too. A must have.
Get food you can work with well. I used Leppin Gell. It’s brilliant. Powergel or Gu is good too.
I used overshoes and an insulated boot and thick socks on the first trip. The snow packed up the inside of the overshoes and made my feet about ten inches wide! You don’t think of these things at home.
That shoe combo I used in ’97 was what Stamstad recommended to me. I used Shimano DH boots with this system – anti-perspirant footspray, vaseline, thin liner sock, vapour barrier sock (plastic bag will work), thick expensive fleecy sock (Patagonia), another vapour barrier, and then the boot. If it got cold I added toe-heaters.
If it gets really,really cold, he adds an insulated bootee. I’ve seen other people have a racing shoe inside a Sorel boot liner, with an overshoe over it. All this stuff is available out there far easier than here.
My first year boots cost $20 or something. Think about it – Alaskan have to walk round in this stuff all the time, so they sell warm cheap boots. The ones I have are kind of like the ones you see sometimes in the back of Sunday supplement magazines. I screwed the overshoes on and used Club Roost beartrap pedals.
Much of this kit isn’t available here, but is available via the net or in Anchorage.
Ride long and slow. Emulate what you’re going to do. Beat yourself up in training and you’ll be OK on the ride. Try setting up your survival equipment when you get back from a hard ride. Try doing things with gloves on. Practice means you’ll survive better. To puzzle you further, my training consisted mainly of fell running for a maximum of 1hr at a time, and riding to London from here (I did 149 miles in a day).
I work on a strange principle of setting the engine up (heart/lungs) and then keeping the petrol coming in (gel) and the motor keeps going. I’m sure long distance rides would be excellent, but, well, they take so long!
And I did a night in an Iceland Frozen Foods coldstore warehouse, which was quite handy.
Don’t use panniers. Carry everything you can on the bike, under the saddle, inside the frame, whatever… with the sleeping bag under the bars (like you can see in the pics).
Time ATAC pedals work in the snow. Shimanoalikes probably don’t. Flatties are good too, but can snag you when you push. I had to push for seven hours the first time I did it.
It’s going to cost you about £200 for a bag that’s up to the task, and about £200 for a bivvy sack, or loads for a tent. And you might not even have to use them. I had a Terra Nova Goretex bivi and a Mountain Equipment Everest bag. The bag must be rated down to -40F, -28C. You *should not* have to use them. You will not camp out on the trail unless you are mental (or fancy doing it). If you sleep at a lodge, you’ll just sleep in your clothes – (clothes warm enough for outside = nice and comfy inside).
Your bivi and bag are survival items. The second time I did it, I had a $5 emergency bivi bag (space blanket type), along with my Everest bag, and a camping mat made from radiator insulation. It would allow me to survive OK if I got lost and saved a stack of weight. Apparently the ’99 regs say space blankets aren’t allowed. Which is fair enough. A stock 500G plastic survival bag would be fine. Goretex isn’t going to help you out there as Goretex doesn’t work well in those temperatures.
How far you skimp on these depends on your bottle and experience. How far you skimp also makes your bike lighter and handle better, and the experience more fun. I would pare down further if I did it again.
You don’t need a new bike. You don’t need disc brakes. I was going to run a disc brake, but couldn’t get the bosses to work at the time. Besides, there’s only one hill on the course. I used a single Magura on the back. Nothing on the front. Goretex cables are essential too. The oil freezes in conventional gear cables and your gears won’t work.
First time I took a Whisperlite thing. Second time, well… Take a SIGG fuel bottle, cut the bottom three inches off it, make 1in holes around it, an inch above the bottom. Fill it with meths to act as fuel and a small ally tin to sit on top. Light – it works too. Remember – this stuff isn’t for cooking a meal on, it’s for melting snow to survive. I can use this when brain dead. Pour meths in, light – actually much easier than priming a daft Whisperlite. I don’t think Gas bottles would work due to the cold.
I blagged a load of stuff because of who I was. Both times I did it I was in a position to offer guaranteed coverage in the mags. You probably aren’t. Plus, now I’ve done Iditasport twice, and Andy Heading’s done Extreme – there’s not such a good story to tell now. Unless you’re a disabled black gay lesbian amputee, there’s not a big story there. You can probably get product support from a few people, but cashmoney is going to be tough. But you don’t NEED a new bike.
Camelbak under jacket, without insulating tube, so that your body heat keeps the tube from freezing. Also, you mst blow back into the bladder everytime. I used an insulated tube with a coat hanger to give a custom-bent style.
You need a Petzl Arctic, with the battery pack in a holster around your neck rather than on your head. -20C shags batteries fast.
Low temp grease is essential, particularly in the headset and hubs. BB I think less so, but it’s worth seeking out. remember, conditions are so clean (no mud!) that you can run crap lubes and get away with it. I only rode for 13hrs on the 100mile race. Remember not to let your bike defrost then refreeze. This can get water into the freewheel and then you’re shagged…
Your home freezer is a valuable source of testing. It’ll be at around -18C. Try greases and oils in there. Stick ball bearings in place on a plastic butter tube lid. See what happens. It’s interesting.
Any more info from me? Drop me a mail