Antarctic Bike: Four Wheels For Polar Cycling

One man’s unusual bucket list adventure could be a first for polar exploration, but it’s already a first for the cycling world.

Fat bike for Antarctica

Four wheels, a Pinion gear box, a rear sled mount, and 11-inch-wide tread front and rear, Hank Van Weelden’s ride is less a bike, and more an “Antarctic assault vehicle.”

His custom, fat, quad-cycle is a $17,000 monster built for one purpose: Crush 750 miles of ice and snow.

The 50-year-old Edmonton native plans to accomplish something new — bicycle from the South Pole to the Antarctic coast. Previous expeditions by Eric Larsen, Daniel Burton, and others begin from the coast and travel inland, and ended at the pole.

four-wheel bike for Antarctic expedition“I have 30 days to make it to the last airlift off the continent,” Van Weelden told us. “Barring medical or catastrophic bike issues, I’m confident in success.”

For an expedition unlike any other, Van Weelden needed a rig unlike any other. Since fat bikes proved most effective for past polar rides, he figured, then fatter would be even better.

Four-Wheel Fat Bike

Van Weelden began sketching some concepts and called up custom bike-builder Davis Carver, owner of Carver Bikes in Woolwich, Maine. The pair previously collaborated on Hank’s other requests for fat bike and endurance racing.

“Carver was both willing and excited about the project,” he told us. “He has proven to me on the other builds to think things through thoroughly. I needed that, especially on this bike.”

Van Weelden and Carver devised a monster. A titanium frame holds down four—count ’em, four—5.5″-wide wheels, two in front and two in rear. That mammoth paw print provides massive float along the polar terrain.

Compass holder welded to titanium fat bike frame

The real engineering genius lies in the drivetrain, though. An 18-speed internal hub with Pinion transfer case gives Van Weelden “more range than mountain bikers with a triple chainring.”

Running this setup has two advantages: It keeps the gears largely out of the snow and ice that would otherwise confound a typical drivetrain.

Man prepares to Ride special 'Fat Bike' to South Pole

Next month Eric Larsen will saddle up on the snow and pedal south. The goal of his solo expedition is the geographic South Pole and a world record as the first man to do the trip on two wheels. Read more…

It also allows the stainless steel chain to run through the center of the bike, powering a rear hub that rests between the two tires. Most every other bike in the world has an asymmetric drive, with the chainring and cog on the side of the bike.

The benefit is that none of the wheels are dished to offset the asymmetry that plagues other bikes. A fully-symmetrical wheel is stronger than even the best-built, dished wheel.

Custom Bike, Custom Journey

Hank Van Weelden testing a four-wheel fat bike
Hank Van Weelden testing the four-wheel fat bike

In addition to the wheels and custom drivetrain, this bike has a built-in frame mount for Hank’s Southern Hemisphere compass, a rigid tow bar, and a Norwegian-built carbon fiber sled that will help tow everything he’s going to need for the 30-day journey.

Van Weelden, the CEO of a remote-housing manufacturer, has been planning and saving for this adventure, and the nearly-$20,000 bike.

“I built an adventure fund for myself with a portion of my earnings,” he explained. “Over the years, it has amassed a nice amount that pays for this trip.”

Here’s Hank Van Weelden’s full setup for the Antarctic ride:

Antarctic Bike & Gear Kit

  • Titanium frame
  • 60+ lbs. full build
  • Carbon rims
  • Four 5.5-inch-wide Vee Snowshoe tires (tubeless; 2 psi)
  • 18-speed Pinion transfer case
  • Front hydraulic disc brake
  • Acapulka carbon-fiber sled
  • Repair kit
  • “Mickey Mouse” combat boots
  • Boiled wool socks
  • Aclima merino-wool mesh shirt
  • RaceFace vest with1.5-liter hydration bag
  • Icebreaker top
  • Patagonia Merino Air
  • Patagonia Nano-Air
  • Arc’teryx windstopper shell
  • Patagonia down vest
  • Kluane Mountaineering down jacket
  • Marmot Expedition mitts
  • Pogies
  • 2 x MSR xgk stoves
  • Aluminum kettle
  • 2 titanium spoons
  • Stove board
  • GSI Outdoors Fairshare mug
  • Anker solar panels and batteries
  • 2 x Garmin Etrex 20 GPS
  • 2 x Iridium extreme satellite phones
  • DeLorme Inreach
  • Nikon Key Mission 170 camera

Hank Van Weelden has been on Mount Everest expeditions, taught survival school classes, and biked in numerous endurance events.

He begins the South Pole bike trip on December 18th. Track his progress on Facebook and MapShare.

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Adam Ruggiero is an all-sport activity junkie - from biking, running, and (not enough) surfing, to ball sports, camping, and cattle farming. If it's outside, it's worth doing. Adam graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism. Likes: unique beer, dogs, stories. Like nots: neckties, escalators, manicured lawns.

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