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From fatbiking Moreton Island to the wilds of Alaska

Alia Parker's picture
Wayne and Troy fatbiking on Queensland's Moreton Island. Cycle Traveller

Troy Szczurkowski is currently in training for a fatbike adventure like no other – the Iditarod Trail – a bike race of nearly 1,000km through the wilds of Alaska, in winter. Having completed his prequalification in Alaska in 2013, the Queensland bicycle mechanic continued his winter riding, travelling down the snowy backroads of Oregon. Now back in Australia, his training for the 2015 event continues, with plans to cycle the 1,100km Kiwi Brevet. Cycle Traveller caught up with Troy to tap his fatbike knowledge and hear about one of his favourite fatbiking destinations – Queensland's Moreton Island.

CT: How did you get into bikepacking?

TS: I've been riding bikes all my life, the first bikepacking trip I recall was when I was about 11, dad and I set off for an overnighter – it rained all night and we huddled under a picnic shelter.

Troy and Wayne on fatbikes, Moreton Island. Cycle TravellerSolo self-supported bikepacking is what I enjoy – the less motorised transport intervention the happier I am. I like gear too, so bikepacking combines a love of bikes, stealth camping, travel and exploration that requires unique equipment. Researching, planning and putting it all together in the field is the final satisfying phase. It's amazing where riding a bike will take you...

I took my daughter on her first bikepack with me at three, then at five we went out on our tandem – great memories!

I grew up in Brisbane, with a lot of local rides and trips filling in weekends and holidays (Great Ocean Road – the old trails, bits of the Bicentennial National Trail, railtrails). I've bikepacked through Oregon, parts of Alaska, mountain biked in California, Arizona and rat-runned in Chicago.

I've been working on bikes for over 25 years, deciding to make it my profession. I've attended United Bicycle Institute in Oregon for my DT Swiss master wheelbuilding certification, four Park Tool Tech Summits in the USA and I also hold an Australian Certificate 4 mechanic qualification.

CT: Moreton Island looks amazing. What's it like as a fatbiking destination?

TS: Moreton is the jewel of the bay. There is quite a large diversity of flora and fauna; it is 98% national park. The rangers welcome fatbikers, as the 'ecological footprint' is much less than other forms of wheeled transport. There's a broad range of trails as well, from inland trails under full forest canopy to rugged and isolated beaches as well as large sand blows.

Wayne cycling along the water at Moreton Island. Cycle TravellerCT: How much time do you recommend people spend on the island?

TS: One day is enough to see some cherry picked sites, a weekend is more realistic as then you can maximise the time without worrying about ferry times impinging on exploration time. A week would give you a lot of idle time, which can be good to spend in a hammock, just contemplating life... A weekend is ideal.

CT: You have a pretty lean bikepacking setup. What do you carry and how do you save space and keep weight down?

TS: I like to spread the load over the bike, using soft bags (by Revelate) and going rackless. A typical setup would have my shelter and bedding in small cages on the fork, then sleeping bag and clothes in a handlebar bag, miscellaneous gear in a small bag out front, toiletries in a bag behind the stem, water in a bladder in the top pocket of the frame bag, tools and spares in the lower frame bag, food and cook kit in the seatbag.

Keeping weight down is more about refining what you take. The key is to use things that have multiple uses, evolve to use less in your setup and take less. Buy good gear because it is generally well thought through, well tested and made from some of the best materials available, which often make it lighter/stronger. But, always remain open minded – for instance, an old mouse pad can substitute as a seatpad instead of an expensive inflatable one.

Troy inland on Moreton Island. Cycle TravellerCT: What's your favourite piece of bikepacking gear?

TS: I would have to say my little Swedish FireKnife – a firesteel/knife/whistle all in one. Lights my Whisperlite, cuts my food and annoys my co-riders with the whistle :)

CT: You know your fatbikes, so big question is what do you ride and what componentry does it run?

TS: I have a few fatbikes, built for purpose on specific terrain. One is a steel framed Moonlander with 5-inch tyres running a Rohloff hub and mostly stock configuration – this bike is my exploration sand/beach bike. Another is a titanium Muru Witjira, custom ground-up build with 2x10 SRAM X0 and 4-inch tyres. I built this for snow, specifically the Iditarod 2013 training camp, Oregon backcountry tour and for Iditarod racing 2015. Some refinements for 2015 race will be wider tyres and possibly a dynamo front hub. My wife has a stock Pugsley and our eight-year-old daughter has a mini-fatbike that I made from a 20-inch BMX and trials parts, as well as a half fat tag-a-long. A carbon fatbike is on the shopping list.

CT: What is it that you love most about fatbiking?

TS: Ominterrain capability; accessing those awesome areas under human power. Plus, I think there is a boyhood fantasy about the tough, capable and functional aspect of the fatbike.

Troy fatbiking in Alaska. Cycle Traveller

CT: Fatbikes look really, well, fat! What do they feel like to ride?

TS: Like a monster truck! They roll over obstacles that would stall other bikes. The tyre bounce is undamped, so you bounce a lot, although suspension forks and frames are on the market. However, I think these take away a lot of the functionality of a super-durable, expedition fatbike.

CT: What should people look for when buying a fatbike.

TS: Take a long look at what you want to do with it – is it to impress your mates on singletrack, or is it to explore off the beaten track for days/weeks/months? There is a huge variance in the frames and the component specs, so best to spend a bit of time at a bike shop with a knowledgeable salesperson who lives, breathes and talks fatbike. Just like any other bike, they come in steel, titanium, alloy and carbon flavours.

You can follow Troy Szczurkowski's many adventures and tap into his bike knowledge on his very detailed blog troyszczurkowski.blogspot.com.au, or catch him at River City Cycles at Yeronga, Brisbane. 

Images from top: 1. Troy (right) with mate Wayne Mahoney fatbiking on Moreton Island. 2. Troy and Wayne under the forest canopy, Moreton Island. 3. Wayne riding along the beach. 4. Troy inland on Moreton Island. 5. Troy fatbiking in Alaska.

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