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One-off fat trike attempts world record Antarctic trip


December 20, 2013

Maria Leijerstam is in the midst of attempting a trip to the South Pole on a custom-built ICE trike

Maria Leijerstam is in the midst of attempting a trip to the South Pole on a custom-built ICE trike

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Last winter, polar explorer Eric Larsen attempted to become the first person to cycle to the South Pole. Continually stymied by deep, unrideable snow, Larsen fell behind schedule and was forced to abandon the attempt. This year, several others are taking up the challenge. Thirty-five year-old British adventurer Maria Leijerstam is hoping the ticket to success is a fat-tired recumbent trike built to task.

While most of us are buying last-minute gifts and preparing to welcome loved ones into our homes, Leijerstam is pedaling herself and 99 lb (45 kg) worth of gear across the frozen continent. Unlike Larsen, who made his attempt without competition from other cyclists, Leijerstam is racing against Spaniard Juan Mendez and American Daniel Burton. They will take different routes, but they are all striving to be the first to the Pole.

Larsen used a customized Surly Moonlander fat bike during his attempt last winter, and both Mendez and Burton are using two-wheelers. Leijerstam has a different idea: a recumbent trike designed by the UK's Inspired Cycle Engineering (ICE).

"Fat bikes fail because they get blown over in the high winds, or can’t ride fast enough through the snow to stay upright," Leijerstam explains on ICE's blog. "I knew I needed something that would overcome these limitations."

Nicknamed the White ICE Cycle, Leijerstam's trike offers stability, balance and increased aerodynamics that bicycles simply can't match. Instead of expending energy trying to stay balanced, Leijerstam will be able to focus on moving forward during grueling, 18-hour days, even when it entails 50 mph (80 km/h) winds and stiff climbs up the crevasse-littered Leverett Glacier.

ICE used its Sprint trike as the basis for the extreme build, including standard components like its ergonomic mesh seat and indirect steering system. In order to prepare the vessel for the harsh challenges of extended Antarctic travel, ICE upgraded the design from a US$3,000 stock trike to a ~$33,000 extreme polar-cycle.

ICE started by reinforcing the frame, replacing aluminum elements with aircraft-grade, heat-treated 4130 chromoly steel. It added a mid-drive to step gearing down 2 to 1, providing easier pedaling for the steep uphill slogs. It also reworked the rear-end geometry to accommodate the low gearing and fat snow tires.

The trike's reinforced wheels are mounted on Hope Fatsno hubs. The front wheels are wrapped in 4.7-in Surly Big Fat Larry tires, and the rear wheel uses a 4.8-in Surly Lou with spikes added for extra traction and muscle. A custom rack system handles gear storage.

"The trike is amazing," reports Leijerstam. "It’s completely stable, even in extreme winds and I can take on long steep hills that I’d never be able to climb on a bike."

Leijerstam is wheeling over a route that ICE describes as "virtually untested by polar explorers." The trip will take her more than 400 miles (644 km) from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, up over Leverett Glacier, and onward to the South Pole. Along the way she'll face some of the harshest terrain and weather conditions on Earth, including temperatures as low as -31° F (-35° C), snowstorms and deep snowdrifts. She'll need to rely on every bit of her training and competition experience from places like Siberia and Iceland.

Leijerstam arrived at the Novo Russian Airbase in Antartica on December 12 and got underway on the trike journey on the 17th, making it 25 miles (45 km) up the Leverett Glacier before retiring to her tent for the night. Her plan calls for pedaling and camping for up to 20 days.

You can watch the White ICE Cycle come together in the video below. Those interested can follow Leijerstam's progress at whiteicecycle.com.

Source: Inspired Cycle Engineering via GearJunkie

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work. All articles by C.C. Weiss

I think that is neat. I think it is good they are using lower trikes instead of bikes. It would give them someplace to rest at breaks. I think it should have some kind of windshield or 'shell' to help protect from the wind / cold. If they succede, perhaps they could do a documentary on it? It would be interesting to see all that goes to prepare for this sort of journey.


Good luck to her. A trike that's intrinsically stable is a step in the right direction, but I think she should have abandoned wheels entirely, though. Skis in the front rather than wheels would be better in the snow. Less to go wrong. A wide, cleated track in the back for a much larger contact patch, more traction, better braking and far more flotation, especially on soft snow. Essentially a human-powered snowmobile. Snowmobiles are the supreme winter outdoor performance vehicle and I have to believe it's for good reasons. Plus insulation like three inches of Primaloft sewn on the underside of the seat mesh so it can provide warmth while maintaining full loft.


"As cold as -35°C" is no joke, particularly in the windstorms she'll be going through. I guess right now, this is as warm as it gets at the South Pole. Actually on her log, she said she tested her front wheel skis on, uh, Friday 13th. I hope she makes it, I'm really interested to follow this expedition!


I admire the spirit and endurance. For the trike, I would have added two long skis higher up, at roof level. These two skis overshoot the front and rear by quite a bit. The idea is that should she run into a crevice the two skis can support the trike while she gets out and works the bike back out. The two skis can also be swung sideways down, like a gull wing such that it forms a bridge to propel over a crevice. The two skis can also be used to hold sheeting top and sides for when the wind is really strong, creating a cabin to rest in. And for any reason, the skis can join and be used as tow skis.

Nantha Nithiahnanthan

Gadgeteer, I like your ideas. I would add a sealed vehicle with radar or some sensor and GPS to navigate in zero visibility.

Don Duncan

Doesn't aluminum become stronger as temperatures plummet, and steel becomes more brittle? Why not simply thicker aluminum, instead of chrome moly substitution.

Scott in California

Truly admirable. The will power, the determination. The enormous risk taking. For fame? I hope, she makes it and it worth it. Beyond extraordinary endurance, what is she proving? That it is possible to tricycle on snow? Will that sell enough snow-cycle? I wonder, in that position, with so heavy gear, how can she pedal so strongly? The videos clearly show many basic flows of the tricycle design, which works against her. The rear wheel is heavily loaded, sinks deep in fresh powder, not in the front wheel track line. It spins faster than the front wheels, loosing lots of usable energy. Four wheeler with front ski “wheels” and right behind rear wheels would still qualify as bicycle. She could be more effective in upright position as she mostly trained on exercise bike. She could see forward better, even if her center of mass would be higher. The steel 4130 chrome-choice is questionable. Still heavy. 7xxx series High strength ductile aluminum alloy could have the same strength for 3x less weight. Wrapped in a layer of aramid fiber composite would be even better. There is only one type of wheel which could never skid on snow and ice, for having built-in tangential air-cylinders acting between the hub and the rigid ribbed rim as flexible torque coupler of exponentially progressive elasticity. For having long strokes, that provides 9x more comfort for the rider. Several videos testify that it can go on snow, sand, gravel, mud and ice as no other wheel and with 1/3rd less effort. Ask for the links, if you have not seen one on wheel chair or on car on dyno running. Though tire puncture may not be a danger there, fat rubber tire is heavy. Composite light but rigid rim would be a better choice. Similar to moon carts. The spare ski pair is a good idea, for just in case. I press fingers that she makes it triumphantly and comes back healthy, unhurt. Light helmet with visor could warm her face. I see that quite unprotected. I always wonder how you can take care of urgent calls of nature in that cold weather. What do you eat, just dry food? How you keep water from freezing? How can I sleep now until she comes back!


@Gadgeteer, Nantha Kumar Nithiahnanthan and Unbelievable: You guys make a lot of excellent points and ask a lot of excellent questions!

Can somebody from the expedition answer some of them for us please? Cheers!


The concerns about the weight and stiffness of frozen rubber tires is not only valid but this might well have been a great application opportunity for any of several springy wheel designs developed for moon or mars rovers. Given that she is already under way I can only wish her well. Using Chrome-Moly tubing is a good choice because there is a well known history of aircraft having parts fail or even shatter in the extreme cold.


to those of you who is asking why not skies instead of wheels - "to cycle to the South Pole" might mean that with skies it isn't technically "to cycle"


Beautiful 35 year old fit woman on a tricycle TRUMPS 5 man crew 37 ton 56' long 20' wide 300 horse power 30 MPH task designed and built machine. It's dejavu all over again: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antarctic_Snow_Cruiser

Dave B13
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