Unchained Iceland: 500 miles on a Fatbike

By Becca Schepps

With a population of 7 people per square mile, the demand for detailed topographical maps in Iceland is a bit scarce. If you do happen to come across a few they’re wildly inconsistent. Ask Geoff Harper. He’s been scouring the Internet, contacting places like the Icelandic Search and Rescue, and speaking with anyone and everyone who has travelled the southern Icelandic beaches by bike for help.
Yes, by bike.

On August 1st, UK born-US bred Geoff Harper will spend 4 weeks traversing 500 miles along Iceland's Southern beaches, from Höfn to Reykjavík, on an Alaskan built 9:zero:7 with a Gates Carbon Drive Fatbike.

No stranger to adventure, Geoff recently rode solo from Crested Butte to Aspen. He’s climbed extensively in the Cascade Range and the Pacific Northwest and wound up summiting Denali Alaska in April 2009. But this trip takes the cake for epic – it’s never been done before.

The 500 miles of sandy, salt-crusted Icelandic coastal beaches where Geoff is laying his route are in a constant state of flux: ocean inlets vary with the tide, glacial runoffs are widely affected by ambient temperatures, and threatening rain and high winds jinx the ability to ride at any given moment.

Which is why if you’re going to do something as crazy as this, you need the right ride. The increasingly popularity of fatbike over the last couple years mostly ties them to the snow. The wide rims, extra-large tires and weirdly-dimensioned frames allow the bikes to “float” across the terrain. But Geoff will be taking his 9:zero:7 Tusken fatbike across not just sand, but salty, windy, wet sand that potentially cakes up, rusts, eats away at and destroys a drivetrain.


Gates Carbon Drive with NuVinci Hub

Thankfully Geoff partnered with Denver, Co based Gates Carbon Drive to reconfigure the bike’s chain based drive-train with a carbon belt drive that’s impervious to salt, sand and rust, a NuVinci® N360™ , a Continually Variable Planetary (CVP) internally geared hub (IGH) and a Gates Carbon CDX Centertrack Drive. The result: a fatbike for beach riding specced to withstand the havoc of the icelandic terrain.

Add an Old Man Mountain Rack and some Ortleib Panniers and the fatbike clocks in at 35lbs. So added weight is spared only for essentials: Food, water, electronics (gps, SPOT tracker, wifi) --- and a beer from time to time.

And while I’d probably spend most of my ride time using Geoff’s Goal Zero Switch 8 solar unit to keep a music device charged and fretting as the battery slowly drained over the course of each day, Geoff rarely listens to music while riding. He saves that for his few moments of reflection at the end of each day.

So picture Geoff lying in his tent after a grueling, salt-crusted, windblown day, keeping us updated on his travels on his Unchained Iceland blog, to a backdrop of the glistening Northern Lights with Sigur Ros singing in his ears. How idyllic.

Now all he has to do is find some consistent maps.
Stay in touch with Geoff as he rides here: Unchained Iceland

News Item: