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Go, Go Golden Circle! Biking the Golden Circle with BOB


Another broken spoke. My heart sank. My bike tour was going nowhere fast, and it had barely even begun. I had too much weight on two cheap wheels, too flimsy for a Clydesdale like myself. I needed a trailer.
Author Wesley Cheney at the start of his six hundred kilometer Golden Circle ride through Alaska, British Columbia and Yukon, before hooking up with BOB.

I felt my goals were modest enough: I wanted to bike the “Golden Circle” from Haines, Alaska, through the Yukon Territory and British Columbia and back to Skagway, Alaska in less than four days. I would be crossing two major mountain passes and riding six hundred kilometers on the Haines Highway, the Alaska Highway, and the Klondike Highway. I could not afford to have spokes breaking. It would be three hundred kilometers between bike shops and gas stations. I only had one emergency spoke with me.

Admittedly, it was a problem partially of my own creation. I was riding a Trek Alpha 1.1 entry-level road bike. If I’d read the fine print on the warranty, I’d have seen that I exceeded the maximum recommended weight. But I’d been hesitant to ship my favorite touring bike from Virginia to Alaska for my first season as a bike tour guide. I didn’t know if I’d really need it. Instead, I bought a used rental bike from my shop. And promptly started breaking spokes.


If I was going to make it any farther than the ferry dock in Haines, I was going to need another wheel. I didn’t have the time or the funds to buy another bike, even if there were any 63cm touring bikes available, anyway. (Did I mention that I’m almost always the tallest guy in any room?) But there was a BOB Yak Trailer for rent at Sockeye Cycle Co. And I had ridden many miles with a BOB in tow before.

The BOB Yak Trailer is amongst the most versatile of bike trailers, and a worthwhile investment for cyclists who need to get the groceries or go five hundred miles.

I bike by the seat of my pants, literally. The feel of my bike comes through my seat, through my pedals, through my handlebars. Different roads, different trails, and different bikes all feel distinct and different.  If I really want to get in touch with nature, I ride my skinny, high-pressure tires down a rutted gravel road. There’s nature, pounding my palms and soles mercilessly. The same holds true for carrying loads on bikes. The location, size, and volume of cargo directly affect how a bike feels in motion. To the seat of my pants, cargo carried in trailers is more stable and less tiring than cargo carried on bike racks. And carrying cargo in a backpack is even more of an exertion than carrying cargo on a bike rack.

Larger than Life: Touring with a bike trailer spreads the load out, making it less taxing on both the body and the bike to ride long distances with cargo.

Bicycles are physics in motion. And carrying cargo on a bicycle is an act of compounded physics. In addition to balancing myself atop two wheels, I’m also balancing a static load. The higher that load is above my pedals and wheels, the more work I have to do. Lower loads are less work. Handlebar bags and baskets are great for quick access, but when they’re overloaded they make a bike harder to handle, both in motion and standing still. Watching my bike flop over on its kickstand and spill a couple of smoothies over a couple of sandwiches made me swear off handlebar baskets once and for all. Feeling my shoulders ache under the pinch of overloaded backpacks was one thing, but it was another matter to feel the wind gust and jerk bulky backpacks. It taught me that it’s not just the weight of a load that matters, but also the volume. Biking is like sailing. Air resistance is everything. Tucking down into my drops lets me pedal faster into a headwind. The location of loads makes a difference in how the wind feels. Higher loads place the center of resistance to the wind higher on the bike, and require more work, making the bike more finicky and twitchy, and leaving me craving more burritos. Whereas lower loads are easier.


Cargo on the Down Low: The OMM Ultimate Lowrider Rack is a great option for lowering the center of balance on a touring bike, and keeps the weight evenly distributed.

The same load carried in a trailer will be more stable than carried on a bike. When it comes to moving cargo on a bike, two wheels are good. But three, or more, wheels are better. Moving my cargo from my back and my bike to a trailer made all the difference in not only the amount of energy required to ride but also decreased the strain on my bike. The biggest difference was in the number of flat tires and broken spokes that I had to deal with. I already weigh over a hundred kilo. I’m big enough to be mistaken for a (svelte) linebacker. My spokes don’t need the added stress of extra weight. By moving my cargo to a trailer, I removed weight from my rear wheel, moved the center of mass below my bike hubs, and lowered the center of wind resistance. Furthermore, I was able to carry bigger loads, both in terms of weight and volume. The only trade off was that I was carrying more deadweight. Even empty, a bike cargo trailer weighs at least twice as much as a pair of panniers and a set of racks.


You get what you pay for. Buying a bike rack at a big box store may be easy on the wallet, but it doesn’t make for reliable gear. If you’re only using a bike rack once a month or once per season, then it may do just fine. But if you plan on loading your panniers every day, carrying groceries home, bringing books to class or paying the rent by delivering food, then you’ll want to invest in a quality rack.

The Ortlieb Touring Rack R2 is a sturdy, affordable option that beats any bargain bike rack in the long haul.



The replacement spoke sang as I plucked it on the truing stand at Sockeye Cycle. I swapped the skewer on my rear wheel, set my wheel back in the dropouts, and mounted a rental Yak B.O.B. (Beast of Burden) trailer onto the rear of my bike. With my spare clothes, bivouac sack and food transferred from sitting high over the rear wheel to sitting down low behind my bike, I now had a more stable ride, and I was stressing my rear wheel less. Four days and six hundred kilometers later I was exhausted, but happy that I’d made the switch. I only wished that I’d done so sooner.

When I finished my own private odyssey a few days later, I unclipped the BOB trailer and lickety-split, I had a little, lightweight road bike again. Unlike a cargo bike or a touring bike that is always loaded down with racks, the BOB Yak is easy to detach and store when it’s not needed.

And, it looks darn cool.

A rainbow stretches over the Haines Highway and the author’s bike during his self-supported Golden Circle bike tour with a BOB Yak trailer.

Author Wesley Cheney leads bicycle tours in Alaska and Virginia, blogs at The Kilted Writer, and delivers freaky fast sandwiches in the off-season.

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Bikes of the Klondike Gold Rush

“White Man: He sit down, walk like hell.”

That was how one Native Alaskan described Ed Jesson riding a fixed gear bicycle down the frozen Yukon River in the winter of 1900. How a man with practically no supplies and the simplest of bikes could ride over a thousand miles in the dead of an Arctic winter boggles our twenty-first century minds until we remember that for Ed Jesson, and hundreds of his fellow Klondike “wheelmen” (their name for themselves) there was gold, “haunting and haunting, luring them on as of old.” Jesson was racing from Dawson City to Nome, Alaska in the hope of being amongst the first to stake a claim on the gold-laden, frozen beaches of the Bering Sea. More so than any Olympian cyclist, the Klondike wheelmen were chasing the gold. They also were fueled by a quaintly Victorian faith in the bicycle. Pierre Berton wrote in his seminal Klondike Fever that “the velocipede was to the 1890s what the television set was to the 1950s…Such was the faith in the bicycle that thousands were prepared to believe that this was the ideal way of crossing the mountain passes.”

Gold Rush Wheelmen pose with their “wheels” behind a dog sled, circa 1900.

Fast forward to 2017: For more than a dozen years a new breed of intrepid winter cyclists have tackled the challenge of riding the Iditarod and other arctic trails. And while technology has certainly advanced in the intervening century, technology doesn’t replace tenacity. The self-titled “stampeders” of the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush were nothing if not tenacious. (Although it’s entirely possible that our historical view is skewed, since only the successfully tenacious had the subsequent opportunity to record their acts of derring do. Before they were able to pen memoirs, the unsuccessful wheelmen of the North froze to death in blizzards, or were swallowed up by rotten ice.)

Jeff Oatley, right, poses with his wife Heather Best at the start of the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest trail from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Yukon.

Three northern wheelmen stand out: Ed Jesson, Max Hirschberg and B.H. Svendson. Each faced mechanical hurdles that would defy tax their counterparts a hundred years later. In 2003 a team of three cyclists profiled in National Geographic attempted the same journey, and found that “the cold does weird things.” At forty below zero tubes spontaneously deflate, grease freezes and tire pumps explode. Even today, crashing a bike in the frigid cold risks snapping cranks and pedals. Rubber tubes and tires freeze solid. Bike chains snaps. Riding the Yukon is not for the faint of heart or the ill-prepared. When Ed Jesson broke a pedal on his bike in 1900, he first carved replacements out of wood, each of which only lasted a day. After buying nuts and bolts, he was able to hack a more durable pedal out of sheet metal with the assistance of a local missionary.

BH Svendson and his fully-loaded arctic bike.

Jesson, Hirschberg and Svendson traveled light. Just as modern, minimalist touring cyclists rely upon their credit cards to buy a hot meal and a warm bed, Klondike wheelmen carried “pokes” of gold to buy services at the road houses that were stationed every twenty miles or so along the trails they were using. Hirschberg wrote,

“My poke held gold dust worth $1,500 and my purse contained silver and gold coins. Next to my skin around my waist I carried a belt with $20 gold pieces that had been stitched into it by my aunt in Youngstown, Ohio, before I had left to go to the Klondike.”

In 21st Century terms, Hirschberg was carrying over $40,000. Even at the exorbitant prices of the Gold Rush, he was adequately covered.

And they weren’t breaking new trail, either. They were following the tracks packed down by dog sled teams. While their tires look comically narrow to us today, less than an inch and a half wide, they fit perfectly into the grooves cut by the sled runners, giving the men an easy trail to ride. Jesson wrote,

“The sleds had scraped most of the snow off the [icy trail], and left it in fine condition for the wheel as the rubber tire stuck to this trail very well and all I had to do was look out for the icy cracks, which were very numerous.”

The Klondike wheelmen traveled with a bare minimum of gear. Jesson records that,

“The day I left Dawson, March 2, 1900 was clear and crisp, 30 degrees below zero. I was dressed in a flannel shirt, heavy fleece-lined overalls, a heavy mackinaw coat, a drill parka, two pairs of heavy woolen socks and felt high-top shoes, a fur cap that I pulled down over my ears, a fur nosepiece, plus fur gauntlet gloves.

On the handlebars of the bicycle I strapped a large fur robe. Fastened to the springs, back of the seat, was a canvas sack containing a heavy shirt, socks, underwear, a diary in waterproof covering, pencils and several blocks of sulfur matches. In my pockets I carried a penknife and a watch.”

Bikes stand in a snowbank in the Yukon.

“For most of Yukon history, bicycling was a means of winter transportation rather than a competitive summer pastime,” wrote John Firth in Yukon Sport: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, “The greatest risk was severe frostbite. The advantage was the cost.” Keeping a team of sled dogs alive in the frozen north required an enormous expenditure of time, resources and money. While folks thought Ed Jesson “was crazy for riding a wheel,” especially since he owned a good dog team, he countered that he didn’t have to cook dog food for the bicycle at night, and on especially good days he could cover one hundred miles: three or four times farther than a dogsled.

Today’s fat bikers do not have the benefit of riding well-packed trails, or finding a warm roadhouse every twenty miles along the trail, and are forced to carry far more gear on bikes far bigger and heavier than those of the Gold Rush wheelmen. In 2003 National Geographic published an account of three cyclists who followed in the tracks of Ed Jesson and Max Hirschberg from Dawson City to Nome, and found that they couldn’t compete:

“Obviously things have changed,” Kevin Vallely, one of the fat bikers, said. “There was much more traffic on the trail when he traveled, but [their] speed has stunned us. It’s possible, I guess, but we’re a little suspicious…This is incredible—possibly too incredible.”

As Robert Service, bard of the Yukon, wrote,

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
      By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
      That would make your blood run cold.
The Wheelman who set the Whitehorse-Dawson record.


Wesley Cheney leads Klondike bike tours for Sockeye Cycle Co. in Skagway, Alaska. He earned his Eagle Scout Badge with Troop 216 in Springfield, Vermont, biked from London to Rome via the Route Napoleon, sailed with the USS Kearsarge to Equatorial Africa, earned a Bachelors Degree in Philosophy from Old Dominion University, completed the final Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200km Brevet, and most recently delivered freaky fast sandwiches for Jimmy John’s in Norfolk, Virginia. He regularly contributes questions to The Thomas Jefferson Hour, plays the ukulele and the flugelhorn, reads the New Testament in German, and prefers to wear a kilt.