Maria ICEland

Arctic Exploration has always a deep seated and unexplainable allure to a certain demographic of eccentric adventures, and this year a handful of cyclists hope to join the short list of people to have reached the South Pole. Only, they want to do it by bike.

To date, modern explorers have achieved this goal by foot, dog sled, ski, snowmobile, and even Toyota Hilux, but now you can add fatbike to that list. Well, at least a fat-trike.  At the very bottom of the world, there has been a three way race between American Daniel Burton, British rider Maria Leijerstam, and Juan Mendez of Spain to be the first to cycle to the South Pole. While Daniel and Jaun tackled the journey on traditional two wheeled fatbikes, Maria chose a custom built fat-trike, a choice that resulted in her claiming the title of the first person to pedal to the South Pole.

Plow through the break to check out their rides…

Both Juan and Daniel are attempting the route on conventional fat bikes but Maria Leijerstam’s trike was designed specifically for the challenge by Inspired Cycle Engineering (ICE) Trikes. The companies usual trikes retail for ~£2000 but the custom South Pole Recumbent Special would retail in the neighborhood of £20,000.

Ice Trike Maria Leijerstam 2

Maria’s trike uses a number of standard fatbike components like 4.7″ Surly Big Fat Larry Tires up front, and a spiked 4.8″ Surly Lou tire, all rolling on Hope Fatso Hubs. Stopping power is provided by the Avid mechanical discs.What makes her fat bike special is the aluminum frame components have been replaced with heat treated 4130 chromoly steel, have been redesigned to fit oversized snow tires, and has been equipped with a mid drive to drop the gearing down 2 to 1 for climbing. That last bit is key, because of the extremely low gearing of her trike, Maria was able to take a shorter, more direct route to the Pole over the Trans-antarctic Mountains because she would be able to climb up steeper slopes. Gearing was crucial to her triumph, but also the low center of gravity as getting low meant getting out of the howling gale force winds that Antarctica is known for. After climbing the mountains, Maria was able to pedal up the Leverett Glacier to reach the polar plateau. Riding 12 hours at a time, Maria averaged 25-35 miles per day, and made it to the South Pole in under 10 days with her competitors on two wheeled fatbikes days behind.


Even though Maria has cemented her place in the history books as both the first person, and the first woman to pedal to the South pole, there are still at least two other titles up for grabs – the first person to ride there on a traditional, two wheeled fatbike, and the first person to accomplish the journey unassisted. Juan Menendez Granados is using a combination of skis, sleds, and an aluminum but is doing the entire journey unassisted, while

Borealis South Pole bike 2

Daniel Burton is riding a carbon Borealis fatbike though officially he is being “supported” with supplies carried by others. While Maria is on her way home, Daniel and Jaun are back riding and past the half-way point after waiting out a storm together. Both Daniel and Jaun are regularly updating their blogs with their current status, so be sure to follow along to see who makes it there first!


  1. Ordinarily, the combination of fat bikes and recumbents would make my head explode. But this is pretty cool- good for her for picking the right tool for the job.

    That said, I’m surprised that not starting from the ocean (as opposed to the edge of the nearest ice shelf) counts as riding to the South Pole.

  2. Good on Maria.

    The sight of the sled makes my legs hurt. Pulling a sled full of supplies while skiing sucks, and I’ll bet it sucks just as much ass on a bike.

  3. I am still congratulating her effort but I hope I’m not the only one dissapointed a recumbant fat trike is the first thing to pedal to the south pole.

  4. Jared, why the dissapointment? Eventually, the vast majority of cycling records not governed by arbitrary rules, will be held by recumbents. That’s just basic physics.

  5. @walter…(no malice intended) We continually hear how fast recumbents are…
    yes arbitrary rules prevent their use in racing… but all the evidence seems to present that unless it’s fully faired, it isn’t faster…
    and when it is, it is less manuverable, less stable, handles poorly, descends poorly, climbing…don’t ask…
    So yes, a fully faired recumbent, in a straight line, on flat ground, with a great rider, is faster than any other bike…
    I wait for the day I get passed by a recumbent…on any terrain….(I’ve lost count of how many we’ve passed during our rides)
    …yet we continually hear how damn fast they are…
    I wish recumbent fans would lay off the misguided cheerleading, and pseudo “fact” fligging, and come to terms with the reality of what a ‘bent is…damn fast in a straight line when there is a fairing wrapped around it…

  6. In the true spirit of Arctic or Antarctic exploration I don’t think any of these rides should be supported. They are just speed records, like Strava. She or he just rode to the next helicopter (or snowmobile) drop where a cozy tent was waiting. I don’t belittle her achievement but there should be more balance in the reporting.

  7. @Mick You probably don’t live in the Netherlands or Germany? Here, where there are relatively more people using them, nobody doubts they are faster. But then we are talking European bikes, who tend to be a lot faster than the comfort-oriented American bikes.

    But as always, a slow rider on a fast bike will just be a bit less slow.

  8. @Mick. Recumbents are faster (I don’t ride one). There are only 4 official hour records that best the current un-faired recumbent record, all set by top professionals (Boardman, Rominger, Indurain). The recumbent record is held by someone who most have never heard of. Even talent = recumbent is faster.

  9. why all the belittling if you had the inspiration why did you not do it.
    I know I don’t have the money.
    Cry me another river and we will row our boat down it.

    She got off her butt and DID IT!!

    Quit Whining because you want to sit and watch the television all day

What do you think?