As our British readership may already know, this past Sunday marked the completion of Helen Skelton's 500-mile journey to the South Pole. But this wasn't just a run-of-the-mill visit to the bottom of the world: Skelton made the record- (and precendent-) setting trip for BBC's Sport Relief 2012 fundraising initiative in 18 days, two days under her projected goal. Accompanied only by "Norwegian explorer Niklas Norman, a small BBC team and a logistics crew," the 28-year-old British television personality and adventure sports enthusiast reached the South Pole at 11:40 AM on January 22, after two and a half weeks of travel by kite ski, snow bicycle and cross-country ski.
Skelton is best known the host of Blue Peter, (the world's longest-running children's television show, according to Wikipedia), though lately she's been garnering recognition for more extreme exploits: she's been known to run ultramarathons (she completed a 78-miler just under the 24-hour limit) and she kayaked the 2,000-mile length of the Amazon for Sport Relief 2010. The latter effort yielded two world records: longest solo journey by kayak and the longest distance in 24 hours by a woman.
Skelton's latest superlative feat is a record for the fastest 100km by kite ski (regardless of gender): seven hours and 28 minutes. In fact, she completed the majority of the journey in tow of the fierce Antarctic winds, which average 80 mph, covering a total of 329 miles over the course of 8 days' time on kite ski, with another 68 miles (3 days) by cross-country ski.
Still, perhaps the most notable accomplishment is the 103 miles (7 days) on a custom snow bicycle, a first for any Polar adventurer.
Between the physical challenge, the freezing temperatures (which dropped to as low as -48°C), a 180lb supply sledge, Skelton's achievement should certainly inspire UK residents to enter the Sport Relief Mile charity run in March.
See her cross the finish line on the bike (plus details on that too) after the jump...
Los Angeles-based all-terrain bike specialists Fortune Hanebrink spent some three months fine-tuning a design that they'd originally developed for explorer and polar guide Doug Stoup. "He wanted an alternative to skis that could take him and his equipment across the icy terrain. He biked for 200 miles in Antarctica's Heritage range."
Stoup was excited by the prospect of "the first bike expedition to the South Pole," sharing his thoughts with the BBC prior to her departure:
I get calls every day from adventurers wishing to bike to the pole, but no one has ever attempted it... When I cycled in Antarctica, I was hit with an atypical storm that grounded me for five days. I experienced 100mph winds—it was epic. I still biked 200 miles and know Helen will be successful.
Skelton herself commented that "The biking is going to be really tough. What I like about this challenge is that 90% of people know what it's like to ride a bike, so will be able to relate in some way to what I'm doing."
As for the specs of the bike: designer Kane Fortune noted that "the wheels are key to the challenge." While the handmade, sealed-bearing hubs come in at about 1lb each, the tubeless rubber tires—20” diameter and 8” wide—weigh in at nearly 8lbs each, due partly to the steel belts woven inside. The wheels, then, are the majority of the extra weight of the 40lb bicycle.
The tyres are designed to bulge over the rim to provide maximum stability and traction. They also allow a high degree of "flotation". This keeps as much of the wheel above the snow and ice as possible, so the bike hardly sinks in and only leaves a light impression. The wide surface area of the tyre does this by distributing the rider's weight over the width of the tyre.
"They're a lot like the tyres for golf carts," says Fortune. "They are designed to leave the smallest impression as possible, so the grass on the green isn't damaged."
Additional features (via BBC):
- Lightweight heat-treated aluminum frame
- Long wheelbase for added stability
- Disc brakes without hydraulic assist (the fluid can freeze in low temperatures)
- Organic leather saddle (a plastic one would shatter in sub-zero temperatures)
- Triathlon-style aero bars for additional hand positions
- Custom 6.9” suspension fork
Doug Stoup and his ice bike, via IceAxeTV
The frame itself is actually very similar to the one used by Stoup, who offered his insights in the design process and trained with Skelton: "The bike is designed specifically to cycle in soft snow or sand... We trained together in the desert this past summer. It helps because the temperatures are so cold the snow has little moisture and has a sand-like consistency."
...and I thought that riding in the slushy streets of lower Manhattan was a bad.