Italian ultradistance cyclist Omar di Felice is 5 days into an estimated 2 months to cross Antarctica on his own by fat bike, fighting some of the harshest conditions on the planet. It is an ambitious adventure project aiming to draw attention to the issue of climate change. And he knows how difficult it will be, having to be evacuated on his first attempt last December.
But he’s back, and making headway. Riding an aluminum prototype fat bike built for him by Wilier, and pulling a sled with all the food, fuel, shelter, and extreme weather gear to survive the windswept frozen landscape…
Antarctica Unlimited: A solo crossing of Antarctica by fat bike
Starting at sea level from Hercules Inlet, Omar di Felice plans to ride roughly 1100km climbing up to the South Pole, then will descend down to the Leverett Glacier, before ultimately climbing back up to the pole for a total 1600km distance. We can all easily grasp that the extreme weather will be windy, cold, and with white-out conditions likely. It is Antarctica after all. But we easily overlook the elevation gain, while hauling all the necessary gear.
Immediately, leaving base camp at Hercules Inlet, Omar climbed 800m in the first 30km, while of course riding a heavy fat bike loaded with gear AND pulling a sled / ski pulk laden with everything he could need for a couple of months alone. Then, he faced the same elevation to climb again, instead skirting the mountains for another forty kilometers, before continuing the ascent to the South Pole which sits at 2835m above where he started.
Unexpected obstacle crossing Antarctica by fat bike
Once cold, wind & elevation are overcome, the next major obstacle is very much psychological. Because it definitely isn’t always sunny.
The physical effort is something you can train for. As is the solo self-supported aspect. Omar di Felice did win the 6800km Trans America Bike Race this summer after all.
But in December in Antarctica, the sun doesn’t set. Stuck in a storm, you may spend days sheltered inside your tent with no visible passage of time. That happened last year for 3 days of whiteout conditions, that literally broke Omar mentally, leaving him alone sleep-deprived with his thoughts in never-ending daylight. Past trauma returned, in what could probably be described as a walking nightmare.
Ultimately, he realized that he couldn’t safely continue, even after the storm subsided. So the support team evacuated Omar, early into the attempt. But he vowed to come back again.
So what has changed, with Omar and his prototype Wilier fat bike setup?
Obviously, now Omar Di Felice knows more what he was getting into. Beyond the psychical prep, he’s more ready for the unique mental test as well.
As for his bike, not that much has changed really.
We last had caught up with his raw aluminum prototype fat bike, produced as a one-off project from sponsor Wilier.
Each of the blue & red barcode stripes represents a year of deviation from the climate average for the last 160 years, with the red warming of the past 22 years quite obvious.
Antarctic Expedition hauling
On the custom bike Omar fits a set of custom made Miss Grape bags, including a custom full frame bag and a new long Big Node toptube bag for more ready access storage. Plus, a couple of Trunk 6 Waterproof bags on each fork leg.
The majority of Omar’s 90kg of gear though, is packed inside a new customized Norwegian sled, the Fjellpulken Xplorer expedition pulk. But the on-bike bags from Miss Grape provide quicker access. Get to key gear to deal with fast changing weather, to maintain proper nutrition. And to set camp as quickly as possible once he stops riding.
Tech Details & Bike Setup
A Garmin InReach system handles navigation. And he mounts it to a Miss Grape Ilcoso combination extension bar and bar bag holder, off of his handlebar. He’s also newly using a Iridium Go Exec modem and solar panel recharging. That brings better communications with basecamp, and the ability to send live photos like these we have from the current expedition.
Drivetrain is upgrade to XT. But it’s still the uniquely durable thicker Shimano XT LinkGlide 11-speed system (in 12sp spacing) with a wide 11-50T cassette.
And he tops it off with a new ti-railed Selle San Marco Aspide Short Supercomfort saddle. Because he’s going to spend a lot of time sitting on this thing going slow for the next several weeks. Plus, ESI Chunky grips.
Officially, Continental tires and Mavic wheels sponsor Omar. But since neither make fatbike kit, he’s rolling on stealthily blacked-out kit. DT Swiss BR 2250 wheels and 27.5 x 4.0″ 45NRTH Dillinger 4 studded tires.
Follow along live, now
And now we just have to cross out fingers, follow-along, and wait.
Follow Omar di Felice’s live position via ENDUlive. It’s relatively slow-going in the ultra-distance dotwatching scheme of things. But we are enthralled.