Bjorn Olson

Homer, Alaska

My generation of Alaskan outdoorsy types had an older generation that paved the way, so to speak, and showed us what was possible with a bicycle, a map, and a modicum of imagination. The long, remote, previously unattempted swaths of Alaskan wilderness are what keep me awake at night, and motivated out bed in the morning.

Bjorn's Kit

Trip food is something I’ve spent a long time perfecting and I feel like we’re getting pretty close. Before any long trip Kim and I begin dehydrating any cheap or free vegetables we can get our hands on. We dry them until there is almost no remaining moisture and store them in Ziplocs until we are ready to make portions. We make our own high calorie bars for pennies on the dollar, smoke and dry our own salmon and meat and do our best to wild forage whenever possible.

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What kind of cyclist are you?
Diversity is the spice of life and I approach cycling with this attitude. Over the years I have been a mountain unicycler, fix-gear geek, long distance road tourer, single-track junky, conventional bikepacker and daily commuter. However, wilderness adventure has always been my life love and I’ve been incorporating the bicycle into these forays of road-less wanderings since near the beginning of my affair with cycling. My generation of Alaskan outdoorsy types had an older generation that paved the way, so to speak, and showed us what was possible with a bicycle, a map, and a modicum of imagination. The long, remote, previously unattempted swaths of Alaskan wilderness are what keep me awake at night, and motivated out bed in the morning. 

How long has cycling been a part of your life? When did it become more than just “riding a bike”?
My first mountain bike was a fully rigid, CroMoly Diamond Back that I abused terribly. I would load it with ice climbing and camping gear or split-board and make my way to the approach – abandoning it at the base of mountains for days or weeks only to return and ride it daily without service, lube or care. Over time I began to invest energy into learning about my bike and finally upgraded to an aluminum frame that fit 44mm wide Snow Cat rims and 2.3” tires. The next winter I did my first real wilderness biking trip from Nome to Unalakleet along the northern end of the Iditarod trail and the light went on. I saw my future and it was wide tires in the woods. Sadly, it took many years for the industry to catch on to this vision and it wasn’t until 2006 that I finally had a bike that fit the description and better matched the terrain.

The cycling accomplishment you’re proudest of to date?
I’d have to say my winter trip with Kim McNett from Anchorage to Kotzebue is my proudest accomplishment. We’d planned to do this trip the winter before and we were fully in the throws of preparation when we found out my mother had developed an inoperable brain tumor. She had been handed a death sentence and my entire family rushed to her side for her remaining couple months. When we embarked on our expedition the following winter I dedicated the trip to her memory and we felt her guiding presence along our 1,100-mile journey. This expedition surpassed any of my previous experiences in the Alaska wilderness for so many reasons and when we finally made it to Kotzebue I felt somewhat transcendent and changed. I am not religious but long trips on a bike bring me as close as I’ve come. 

Favorite place you’ve been on a bike so far?
This may sound a little cliché but almost every wilderness ride I’ve been on is my favorite, in that moment. Riding over sea ice with a 35 knot tail wind on Norton Sound, bunny hopping the pressure ridges at full speed while a temperature inversion played tricks with light and made fantastic illusions out of the landscape, or pulling into the remote coastal village of Port Graham after six days out and being invited into the school to show the kids the bikes and talk about the trip, or cycling over the Alaska Range in winter are all favorites. Even short overnight trips in our neck of the woods fills me with wonder and awe, and in that moment I am in my favorite place and long to be no where else.

Favorite place to daydream about that you haven’t yet ridden?
The Lost Coast of Alaska. I’ve been dreaming of connecting the dots between South East Alaska and South Central Alaska for many years and this summer Kim and I hope to make this a reality.

How do you describe what the bicycle means to you?
Well it’s been said that the most efficient animal on earth is a human on a bicycle. Per calorie, per kilogram, per kilometer nothing beats a bike. Burning fossil fuels to locomote is sometimes unavoidable but there is a hidden cost that is not factored in at the pump. Any time I can transport myself under my own steam I feel better about myself. The fact that I am not asking future generations to pay for my convenience is a not so subtle advantage of riding a bike. I find it interesting that the automobile and the bicycle were invented at near the same time. We’ve been living in the age of the auto but I predict that we’ll soon be living in the age of the bicycle.

How will your future as a cyclist unfold?
The map is big and the future is bright. There are many routes and areas of Alaska I’ve not yet seen and I am always scouring the contour lines for weaknesses. Beyond big expeditions I do have a few other closer to home goals too. I love to see improvement in technical riding skills. Daily rides that push my ability to stay in control of the bike are fun in and of themselves but these skills translate wonderfully into the remote wilderness forays. My evolution as a cyclist involves dabbing less.

Who inspires you and your riding?
There are three Alaskan icons that have been huge in my journey and I am immensely proud to call them friends. George Peck from Seward invented rough terrain unicycling in the 1980s and took up technical fat biking with the same dogged fervor in his late 60s. He, more than anyone, has shown me what daily practice and hard work can accomplish. Roger Cowles was among the first people to ride the entire Iditarod Trail in 1989 and if not for him I am not sure if the light would have been switched on for the long winter expeditions and bare bones, light-weight bikepacking. If not for him there might not ever have been fat-bikes, but that’s another story. And lastly, Roman Dial - Roman was and is the trend and pacesetter for Alaska wilderness expeditions. His traverse of the entire Alaska Range from the Yukon boarder to Lake Clark was like a nuclear explosion of totally radical wilderness cycling. These men cast long shadows. 

Favorite Salsa model and why?
The Carbon Fiber Beargrease I am currently riding is so damn fun I find myself giggling like a little schoolboy. We are using these bikes on our upcoming expedition from Juneau to Homer and I’ve been riding it almost every day in as lumpy, bumpy, squishy and uneven of terrain I can find in preparation. It is a stiff, light, spry and a totally capable 21st century machine. If only the early ‘Hobby Horse’ and ‘Boneshaker’ designers could see what’s become of their idea.

Favorite pre, during, and post ride/race food and bevvies?
Trip food is something I’ve spent a long time perfecting and I feel like we’re getting pretty close. Before any long trip Kim and I begin dehydrating any cheap or free vegetables we can get our hands on. We dry them until there is almost no remaining moisture and store them in Ziplocs until we are ready to make portions. We make our own high calorie bars for pennies on the dollar, smoke and dry our own salmon and meat and do our best to wild forage whenever possible. Our carbs come from polenta, pulverized pasta, instant potatoes and cereal grains and each of these is doctored with dairy fats, sweeteners and or savory soup mixes. We also bring slightly excessive amounts of finely ground coffee for Turkish Cowboy coffee to be made as often as necessary. I am of the opinion that the only reason anyone ever does long and hard wilderness races or trips is because of how good food tastes when you’re done. A well-deserved cheeseburger is better than the super nova explosion of ten million suns turning into cosmic nebula and the first sip of beer is better than all the unicorn tears ever spilt.

When you’re not cycling…
These days I find myself sitting on three nonprofit boards. Two are Alaska environmental nonprofits and one is our local cycling club, which has recently become a 501.c3. I am also in the process of making a feature length documentary about adventure and the future of Alaska.

What don’t you leave home without on a ride?
I try to leave as much as possible at home and this includes the weight of the world. However, a multi-tool, patch kit and a pump usually find their way into my bag as well as my camera, and bear spray in the summer months.