Photo Story: Biking the Canadian Arctic Ice

Nov 7, 2020
by Tessum Weber  
Riding on the Arctic ocean spring ice near Arctic Watch.

I've always been a passionate cyclist. As a young kid, training for cross country skiing, we often used mountain bikes to cross train. I've always felt that I don't spend enough time on the saddle every season - but that comes with the territory. I'm a polar guide. I've spent my career working in the remote Canadian Arctic. As a youngster, I spent my summers living on the tundra with one of the last nomadic inuit families in the Canadian Arctic. The Inuit elder I learnt from grew up in an igloo and lived a mostly traditional life until the age of 108. At the age of 16, I skied to the North Pole. I didn't have summer soccer, bike or swim camp, but rather we spent our summers roaming the tundra, sneaking up on polar bears, fishing char, hiking and exploring the Arctic. My brother and I have grown up in a family of polar guides and gone onto help the family business, Weber Arctic. It's pretty safe to say we're unconventional and love adventure.

Biking on the sea ice of Cunningham Inlet alongside the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic.

I love biking. And I mean big time. When I'm not skiing, I pretty much try and bike every day. In my off season, I live in BC and bike my local trails near Vernon. Several years ago, with the development of e-bikes and fat bikes, we began to see an opportunity to bike in the Arctic. For my brother and I, this was effectively merging two worlds we loved - biking and the Arctic. In a world you'd have never thought possible - we could finally bike. At our lodge Arctic Watch, on the northwest passage, we ride bikes on the Arctic ocean sea ice. It's an unworldy platform that offers great riding on both electric assist bikes and fat bikes. For a few short weeks every July, just before the beluga whales arrive, one of our favorite adventures is biking.

Biking on the Arctic ocean floe edge of Somerset Island about 10km from Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge

The sound of ice gently crunching under the tread of my bike cuts the the otherwise silent landscape of Cunningham inlet. It’s early July, but we have spent the last few hours on an expanse of ice and snow. If you close your eyes, the sound of seven bikes moving over the frozen arctic ocean could be mistaken for the satisfying crunch of my hand-crank coffee grinder. My mind wanders from the rhythmic sound and lands on the surreal reality of what we are doing. Today, we’re among just a handful of people every year who can say they biked on the frozen arctic ocean. We’re on the Northwest Passage near Arctic Watch.

For a week at a time, guests from all over the world leave the comfort of their known world and are dropped into the vast and harsh landscape of the high arctic. Of course, the experience is not without gourmet food and a family of polar explorers as hosts. Arctic Watch sits on the embankment above the Cunningham river and for the majority of the year, the inlet is chocked full of ice. During the eight-week guiding season, the ice melts away and thousands of belugas enter the bay to spend the remaining weeks of summer at the mouth of the river. The ice is still several meters thick but with warming temperatures and 24hr daylight, the pack ice will eventually begin to fissure and float out to the open water of the Northwest Passage. While we wait for our aquatic friends to arrive from Baffin Bay, the opportunity to explore the temporary and shifting landscape of the high Arctic captures the imagination of guests and guides alike.

Biking on the floe edge sea ice of the Northwest Passage near Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge Somerset Island Nunavut

Leaving directly from the lodge the bikes move across the rocky terrain of Somerset Island. The three inch tires of the purpose built mountain bikes are designed for traction. We’re guiding a family of five out onto the Arctic sea ice today. The day is young and the energy is high. With each rhythmic push of the peddle the bikes gain speed and the two boys in the family hoot and holler as we zip down towards the shoreline.

Standing on blocks of floating ice, we pass the bikes over open water until we get to solid ice. Up until this point there was a tranquil sense of ease as we cruised along familiar terrain. Moving from terra firma to the ice is approached with trepidation excitement. The frozen expanse stretches far in the distance, a meandering pattern of white and blue.

We move comfortably over the solid white ice, but the stunning turquoise pools veil the thick ice hidden under a thin layer of slush. Although there is less than an inch of water, the opaque pools appear to be endless and pose a mental challenge with each crossing. Attempts at wheelies cease and everyone takes their place single file, not daring to deviate from behind our tracks. We have been leisurely biking for the past few hours and reach the opposite shore to the south of Gifford Point. The day is perfectly still and our reflections bounce back up to us in the rich turquoise pools. Curious ring seals poke their heads out of their holes to see what the excitement is all about and in the distance lumbering bearded seals lazily watch the scene. This sea ice is the home of polar bears, migratory birds such as king eiders, snow geese and more. In a few weeks’ time the ice will soon break up and make biking no longer possible. This adventure is for a lucky few - the Arctic landscape waits for no one and I am reminded how fortunate we are to explore this frozen world under blue skies and warm weather.

Posted In:
eMTB Stories



57 Comments

  • 44 2
 Ah yes... the fine line between story telling and paid content.
  • 3 3
 It's an ad.

Here's one

Nov 7 2020. bluebird day squamish $20 bucks gas the end.
  • 35 3
 You lost me at "satisfying crunch to my hand crank coffee grinder" literally didn't read anymore.
  • 2 0
 bahahahahahaa
  • 27 0
 Hand crank coffee grinder and electric bikes. Bizarro World!
  • 6 0
 *Grind assist* coming soon
  • 6 0
 @mi-bike: hmmmm an e-bike with a built in coffee grinder? Maybe specialized can do something in the swat compartment?
  • 21 0
 "Sneaking up on polar bears"

Rule no 1: dont go looking for polar bears
Rule no 2: if you see a bear and it ain't seen you, leave well alone
  • 30 17
 We should be trying to save the ice, not just biking on it. #climatechangeforgood
  • 12 14
 I just threw up in my mouth a bit...I came here KNOWING that some fool would write this comment. Now, as a goal for the coming week...can you please track down the person or company that is responsible for melting the glaciers that once covered the Earth? We need to hold them responsible for the US Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains.
  • 2 0
 @JustAnotherRiderHere: CONGRATULATIONS! This and your other comments just won you a deluxe weekend at the Four Seasons.
  • 16 3
 Quick. Help us exploit the arctic before it's too late!
  • 5 0
 Please flag as paid promotion....if they haven't paid take it down." My attention span waits for no one and I am reminded of how fortunate I am to be able to throw shade in PB comments section on random articles I can't manage to even finish reading under all skies and any temperature"
  • 15 11
 Yep, faqing "e-bikes" have reached arctic ice. I'm sure that production of batteries have nothing to do with ice melting etc.
  • 26 7
 Said while probably using a device with a battery....
  • 4 3
 And I am pretty sure that the production of the fossil energy using car has waaaayyyy more influence on the climate than a few electric bikes.
  • 7 4
 @d-man: different scale of battery, and it's not like there is an existing perfectly fine way to power a handheld computer with just human muscle.
  • 3 0
 @just6979: how many handheld computer batteries are produced vs e bikes? Handheld computers are a not a necessity either, you could do the same on a computer plugged into the grid.
  • 1 0
 @d-man: nope. PC
  • 1 0
 @fiatpolski:a few is a maximum hp output of an engine from polski fiat in a very good day. So called "e-bikes" are all over the globe in hundred of thousands. They're the new "enduro specific" trend. Every single one of those damn things has a battery inside it and they were produced on the cheap to maximize the profit so don't tell me about "few" so called "e-bikes".
  • 4 0
 @just6979: 10/10 A bike is perfectly fine and runnig great WITHOUT battery.
  • 3 0
 @d-man: handheld battery are a necessity in portable devices as an opposite to bike which doesn't need a battery to be portable and running great.
  • 1 0
 @fiatpolski: it's probably not just one thing causing the ice melt - cars or batteries - also all the rainforest destruction and the earth is getting kinda overpopulated. Maybe covid will fix that situation if we let it.....
  • 5 0
 For once I'd say the ebikes aren't the problem - more likely the 1000s of miles by plane and 100s of miles by 4x4 for each holidaymaker to reach wilderness.
  • 3 1
 @fiatpolski: False. Where I live, every Tesla is coal-powered.
  • 1 0
 @EnduroriderPL: but is a hand held device a necessity? No it's a luxury.
  • 3 0
 @onemind123: and don’t forget about the sun. I’ve heard it can melt ice too.
  • 2 0
 @d-man: it can be a necessity in opposite to so called "e-bike" Bike is just fine without motor.
  • 2 1
 @Rageingdh: Sir, you and your conspiracies must be stopped. Now, we need to know where you work and live so that we can track you down and try to ruin your life....currently, seems that is the way of things....... :-)
  • 2 1
 @EnduroriderPL: we could do this all day long. Which proves every arguement about e bikes is hypocrisy at its best. Why is a hand held computer a necessity? Do you really need a computer at all times? No, we managed fine without them. As long as technology works for your beliefs it ok....
  • 2 1
 @d-man: by "handheld computer" I meant smart phone, which is mostly useless if it must remain plugged in. and again, different scale. almost everyone has a phone, comparatively almost no one has an e-bike, but they use a couple few orders of magnitude more battery material. While yes that's still much fewer e-bike batteries, the amount of irreplaceable benefit from a smartphone vastly outweighs the optional benefit of an e-bike, so an e-bike not being used to do something impossible on a regular bike*, that is wasting the potential of the environmental cost of that battery.

*(hauling trail work gear, helping disabled folks start and/or keep biking, helping a parent save $ by not running a vehicle and instead transporting kids around on an e-cargo, etc)*
  • 1 0
 @just6979: my thoughts exactly @d-man
  • 1 0
 @just6979: Number of cell phones I toss every year (at least four) adds up to quite a few ebikes....now, shall we talk about how environmentally friendly tires and sealant are? I dont exactly see folks rubbing sealant on their skin for good health.....
  • 2 1
 @JustAnotherRiderHere: if you throw away 4 smartphones per year, you're f*cking doing it wrong. And it would still take moat of your lifetime to equal a couple good e-bike batteries, even at that stupid rate. Though I wonder how many e-bikes you would just throw away each year, considering you can't make a phone last more than a few months...
  • 1 1
 @just6979: typical Enviro bs, some things are ok that make your life easier but stand on your soap box and scream if its something you don't approve of. Just like Enviro protesters driving to a anti oil protest.....
  • 1 0
 @just6979: I do not use a cover...want them small. They are under $100 for an Android that does everything that the $1000 phone does but take stupid photos. If I break a phone I literally go to Walmart, get a new one, log into Google and my phone is back...generally, when I need to do so I am upset and get +/- 6mpg in the car.....even if I break eight phones a year I am saving money.
  • 1 0
 @d-man: e-bikes would also make my life way easier... Not sure how your argument holds up there...
  • 1 0
 @just6979: you really can't figure it out? You use products that are made by mining and oil correct? Drive a vehicle, Have TVs, computers, phone live in a house built of wood? These all impact the environment but Yet you criticize the use of ebikes. Go all in get rid of all your luxuries and save the planet or stfu.
  • 1 0
 @just6979: I seriously tell people I only lube my "Oil Slick" chain with "Baby Seal Tears"...it is shocking how many people who get so upset by that. Seriously, I gave up on baby seal tears and went to Manatee sweat years ago.
  • 1 0
 @d-man: but I don't have any viable options for a human powered car, or human powered tv, or human powered pc (though some of those are solar powered much of the time...). However there are many many viable options for human powered bicycles that perfectly fit most situations. mentioned above are some where an e-assist might be the only option, but most cycling can be done without electricity or fossil fuels, unlike computing or commuting (time is a factor, a fossil fuel or electricity free commute costs too much in time for many people)
  • 1 0
 @just6979: ah ya more excuses to make yourself feel better. Why can't you ride your bike instead of driving? Do you need a tv? solar power ? So more batteries, more resources mined for the panels.... See where I'm going yet? Don't tell me that my choices are harming the environment unless you are willing to make the sacrifices it will take to actually make a difference.
  • 1 0
 @d-man: Well, yeah. I buy efficient light bulbs, PCs, even my TV and Wifi is set up to use the minimum of energy. I alternate between driving (too far to ride and still have time to see my daughters before they go to bed) to work and working from home to save fuel. And I do need a phone and a PC, that's part of modern life. I also have the most efficient bicycles possible, the human powered ones. See where I'm going? I'm actually not against e-bikes for commuting (see above), because they allow things that are impossible on a fully-human powered bike (like a 40 mile round trip in reasonable time, without getting sweaty (because that adds to the time). On a trail, if you're not carrying equipment or _require_ assistance (for a medical of physical reason), the only thing an e-bike does is let you use up the trail more than human-powered bikes.
  • 1 0
 @d-man: I only use the best cleaning solvents...

www.pinkbike.com/photo/19705535
  • 5 3
 "the Arctic landscape waits for no one and I am reminded how fortunate we are to explore this frozen world under blue skies and warm weather."


So fortunate that global warming allows you to explore that frozen (thawing) world in warm weather.
  • 5 1
 it was quicker for me..."hand crank..." I'm out.
  • 6 1
 Cool story bro.
  • 4 0
 Awesome adventure, $16k is a little out of my price range
  • 4 0
 "the three inch tires"

Sure about that size?
  • 3 0
 But they’re on purpose built mountain bikes and are designed for traction...
  • 8 0
 Haven't you ever seen a map? Inches get distorted the further north you go.
  • 3 1
 Riding photo without helmet being worn? Come on PB stricten up those censorship filters. Think of the children!!!
  • 3 0
 Hooked by the click bait... reeled in by the comments
  • 5 5
 "Today, we’re among just a handful of people every year who can say they biked on the frozen arctic ocean."

Cool, i guess?
  • 2 0
 Peddle. That is all.
  • 3 2
 Awesome!!
  • 1 0
 So Cool
  • 1 0
 Nice pic

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