A bike built to withstand the South Pole: Omar di Felice’s one-of-a-kind Wilier fatbike

Strength and reliability are key to this purpose-built frame, which comes with some interesting component choices and a stunning paintjob

Clock17:59, Tuesday 28th November 2023

© Wilier Triestina

Omar Di Felice's fatbike for his Antarctica Unlimited expedition

An expedition like no other requires a bike like no other, and Omar di Felice is currently in the middle of Antarctica, inching his way towards the South Pole aboard a special fatbike from Wilier.

The Italian brand does not have a fatbike in their repertoire and has no plans to roll them out to consumers in the future, so this is a one-of-a-kind.

They did toy around during the brief fatbike craze several years ago, which gave them something to work from, but this was built from the ground up alongside the Italian ultra-endurance adventure cyclist.

“This comes from Omar, and his dream to go to the South Pole by bike,” Claudio Salomoni, head of Wilier's Innovation Lab tells GCN.

“He has already used our other bikes for different challenges, but of course the South Pole is completely different. There’s no normal route, so we had to think about a classic fatbike, but made for the ice."

'Less trouble, to avoid future trouble'

The most obvious design feature of a fatbike frame are the clearances on the fork and rear stays, to accommodate the monster tyres, in this case 4.5 inches wide. In addition, there’s a long wheel base and slack angles for stability.

However, there’s “nothing revolutionary” here when it comes to the geometry. Rather, it’s the materials and componentry that set up up for life in the Antarctic, and in that respect, there is quite a humble aim at the heart of the build.

"Less trouble, in order to avoid future trouble,” is how Salomoni puts it. "In these extreme conditions, simplicity is key."

That’s why, for starters, the frame is aluminium alloy, rather than carbon fibre.

"He already has to carry a lot of weight, and for sure carbon would have been the lightest option, but we were afraid about the reaction of carbon to the super super low temperatures. He rode in Alaska with the carbon gravel bike, but we don’t know what happens to carbon at -44 degrees for two weeks. To be 100% safe, we decided against. Then steel was too heavy, so we went for the alloy."

The same ethos is there across the whole bike. They developed and tested a front suspension system as well as a rigid fork, but it was deemed too risky.

"Suspension is heavier but also you have oil, elastomer, springs, air," Salomoni notes. "Less parts, less possibility to fail.”

At the rear: strength, solidity, and a sled

There’s also a safety-first approach to the rear end of the frame, accounting for the kit Di Felice has to carry, and what sets this bike apart is how that kit is transported. He does have custom bags from Miss Grape, with a frame bag, top tube bag, and dedicated mounts for fork bags and handlebar bags, above which sits his GPS and emergency tracking transponder.

However, he is also towing a sled that contains his tent and camping equipment. This is attached by rope to a specially-created post that is fixed perpendicularly to his 30.9mm alloy seat post.

In a bid to optimise strength and solidity, there’s a small triangle built in from a split in the top tube, plus a curvature in the seat post towards the bottom bracket.

"The seat post and seat tube are made to hold the rear carrier – they need to work as one with the bike," says Salomoni. “We wanted to over-stiffen, to be 100% sure there’s no bending in this area.”

A few non-sponsor hacks

Risk-limitation also comes in the form of mechanical shifting. The gearing is generous, at the upper end of the mountain biking range, with a 30-tooth chainring at the front, along with an 11-42 cassette on the back. That’ll allow Di Felice to spin over the snow and sastrugi, but also to haul his way up the significant elevation gain, with the South Pole positioned at 2,835 metres above sea level.

Intriguingly, Di Felice has mixed-and-matched on the groupset, using Shimano’s Deore XT 1x groupset but with a blacked-out crankset from SRAM.

It's one of a fair few instances of non-sponsor-correct play. The wheels are also secret, any hint of branding is covered up on the rims and also the hubs. Continental is another personal sponsor but doesn't stock a fatbike tyre, so instead Di Felice is using some stealth 4.5” Wrathchild Fat studded tyres from 45 NRTH.

Likewise, the handlebar and stem, rather than coming from Shimano, are provided by Race Face, and the same would appear to be true of the seat post, which is badged up with a sticker for satellite communications company Iridium.

The saddle, though, is bang on brand, with his trusty Apside Short Supercomfort model from Italian sponsor San Marco. The pedals are also sponsor-friendly Shimano PD-EH500s, which have both an SPD cleat attachment and a flat side.

The finishing touches

Finally, the bike is covered in a striking paint job, which epitomises one of the key motives for the mission.

The design comes from the ‘Climate Stripes’ created by Professor Ed Hawkins in 2018, with blues turning to reds to symbolise rising global temperatures, a particular problem when it comes to the melting ice caps on which De Felice is riding.

As well as the various sponsor logos on the stays are that of Di Felice's 'Bike to 1.5' climate project, as well as the name and logo for this particular expedition, which has been dubbed Antarctica Unlimited.

That tag appears within eyeshot on the top tube, along with the coordinates for the waypoints on the route, which started at Hercules Inlet and heads for the South Pole before going down to the Leverett Glacier and back to the South Pole.

Bike Specification
Bike
  • year

    2023

  • model

    One of a kind fatbike

  • Manufacturer

    Wilier Triestina

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