This week’s Reader’s Rig comes from Liam Shannon in Canada, whose 2020 Norco Itaqua has taken him to some stunning and hard-to-reach places in the couple of years he’s owned it, including many snowy rides with this retired sled dog, Gibbs. Get to know Liam and his fatbike here…
Words and photos by Liam Shannon
Hi, my name is Liam, and I have a bike problem. Where am I from? Well, that’s always a loaded question. I’ve been pinballing my way across Canada, going from Ontario over to British Columbia, all the way back to Newfoundland, up to Labrador, down to Nova Scotia, back to British Columbia, and finally setting roots in the Yukon. Thankfully, I’ve been fortunate enough to see and experience a lot of what Canada has to offer. Throughout all of this, there has always been a common denominator: bikes.
Being a bean counter by trade, spreadsheets, mad Excel skills, and accounting standards often don’t make for the best conversation starters—cue bikes, adventures, route planning, and well, anything bike related, really.
My parents put me on my first set of wheels not long after learning to walk at nine months, and the passion hasn’t slowed down since. Camping was always a big part of my childhood, and with that, my bike would be one of the first things unloaded. I’d spend endless hours wandering around the new terrain. Fast forward to adulthood, and not much has changed. The routes have only gotten bigger.
Currently, my favorite genres of cycling would be sub-24-hour backcountry epics and trail riding, but I’ve been starting to get into overnights while warming up to the idea of tackling my first ultra race. I enjoy the challenge that comes with sub-24s, seeing new routes and trying to connect roads and trails through mountain traverses, water crossings, or bushwacking, all while moving fast with minimal baggage. That said, it’s nice to approach things at a slower pace and spend the night in some of these remote areas. This is where the “fat pack” comes in. Fatbikes are versatile in the terrain they can cover and force you to slow down and enjoy your surroundings.
One advantage to living in the north is that winter creates new routes that never existed before, or at least weren’t previously achievable. Lakes and marshlands freeze, and we have snowmobilers and mushers to thank for packing down fresh new adventure highways. This gives fatbikes the advantage to be used year-round.
I moved to the Yukon during the spring. After enjoying six months on Vancouver Island, I had become quite accustomed to Sea Wall commutes and rarely having to worry about snow. At the time, I was rocking an old road bike with some pizza-cutting 700x28s. Moving into fall in the Yukon, I tried to continue commuting by bike as late into the season as I could. Then came the first couple of snow dumps. My trusty road steed was starting to look out of place at the bike locker alongside all the fatbikes at work. Eventually, I could no longer use my road bike, and that’s when the first fatbike came into the fleet.
My first fatbike was a trusty Norco Bigfoot, full alloy with mechanical brakes and non-tubeless rims. It was a true adventure machine with all the mounting points you could want. The season after, I upgraded to a Trek Farley, which offered tubeless compatibility, hydraulic brakes, dropper post, and a carbon fork, a great upgrade for trail riding. Then, finally, “Oops, I did it again” is what I told my girlfriend as I came home with Britney, a 2020 Norco Ithaqua. A dream bike since I started looking at fatbikes, and now a rare collector’s item as Norco has discontinued their carbon line of fabikes.
Frame/Fork 2020 Norco Ithaqua
Rims Surly My Other Brother Darryl
Tires Surly Bud (front) / N49 Dunderbeist (rear)
Handlebars Chromag Cutlass
Grips ESI Chunky
Headset First Components
Crankset Praxis Cadet (30T)
Pedals OneUp Composite Flats or Shimano XTR Platform Clipless
Cassette Shimano SLX 10-51
Derailleur Shimano XT
Brakes Sram G2 RSC
Shifter(s) Shimano SLX
Saddle Norco Volt
Seatpost OneUp Dropper with Wolf Tooth Remote
Front bags Revelate Pronghorn
Frame bags Revelate Ranger (SM)
Rear bags Ortlieb Seat Pack (16L)
Other accessories Garmin Edge 530
I’m currently on my second winter with Britney, which has proven to be a trusty steed coming up on 3,000 kilometres with no issues. As a product of the Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of the parts for the build were just a sum of what the bike shop had available. Not often do you find a Norco bike specced with Surly parts. For the winter months, I wrap the wheels with a N49 Dunderbiest (26 x 4.6) in the rear and a Surly Bud (26 x 4.8) in the front. To help reduce the wear on the winter treads, I wrapped the wheels in Surly Nates (26 x 3.8) this fall, and they proved to be great fat packing tires. Plenty of traction and cushion for the rough mining roads and local singletrack.
Since my Bigfoot, I’ve had a backcountry route mapped out that can only be completed during the winter due to marshlands and a lake in the middle of connecting trails. Three winters and several failed attempts later due to poor conditions, I finally completed the route on Britney, a great start to 2023. The loop includes the traditional territories of the Kwanlin Dün and Ta’an Kwäch’än First Nations, and with that, you are spoiled with beauty. Riding alongside herds of caribou and sharing the trails with local mushers makes for quite the experience.
Given the slower cruising speed of the fatbike, it also makes for a great dog-walking bike on longer rides. Gibbs, a retired sled dog, is always stoked to get outside and spend the day chasing the bike.
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