Mike Kusserow and a band of fat-tire cycling aficionados can’t resist the call of Port’s north beach
“I feel like a kid again.”
That’s how avid bicyclist Mike Kusserow of Saukville describes riding his beach bicycle with 4-1/2-inch-wide buoyant tires on the beach, jumping over waves, rocks and logs, and racing with friends.
Kusserow, who rents, sells and repairs bicycles at Zu Zu Pedals in downtown Port Washington, said it’s his favorite mode of two-wheel transportation.
“We ride them all year. It’s nice when the sand is frozen. It’s easier to pedal than in loose sand,” he said. “It’s fun to ride around town, too. There’s no place you can’t ride them. You get this odd kind of buoyancy when you ride.”
Kusserow usually rides with a loosely knit group of cyclists from the area and Milwaukee. Their favorite route is from Port’s north beach to Harrington Beach State Park, stopping along the way to visit friends who live along the lake.
They recently went out at 6:30 a.m. to watch the sunrise, and they often take midnight rides during a full moon.
“They’re the kind (of people) that no weather will slow them down,” Kusserow said.
“They come here because our beaches are so awesome. Every time you go out, it’s different. The waves make new obstacles. It’s never boring.”
Kusserow said he’s looking forward to riding in snow. Studded tires are available for those who want to ride on ice, he said.
The shop has been renting beach cycles since last summer, owner Tammy Thompson-Oreskovic, who also enjoys beach biking, said.
When the wide-tired bikes are in the shop’s window, heads turn, she said.
“There isn’t a day that people don’t stop in and ask about them,” she said. “There’s definitely interest.
“It’s just fun to be on the beach and go riding over anything. It’s a more whimsical experience.”
Whimsical in the summertime, but when it’s cold and blustery like it was Saturday afternoon, that’s when the diehards, who enjoy having the beach to themselves, come out.
“This is a good day,” said Greg Smith, who designs bikes for Schlick Cycles in Milwaukee and is owner and “test pilot” of Fat-Bike.com. “This is the kind of weather we usually go out in.”
Ryan Sieber of Port Washington, who is helping to develop mountain bike trails in Ozaukee County, now uses his beach bike instead of his mountain bike, which has 2-1/2-inch-wide tires, on the trails, but he said the best place to ride is on the beach.
“There are no cars,” Sieber said. “That’s a big plus for me. It’s different every time you go out, depending on the wave action and how many dead fish wash up.
“It’s a totally different, unique feeling. It’s hard to not smile while you’re riding — even in the rain.”
The big tires are so buoyant that the bikes float.
“It’s fun to hang onto the bike and float out to a sandbar that’s 50-feet out in the water, but only a foot or so deep,” Kusserow said. “It looks like you’re riding on water.”
The fat-tire bikes that Zu Zu Pedals carries and Smith makes handle like mountain bikes and are different than one-speed beach cruisers with upright handlebars.
The extra-wide tires distribute the tire pressure over a wider surface so the bikes have less impact on the environment than those with skinnier tires, Kusserow said.
Bicyclists must stay within the high-water mark when crossing private property, he said.
“We want people to follow the rules so they don’t spoil it for all of us,” Kusserow said.
“We always ride near the edge where it’s wet. We also stop and pick up cans and other stuff we find and toss it in our backpacks.”
The sophisticated fat-tire bikes were developed for use in snow. Numerous fat-tire bike races are held in Alaska, including a 1,000-mile race in February on the Iditarod dog sled trail.
Polar explorer Eric Larsen, son of Andrew and Judy Larsen of Cedarburg, attempted to ride to the South Pole on a fat-tire bike last December, but had to turn back 10 days into the 750-mile journey due to slow progress and extreme weather conditions.
“Until four or five years ago, you couldn’t buy a complete bike. You got kits, and people had to have a lot of experience to build them right,” Smith said.
“Now, you can buy them mass produced and the prices have come down.”
The bikes at Zu Zu Pedals sell for between $1,300 and $2,000. That one has gears enclosed in a waterproof cover.
“Sand takes a big toll on parts,” Kusserow said. “I’m used to the maintenance and cleaning, but the new integrated gear system is good for people who don’t want to do that. All they have to do is wash off the tires and chain.”
Image Information: Beach bikers (from left) Greg Smith, Ryan Sieber, Mike Kusserow, Jim McElwee and Dave Lunz on a foggy day on the beach. Photo by Sam Arendt