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Most riders hide from winter. Dutch adventure motorcyclist Sjaak Lucassen embraces it, seeing bitter cold, snow and ice as a path to one of the most remote places on earth. 

Beginning in January 2021, Lucassen will ride his modified 2001 Yamaha YZF-R1, from Anchorage, Alaska to the geographic North Pole. The 3,000-mile journey includes hundreds of miles over sea ice, which means he has to go at the coldest time of the year in order for the ice to remain frozen. Due to the extreme conditions, the trip will require three winter seasons and over two years to complete.

Sjaak’s journey to the North Pole during the peak of winter will mean he’ll have to battle temperatures as low as -40° F (-40° C) through skin piercing snowstorms. But Sjaak actually hopes temperatures stay as low as possible to decrease his chances of running into what he considers the biggest danger — falling through the open ice. Deep snow drifts and cracks in the ice could swallow the bike. And Sjaak will have to receive periodic weather updates and satellite data about open spots on the ice cap. Then there is the ever-present threat of polar bears who consider humans on the menu.

He’ll be as independent as possible, hauling his own food, tools and camping gear in a sled and sleeping in a tent. To keep warm, Sjaak will use several different options including a generator, a motor, a heat gun, and fuel.

Given the small window in the year when temperatures drop to the extreme lows he needs to ride the polar ice, Lucassen is aiming to reach the North Pole in three stages:

tage 1 – Anchorage, Alaska to Tuktoyaktuk, Canada (1,800km/1,100 miles):  This section of the ride will be on winter roads, which will give Sjaak time to get used to the weather and his R1 as well as make any small modifications if needed.

Stage 2 – Tuktoyaktuk to Ward Hunt Island (2,300km/1,400 miles): Things get more challenging in 2022, when he’ll venture over the frozen Beaufort Sea and across coastal islands. He’ll have to avoid pressure ridges which can result in big blocks of ice piled up and is most likely going to require the navigational skills of a local guide. 

Stage 3 – Ward Hunt Island to North Pole (800km+/500miles+): Things get crazy in 2023 when he points the R1 directly north and heads out over the frozen ocean. Sjaak’s exact route will depend mainly on ice conditions. He’ll have to be on high alert for stretches of open water and the presence of huge pressure ridges could mean big detours. 

So what’s the inspiration for this crazy adventure? Lucassen hatched the idea of a ride to the North Pole during an around-the-world trip he took in 1995. “In Pakistan, on the Karakoram Highway, I felt like I was on the end of the world. But it’s not the end of the world. The end of the world is the North Pole . That popped up in my mind and since then I kept in my mind to go there once in my life.” 

And why an R1? Sjaak has always preferred sportbikes for his adventures. He praises his R1 as reliable and surprisingly capable in rough terrain after airing down the tires.

The Test Run

Sjaak had completed several winter rides before but he says none were as important as the one through Beaufort Sea. In February 2013, Lucassen rode over 6,200 miles on a R1 from the northernmost tip of the continental US to the southernmost tip, a test trip of sorts for the North Pole push. “To keep it a real motorcycle journey, I had put myself some limits. Like travelling the entire distance by using the bike’s strength and my own, so no physical help from others,” he explained. The journey began in the polar ice of Barrow, where there are no roads, which meant he had to ride over the frozen waters of the Beaufort Sea to civilization. 

The trip was an eye-opener for him, highlighting how far behind he still was in his planning and preparations. The tires were too stiff and not wide enough, and the bike would dig into soft snow. The tires were also too tall, making the bike difficult to upright after a tip over. The bike would also overheat if he covered the radiators, or not warm up enough if he didn’t. And his sled, which was big enough to carry all his supplies and sleep in, was far too heavy.

The Bike – Arctic 1

To address the issues he experienced in his test run, Lucassen built another 2001 R1. Enter ‘Arctic 1,’ his new weapon built specifically for the North Pole expedition. The upgraded R1 rides on squishy, monster tires: 60-cm (23.6 inches) wide in the rear, and 40 cm (16 inches) in the front. No such motorcycle tire exists off the shelf, so Lucassen designed them himself and found a company to make them. He also widened the swingarm and designed a drive system with primary and secondary chains to accommodate the fat rear rubber. In the front he designed extra-wide triple clamps and modified the fairings to make it all fit, somehow managing to keep the R1’s sportbike lines intact. In addition, Lucassen added a new radiator with more cooling capacity, heating elements to warm the carbs and the antifreeze, and had special oil developed that wouldn’t solidify in the extreme cold he’ll be facing. He will also carry a small generator to warm the bike for morning starts.The sled was also modified to make it lighter and ensure it can pull 150kg of supplies.

It’s taken 13 years of preparation for the trip and he’s not done yet. Lucassen is still working on the necessary permits and paperwork needed to access the North Pole and get the Guiness Book of World Records to recognize his attempt, raising money and finding a support driver to haul fuel during the last stretch and possibly provide protection from polar bears. There’s no big-money team behind the expedition, just a man and a dream most would consider crazy. But he embodies the DIY spirit, and you get the feeling that he’ll make it.

“If there is too much open water I’ll come back the next year,” he said. “And if there is too much open water in that year too, then I’ll make the bike float. But I will go to the North Pole .”

Follow Lucassen’s incredible journey on FacebookYouTube or his website.