Blue Peter's Helen Skelton becomes first person to reach South Pole by bicycle

Ice bike one of three modes of transport used on record-breaking 500-mile journey across the ice cap

by Simon_MacMichael   January 22, 2012  

Helen Skelton ice bike (picture - Comic Relief)

Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton has completed a 500-mile journey to the South Pole in aid of Sport Relief that saw her employ three different modes of transport, a kite ski, cross-country skis and an ice bike – the first time a bicycle has been used in an attempt to reach the pole, according to the BBC.

Skelton’s journey started on 4 January from the 83rd parallel South, after being delayed by four days due to poor weather, but has been completed inside the 20-day target that the 28-year-old from Cumbria had set herself.

Along the way, she had to contend with severe snow storms and temperatures that plunged as low as minus 48 degrees Celsius, and also suffered with dehydration. What’s more, she had to pull along a sledge weighing 13 stones once laden with supplies.

"The environment is so harsh and on a day when you can get sunburn, you can also get frostbite," Skelton told the BBC after completing her journey.

"I could fell my ears burning through my helmet because of the wind,” she continued.

"This has been a massive adventure and at times it felt like it was never going to end.

"My body hurts in so many different places, mentally I'm exhausted and I've only washed once in the last 30 days, so to be finally standing at the Pole feels incredible."

She was accompanied on her journey by Norwegian polar explorer Niklas Norman, their trip coinciding with the centenary of Captain Robert Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole, reached by Roald Amundsen a month before the Briton.

Skelton’s bike, specially adapted for polar conditions and with tyres eight inches wide, was made by US-based firm Fortune Hanebrink, co-founded by Kane Fortune, and cyclist and former NASA engineer, Dan Hanebrink.

As the BBC reported at the time Skelton set out on her expedition, the bike was based on one originally supplied to explorer Doug Stoup, who travelled for 200 miles on one in the Antarctic, although not in conditions as extreme as those that Skelton faced.

The wheels on her bike, once fitted with tyres, alone weight eight pounds apiece, while the frame was tested in a wind tunnel to be as aerodynamic as possible in the high winds common in the polar regions.

In all, the bicycle was used for 103 miles of the 500 mile journey, although as Skelton reveals in the diary of her trip on the CBBC website, there were times when it was impossible to take to two wheels because the snow was too soft.

As well as setting a record for being the first successful attempt to reach the South Pole using a bicycle, Skelton also set a world best for the fastest 100km journey using kite skis.

Explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes said, "I take my hat off to Helen Skelton. I  have to admit when she first told me that she was going to cycle part of the way to the South Pole, I laughed.

"But through pure grit and determination she has got there and shown that, yes, you can use a bike to reach the Pole. Her incredible efforts are a great example of willpower."

It’s not the first challenge that Skelton has undertaken to raise funds for Sport Relief.

Previously, she has traveled the entire length of the Amazon by kayak, and she has also walked a tightrope between two of the chimneys of Battersea Power Station.

Skelton’s Antarctic journey was filmed by the BBC and will be screened in segments on Blue Peter for starting tomorrow, 23 January, at 4.30pm on BBC One.

11 user comments

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Brilliant! Makes my cycle to work seem almost tame! Trying to survive against homicidal commuters, monster potholes, dogs and their s**t on the cycle track, headwinds, rain, sleet and hailstones. Dead easy compared to the South Pole!

posted by SideBurn [836 posts]
22nd January 2012 - 23:40


Listen to the audio on the BBC website - apparently it was so cold the gear cable snapped and when cycling she was stuck in one gear the whole time!

Buddha said:

Believe nothing, No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it, Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.

mad_scot_rider's picture

posted by mad_scot_rider [555 posts]
23rd January 2012 - 0:01


Not the first bike in Antarctica, Bromptons have been ridden at Polar bases on a number of occasions by visiting Brompton users who have shipped their bikes in.

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

A V Lowe's picture

posted by A V Lowe [494 posts]
23rd January 2012 - 0:17


Very impressive, I wasn't convinced about the design of the bike but she managed it, what a feat!


posted by OldRidgeback [2238 posts]
23rd January 2012 - 9:48


She wore a helmet? What's the bets she was required to by the BBC..

posted by Paul J [645 posts]
23rd January 2012 - 11:19

1 Like

The helmet was just in case she was eaten by a polar bear; you know, the ones that only live at the north pole! But just in case one was down on its holidays; you never know? Be safe out there...

posted by SideBurn [836 posts]
23rd January 2012 - 12:33

1 Like

The wheels were eight pounds? What's that in Euros?


posted by OldRidgeback [2238 posts]
23rd January 2012 - 12:41


Dono... what if there was some ice?

London2Paris24: 450km, 24 hours, 5th-6th July 2014

I will miss TdF in Yorskhire!!! Please donate! Big Grin

koko56's picture

posted by koko56 [333 posts]
23rd January 2012 - 17:50

1 Like

What an awesome woman.
Where can I meet a woman like that?
Is she single?
Can I meet her?
All these questions and more...

posted by Jonathing [53 posts]
23rd January 2012 - 21:56

1 Like

Jonathing wrote:
What an awesome woman.
Where can I meet a woman like that?
Is she single?
Can I meet her?
All these questions and more...

From Helen:

Why, thank you.
At the South Pole.
None of your business.


posted by don_don [149 posts]
24th January 2012 - 12:34

1 Like

Awesome achievement, very well done indeed. I wonder if she would have taken the bike if they had the benefit of hindsight?

So, that 13 stone sled then. Did that include the weight of the bike, which presumably had to be stowed somewhere when not in use? With wheels weighing 8 pounds each, that's more than 1 stone right there. So the question is, was the weight penalty worth it for the 103km travelled by bike? (in only one gear from one of the comments above)

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3316 posts]
24th January 2012 - 13:46

1 Like