Traverse City is a Mountain Biker’s Paradise

Every November, thousands of cyclists converge on Traverse City to compete in the 29-mile Iceman Cometh Challenge, the largest one-day point-to-point mountain bike race in the country. Mountain biking is a big draw in the hills and valleys around Traverse City in almost every season of the year, as cyclist Cody Sovis demonstrates.

Of the million-and-one reasons to visit the Grand Traverse Area, mountain biking is quickly becoming a more popular excuse to head up north and get a little dirty. The region attracts cyclists from all over the country — including those who prefer paved trails or the scenic roads of the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas – but it’s also home to some of the best trails in the state, and some of the biggest events around.

We’ve never taken our forests for granted around here. Traverse City is a special place where all the charms of a thriving downtown are just minutes from pristine woods, beaches, and miles and miles of trails to weave it all together. For me, it’s a real treat to have the ability to ride the Traverse Area Recreational Trail from downtown and be at the trailhead in just a few minutes.

One of the most popular trails in the area is the Vasa Pathway. In winter it’s home to the world-class North American Vasa ski race and gets the professional grooming treatment for ski and fat bike use as long as the snow sticks around. During the rest of the year, it’s usually peppered with riders out hitting famous landmarks like Anita’s Hill, the Wall and the Power Section. The terrain is open and rolling, with pockets of sand adding to the challenge of steep hills, fast descents and fast sections that test the legs and lungs. The Vasa Pathway also serves as the final kilometers of the Iceman Cometh Challenge, the largest single-day mountain bike race in North America.

Around here, the Iceman is king. People plan for it for months, registering in the spring and riding most of the summer with one eye on the first weekend in November. One of the biggest local rides is the Speed of Light, which takes in the last few miles of the Iceman. Over 5,000 people are registered for the race, including some of the best professional riders from around the world. We always welcome the big names, but we are rooting for the local guys to take the win.

I’ve always raced in the pro class, though it’s not about trying to win. It’s the chance to race the best riders in the world, and I won’t let the chance go by. It’s like getting to play a pickup game against Michael Jordan. You know you’re getting beat, but you get to tell everyone the story.

Cody Sovis with his bike just before the 2013 X100 50-Mile Gravel Road Race through Traverse City’s Boardman Valley (He took 4th place).

Intersecting the Pathways is another trail: the Vasa Singletrack. Though it has its own separate trailhead off Supply Road, this twisty, tight course winds and crosses with the Pathway, or the “25 K”, as it is popularly known. The Singletrack is a testing little loop, a bit over 12 miles long, offering up some great technical practice and a break from the wide-open speed of the Pathways. The Singletrack is tough. If you’re looking for a great ride that combines both, hop off the Singletrack at Marker 7, do the 25 K, then hop back onto the Singletrack when you cross at Marker 13. It’s the perfect blend of speed and technical riding.

If the Vasa is the most popular and oldest trail system, the Glacial Hills Pathways is certainly the newest and the hippest. Located in Bellaire, this brand-new system of professionally maintained trails has gotten rave reviews from beginners and experts alike. It’s a terrific blend of hills, flat and fast sections and beautiful views – and it certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s located just a mile or two from one of Michigan’s finest breweries, Short’s Brewery.

But you don’t even have to leave town to enjoy a great mountain biking loop. Traverse City’s former mental hospital, now The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, is home to a great network of trails. Riders have been climbing to the top of the hill for years, but the recent rise in mountain biking enthusiasm means there’s seldom a time you’ll go on the trails and not see a few other cyclists. It’s a short loop punctuated by steep, testing ascents with rewarding views of West Bay and screaming-fast descents back to the Village, where a host of coffee shops, bakeries, and other shops serve as a great place to refuel after the ride. The Commons is also home to the Conquer the Village Mountain Bike race, a new event that draws hundreds of racers each spring.

The arrival of a race like Conquer the Village was well overdue. So many riders were able to just roll through Traverse City to race on trails that they’ve ridden for years. I remember riding back there when I was five or six years old, my dad diligently riding behind me as I slowly made my way up to the top of the ridge and yelling all the way down the other side.

There are miles and miles of trail in the area, and nearly everyone has their own favorite loop. It’s a great place be a cyclist.

Have you been mountain biking in Traverse City? Tell us about your experience!

Cycling connoisseur Cody Sovis works at Einstein Cycles in Traverse City and maintains a cycling blog year round. 

Uncover History with Iron Ore Heritage Bike Tours in the Upper Peninsula

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is full of rich history to uncover. And with heritage bike tours available throughout July, there’s no better time to explore the area. Troy Henderson, a historian with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, gives us an inside look at what bike tour attendees will discover.

The iron industry on the Marquette Range is a big story to tell. There are museums like the one I work at, the Michigan Iron Industry Museum, which exhibits the iron industry in Michigan from its pioneer roots to the present.  There are also many physical historical sites connected to the iron industry that you can actually stand in front of and observe.  We are offering iron ore heritage bike tours that give visitors the best of both worlds.

In July, the Michigan Iron Industry Museum will host several iron ore heritage bike tours along the new segment of the Iron Ore Heritage Trail.  We will start each tour at the museum with an orientation of the Carp River forge site, where the first ore was smelted on the Marquette Range in the 1840s.

From the museum, we will bike westward on a crushed limestone aggregate trail toward the Jackson Mine in Negaunee, where miners broke up and transported the ore that was smelted at the Carp River forge.  This forested portion of the trail grades uphill to Negaunee.

Before reaching “Old Towne” Negaunee, a segment of town that was once abandoned and relocated due to the caving potential of the underground mine shafts, we will see some good examples of the iconic sandstone architecture of the Lake Superior region.

Today the trail from “Old Towne” Negaunee westward toward Ishpeming looks like a park, but it was once a mixed residential and industrial landscape.  We will pass by foundational remnants of that landscape on this segment to the tour, including a stop at the historic Jackson Mine pit.  Here, drill markings can still be seen on the walls of iron ore that were bored over a century ago.

Before the turnaround point we will pass an old stone hoist house, the curious circular foundation of a railroad turntable, and Jasper Knob.  Within view of Cliffs Shaft, the iconic pyramidal shaft head frames that dominate the Ishpeming landscape, we will turn around for the return trip.

Bikers will have all earned a delicious lunch on the return trip from Negaunee’s Midtown Bakery and Café, where we will have a chance to explore “Old Towne” Negaunee in a little more detail.  After lunch, it is downhill back to the Michigan Iron Industry Museum.

The Iron Ore Heritage Bike tours will take place July 11, 18, and 25.  Each tour will start at 10 a.m. and the total route is approximately 15 miles.  The fee is $20 per participant, which includes lunch and a Michigan Iron Industry Museum souvenir.  Pre-registration is required, and space is limited per tour.  Find the registration form at michigan.gov/ironindustrymuseum and view the online calendar for July.

For more information about the tours or the Michigan Iron Industry Museum, contact the museum office at 906-475-7857 or e-mail Troy Henderson at hendersont7@michigan.gov.

Troy Henderson is a DNR historian with the Michigan Historical Center.  He is the site historian of Fayette Historic Town Site and his headquartered at the Michigan Iron Industry Museum.    

Enjoy 1,300 Scenic Miles of Biking Trails in Michigan

Spring is upon us, which hopefully means the warm weather is here to stay! Spring and summer months in Michigan are the perfect time to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. One great activity for people of all ages is bicycle riding – whether it be riding around Mackinac Island looking at the scenery or on a rigorous ride in the Upper Peninsula.

Take a look at the listing below for a sampling of what Michigan’s trails have to offer, and learn more in the video on biking from the Pure Michigan summer video series.

A complete listing of Michigan’s 1,300 miles of bike trails can be found on michigan.org.


 

City of Marquette – Bike Path

The city of Marquette maintains over 12 miles of paved bike trails which lead you through some of the most beautiful scenic areas in the country. The path leads the bikers along the shores of Lake Superior, past boating marinas, north to Presque Isle – a 328 acre park and to a large outdoor pool with a waterslide (no charge). The park continues along the Tourist Park Campground and Picnic Area and wooded areas surround the path to the south area of Marquette. More information and a trail map are available here.

Kalamazoo River Valley Trail

The Kalamazoo River Valley Trail will encompass 35 miles of trail throughout Kalamazoo County. Kalamazoo will be a regional hub, connecting Battle Creek to Lake Michigan, D Ave. to Portage, and eventually Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. This existing trail and planned trails in other counties will enable you to connect more than 140 miles of trail – connecting together the Battle Creek Linear Park, the Kal-Haven Trail and Portage Bicentennial Park Trail. Currently, there are 17 miles complete of this non-motorized, paved-asphalt trail. Click here for more information.

Petoskey to Mackinac Trail

The Petoskey to Mackinac Trail consists of 35 miles of mostly dirt and cinder trail that passes through Conway, Oden, Ponshewaing, Alanson, Brutus, Pellston, Van, Levering, and Carp Lake to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Trailhead in Mackinaw City. The DNR is currently working to fill in the “gaps” in the trail between Oden and Alanson. The surface is currently “unimproved” railroad ballast and gravel. Some sections are in excellent shape while others are tough going for the cyclist, making for a bit of a challenge. The entire trail is bikeable with a hybrid or mountain bike. Carp Lake and Mackinaw City on the north end are especially suitable as staging areas for off trail excursions onto lightly traveled local (paved and gravel) roads, some of which connect to the Cheboygan to Mackinaw City segment of the Gaylord to Mackinaw City Trail. Visit the website for more information.

Stony Creek Metropark

The Stony Creek Metro Park is a scenic 4,461 acre park with hilly terrain enhanced by the beautiful 500-acre Stony Creek Lake. The park includes a nature center, picnic areas, beaches, a disc (Frisbee) golf course, boat launch, fitness trail and golf course. One of the highlights of the park is the paved 6.2 mile Hike-Bike trail and over 10 miles of paved roadways provide scenic drives in all seasons and the fall color is particularly beautiful.

The Detroit Riverfront

When fully completed, the Detroit International RiverWalk will span 5 ½ miles of the Detroit Riverfront, from the Ambassador Bridge to Gabriel Richard Park, just east of the Belle Isle Bridge. Currently, 2 ½ miles of East Riverfront is complete and open to the public. The park makes a nice scenic ride in the city and connects to the Dequindre Cut adding 1.35 miles more of paved trail. Visit the website for more information.

Betsie Valley Trail

The Betsie Valley Trail is 22.3 miles long and extends from Frankfort through Elberta and Beulah to Thompsonville in Benzie County Michigan. From Frankfort to Beulah it is non-motorized. All of it is excellent for bicycles and pedestrian use. The length of the trail makes it a great for bicyclists of all abilities because you can extend or shorten your trip based on skill level. The trail runs through some gorgeous scenery.

Do you have a favorite bike trail or ride in Michigan? Share with us below!