Fat Tire Biking
Just because the ground is snow-covered doesn't mean you have to put your bike away for the season. Fat tire biking, or snow biking, is trending big in the Great Lakes State—and it’s the perfect winter activity to get the adrenaline pumping. So, go ahead and get outside. Immerse yourself in the beauty of Michigan's natural landscape, all while getting a great workout.
Four-inch-wide bike tires churn as I whir onto Marquette’s Collinsville Cut, switchbacking through hemlocks and pines spackled in white with snow drifting among the trunks. Though the descent is bunny-slope easy, powder ups the challenge of mountain bike trails.
Riders in Alaska pioneered these dune buggies of the snow almost three decades ago, “but people here in the Upper Peninsula have been playing around with bikes in the snow for years,” says Evan Simula, manager of the Marquette bike shop Sports Rack and an avid year-round cyclist. After all, no one in Marquette wants to wait for the city’s annual 200 inches of snow to melt to ride.
Once bike companies began selling fat-tire bikes, Marquette’s mountain biking community embraced the sport in earnest. Local shops sell and rent fat bikes, and volunteers regularly groom 30 miles of trails. Now fat biking is on a roll throughout Michigan, with rentals available at a growing list of ski areas and bike shops (see More Places to Bike).
The mountain bike with funhouse-mirror proportions looks slightly ridiculous, but the extra girth adds flotation in loose conditions. Groomed trails work best, but even with 5 inches of fresh powder over the groom, I trust the fat bike, which pedals and shifts just like a traditional mountain bike. The tires grip, roll and almost glide. “People assume it’s a novelty bike,” Evan says. “But really, fat bikes are a great way to keep riding in the winter, to get out and enjoy our incredible trails.” The Marquette area boasts more fat tire biking trails than anywhere else in the Upper Peninsula.
Evan leads the way, spinning casually as the trail dips and climbs alongside the Dead River. We lumber over tree roots and roll across narrow footbridges while admiring the tea-color river flowing through a braid of snow islands. As I ponder how best to navigate the terrain, I shift too far back in the saddle, skid the front tire sideways and fly over the handlebars into a downy snowbank.
Evan brakes by a waterfall flash-frozen into sculpture. I catch up, and we take off to explore the forest of winter beauty waiting. Fat chance I’m going to miss that.
More Places to Bike
Fat-tire riders and cross-country skiers often share trails; check for use restrictions or required passes.
In the UPPER PENINSULA, Marquette area: 20-plus miles of groomed single track on Noquemanon Trail Networks South Trails; the Al Quaal Recreation Area has four loops totaling 18K with an additional 6K of overlapping loops in Ishpeming. Keweenaw Peninsula: Michigan Technological University allows snow bikes on beginner and single-track trails.
In the LOWER PENINSULA, Traverse City area: The Leelanau Trail, which leads to Suttons Bay, is always open. Crystal Mountain and Timber Ridge resorts groom nearly 6 miles of trails.