Snowbiking gains traction in the U.P.

Even though most people are probably sick of hearing the words winter and weather, there are some positives to the extended snow season. One of which is the chance to take advantage of Marquette County’s world-class bike routes, that are some of the first of their kind.

Because now, thanks to a few trailblazers, biking is no longer limited to just one season.

“We never said you had to be smart to do this. Here’s living proof of it right here,” said one of the regulars at the Range Mountain Bike Club’s Saturday morning ride while watching a friend’s truck struggle to back up in the snow.

Pickup trucks sporting the power of more than 300 horses have a hard enough time making their way through the vast wilderness of the U.P. come winter. But, these diehards won’t let a little snow dampen their spirits.

“Yeah, I mean the scenery as you can tell from around here is unmatched. It’s just so much fun,” remarked Danny Hill. President of the Range Mountain Bike Club” And the camaraderie we have with the guys. We all meet Wednesday nights, Thursday nights, usually Saturdays and Sundays. We all get out and try to pick a different place every time. It’s kind of neat. We can go on hiking trails that people walk. We can go exploring. It’s kind of fun to explore.”

“Go up Harlow Lake Road to the Top of the World…” Hill began to suggest.

“Take a right and go to Big Bay?” someone suggested.

“Yeah, if you want,” laughed Hill.

And the exploring bug isn’t limited to the hundred plus members of the Range Mountain Bike Club.

Outdoor outfitters like Down Wind Sports are seeing a spike in interest as more and more riders mount up on lightweight, high-octane snowbikes.

In fact, this year they sold more aluminum and carbon frames than ever before.

“Bikes are getting more specifically tuned for more floatation. They’re better for riding in not just snow, but sand and loose surfaces, snowmobile trails. You can ride them on the beach,” explained Evan Simula, Snowbiker & “Cold Rolled” Writer

Which happens to be part of the North Trail System that Danny and the crew frequent. Not nearly as warm as June or July, but scenic nonetheless.

Until recently, the sidesaddle push was all too familiar for those wishing to ride through the winter months.

“Definitely, the last two seasons we were realizing we got all these bikes out there, and people have no dedicated place to ride them,” Simula noted.

And the Range Mountain Bike Club’s done just that – developing their very own Snow Bike Trail in Ishpeming and Negaunee, one of the first of its kind in the U.S.

“We’ve been riding packed snowshoe trails with regular mountain bikes for years, but this definitely adds traction, adds floatation, and just a bigger degree of fun and enjoyment” added Simula.

You can hear it as they pass by like an exuberant flock of geese.

“Yeah, that’s our brakes,” honked Hill.

For Danny, it’s just another way to take advantage of the U.P.’s unique winter sports scene.

“About six years ago I had shoulder surgery, and I wasn’t able to ski in the Noquemanon. So, I was looking around for activities that I could do in the winter time,” remembered Hill. “Surly was just coming out with a snowbike. I didn’t really want to spend the money. I thought it was just going to be kind of a niche thing. I started looking around on eBay and came up with a fork and a fat tire; kind of made my own snowbike. That year at the Noquemanon after all the skiers left, I rode my bike down. I thought, ‘Wow! This is pretty cool.’ So, I did it the first year by myself, and the next year it was starting to catch on a little more. I had five or six people, and then the next year it was probably six or eight people. Hence, now we have a snowbike race at the end of the Noquemanon.”

And Danny’s no stranger to the racing world.

In 2011, he competed in the 135-mile Arrowhead Race in Minnesota.

“It was probably in the low teens below zero – 15 to 17 below zero when we started. It continually got colder the rest of the day. That night, the lowest temperature that I saw was -41.2. My thermometer on my jacket would read -40. That’s the lowest it would go. It was…it was very cold. I had friends say, ‘Did you think about quitting?’ And I said ‘Yeah! I thought about it all the time, but there’s no place to quit to,'” Hill explained.

But, here in the U.P., there are plenty of breathtaking respites nearby, so amateurs like myself can try to maneuver these meticulously crafted machines

“There’s a little more balanced involved. Sometimes the snow is real tacky and you get excellent grip. Other times like today when it’s a little warmer it’s a little slipperier – you’ve got to let a little more air out of your tire for a little better traction. So there is. The bike, sometimes when you’re going down fast downhills, it’s got a mind of its own. Usually the landings are pretty soft in the snow, so you don’t have to deal with injuries so much. But, there is a lot of falling involved,” admitted Hill.

“It’s a balance thing, actually.”

“It is. It’s like you’re riding a unicycle,” I said while attempting to stay on.

“That’s a good analogy.”

But for most Yoopers, resiliency is a way of life; especially when it comes to the outdoors.

“There’s no bad riding or bad weather. It’s just bad gear,” Simula noted. “You’ve just gotta gear up. If it’s cold outside, dress warm, and get out and play.

A local film crew was able to capture the essence of the snowbiking movement for a documentary called Cold Rolled, which is already garnering national attention within the industry.

“A lot of people didn’t know, let alone that fat bikes were around and what you could do with them. But, a lot of people didn’t know that we had the trail network here,” remarked Simula. “We’re definitely getting calls and visitors to the area that we weren’t before. They had no idea what we had going on here.”

It’s even been entered into the Mountain Film Festival in Telluride and the 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale Colorado.

So, as winter extends its stay into Spring, hop on board one of the fastest growing sports not only in the U.P. but in the country at large.