Mountain Bike

Your Autumn Challenge: Ride A New NMMBA Trail!

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Fall is just around the corner, but that means mountain biking in northern Michigan is just getting started! We’re lucky to have a long autumn to enjoy the trails in Traverse City and around the region, and we’ve got a challenge for you; ride somewhere new! 

You’ve got a few months before evenings are dark and the snow will have Head Groomer John Roe licking his chops. Between now and fat biking season, we want you to ride a trail that you haven’t checked out before. Whether you’re a TC local who hasn’t made it to Glacial Hills, or a Cadillac rider yet to make the trip north to Palmer Woods, make a plan to make it happen. 

One of the best things about our part of the state is that the terrain, soil, and design of our forests allow for deceptively diverse riding options. While sand is universal, the hills, the valleys, and the men and women behind creating our singletrack trail networks make each NMMBA trail feel, ride, and look different. 

Vasa Singletrack/Unmarked. In a word, ‘natural’. Both the Vasa Singletrack and the miles of unmarked singletrack that extends like a spider web out from the VST weave into the Vasa 25km Pathway, creating the Traverse City Trail Network. Much of that singletrack is hand cut, narrow, winding, and offers a feel of riding through the forests with reckless abandon. It never feels like the trails were made as much as were just there. There are no features, no wide sections, and you’d be hard-pressed to be able to spot the trail unless you’re physically on it. 

Cadillac Pathway. Much like the Vasa 25km Pathway, Cadillac’s trail offers a wider, cross-country ski trail that serves as the backbone of the network, with a mix of unmarked singletrack jumping on and off. That’s going to change with the construction of eleven miles of trail this fall, the culmination of a years-long process to bring real, marked, and thought-out singletrack to Cadillac. The Pathway is also home to a slew of new amenities, including a new Pavillion, bike rack, even solar powered lights! If you’re really looking for a chance to ride it, make sure you’ve got the Bear Claw Epic on your calendar. The BCE is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Cadillac Pathway and the final event in the NMMBA Trail Series on September 28. 

Glacial Hills. While it is wide enough to ski, the elevation that gave this trail system it’s name make this much more of a mountain bike trail! The rolling, twisting, flowing singletrack isn’t as wide as Cadillac or Traverse City’s pathways, but still allows a little room for error for riders letting gravity have its way. While there is plenty of elevation, the expert, machine-made trails allow for plenty of momentum. Do a lap and you’ll pocket nearly 1,000 feet of elevation, but it never feels like that much climbing! The closest comparison to Glacial Hills might be the Arcadia Dunes trails near Frankfort, which were shaped by the same designer. Make plans to hit Bellaire, shred Glacial Hills, and stop by Short’s Brewing, a company that supports the trails, outdoor events, and a NMMBA like no one else. 
Palmer Woods. The new trail is enjoying its first full season in 2019 and people are loving it! Instead of mile after mile of natural, Palmer Woods offers a feature-filled circuit for riders looking to practice and show off their technical skills. The Leelanau Conservancy and Bike Leelanau have put a lot of heart into creating something that attempts the impossible; keep everyone happy. We think they’ve nailed it. There are plenty of lines to make the trail system accessible to beginners and kids, but enough jumps and drops to make the drive out to Wheeler Road in Maple City well worth it.

Prepared For Anything: What You Need In Your Flat Kit

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With more riders putting in longer rides to prepare for the Traverse City Trails Festival, we take a look at what we bring in our flat kits.

This past weekend, we had dozens of riders out on the 40 and 25 mile Traverse City Trails Festival looking to get ready for July 20. Putting in big miles deep in the woods is fun, freeing, and a chance to explore trails that they may never have experienced before! The whole point of the TCTF is to encourage riders to take new turns, try new routes, and start to piece together more of the sixty miles of unmarked trails in the Pere Marquette Forest.

Taking on those remote trails does require a bit more forethought, however. As we rolled out for Saturday’s pre-ride, we noticed a a bit of a new set-up from the more experienced riders, and we thought it might be a good idea to share what riders bring for a three, four, or five hour ride in the woods.

The first thing we noticed plenty of riders grab is a hydration pack. They’re really handy to have for three big reasons. First, it’s much easier to drink with the tube while flying through singletrack than trying to reach down, grab a bottle, drink, and get the bottle back in the cage. Second, you can bring just about as much water as you’d ever need for a ride in the back. Many riders will run straight water in their pack and have a isotonic or sports drink in their bottle, often with more calories. Third, it’s another place to store the extra snacks you’ll want for such a long day in the woods. Being able to quickly and easily get to both food and water is a great way to avoid the dreaded bonk and prevent dehydration or heat stroke!

That extra storage also means you have plenty of room to bring the right tools and supplies you need to fix a mechanical issue even if disaster strikes on the most remote part of the course. Even when riding in a group, bringing tools, tubes, and even first aid is a really good idea.

  1. Tube and Air. Tubeless or not, bringing a spare tube and a way to re-inflate is elemental is riding safe. We recommend bringing at least one tube and a way to inflate it after a flat, whether it’s with a pump or a CO2. For rides like the TCTF recon, it’s worth bringing a second cartridge, just in case. A patch or two can also come in handy!

  2. A multi-tool. A 12 or 16 function multi tool can get you out of a lot of jams. A set of Allen keys can do everything from tighten a loose seat clamp to adjust your brakes.

  3. Chain breaker. A chain tool is a must for big days in the woods. In case of a broken chain, having a way to break a chain and use a quick link gives you a way to avoid a really, really long walk. Like a lot of these tools, it’s okay if you haven’t used them before or aren’t sure you can use it. If you have it, someone you’re riding with will almost certainly be able to help.

  4. Quick link. Always bring one. If you do break a chain, having a quick link will let you either fix the chain as good as new, or at least allow you to turn your geared bike into a singlespeed. Some people bring an 11 and 12 speed link, in case a buddy breaks down; just make sure you know which is which!

  5. Cell phone. The ultimate fix. Even if you don’t have service everywhere, you’ll be able to get to points in the forest with full bars. If you can’t make a repair, you’ll be able to call a friend and direct them to a safe place to get out of the woods. Phones are also a great way to allow friends and family to follow your progress and even get alerts in case of a crash or incident. Features like Beacon from Strava are a nice feature to improve your chances of getting out of the woods without calling Search and Rescue. If you use a GPS unit like Garmin or Wahoo, check with those companies to learn how to set up confidential live tracking features.

  6. EPI Pen and Bandages. First aid often gets overlooked, but bringing some basics is never a bad idea. Stuff a few bandages in your flat kit in case of light cuts and scrapped knees. We’ve even seen Band Aids pressed into service as patches! Zip-ties, tweezers, and gauze aren’t a bad idea, if you can find the space. If you’re allergic to bees, make sure you have your EPI pen with you; don’t put other trail users in a bad position by be unprepared. Plus, you may be able to use the EPI pen on someone who doesn’t know they’re allergic! With temperatures on the rise, bees are more and more active, and many hives are on the ground and may be disturbed by riders in more remote areas.

Be prepared keeps the rides fun. If you can bring it, bring it; you never know whose day you’ll save by having the right tools on hand.

Glacial Hills Signage Fundraiser at Short's Brewing!

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Join us Sunday, October 21 for an afternoon of fun, bikes, food, beer, and a great cause!

Glacial Hills grew quickly, and while balancing the interest of multiple user groups, our signage needs have changed, ebbed, and flowed since day one. One of most common pieces of feedback from mountain bikers over the past few years is to alter signs to make putting together loops easier, without having to slow down and check trail markers.

After some small-scale testing this summer, we’ve not only got a color-coordinating solution, we’ve got a few loops already in place for you to check out! But that’s just the start; we’re going to upgrade and update signage at Glacial Hills across the board, but we need your help to make it happen! Luckily, we’ve got Short’s Brewing to make it really, really easy and really, really fun to support our new signs.

On Sunday, October 21 from 2pm until close, proceeds from all sales at Short’s Brewing Company’s pub in downtown Bellaire will go directly to our signage fundraiser! Yep, just by grabbing a beer and some grub, you can help us bring the new look we’ve all been hoping for to Glacial. For those who’ve ridden here before, it’s a great chance to get up and ride the trails, spin out the legs from Peak2Peak the day before, or bring a friend to the trail for the first time, this is really the perfect chance as our autumn season comes to a close in the next few weeks.

We’re making it easy to get out to the trail, too. We’ll be leading a guided hike from Eckhardt Road at 2pm, and a guided, relaxed pace mountain bike ride from Orchard Hill at 2pm as well. Feel free and encouraged to get your group together for a ride on your own schedule, too, and make sure everyone meets back at the pub to help make this signage fundraiser a big success!

For updates, make sure you follow along on the Facebook event page, and post up your ride, run, or hike plans for the day if you want to make it open to more people!

Iceman Course Design: Steve's Secret Bypass

If Steve’s Secret was already by-passed, does that make this a double by-pass?

Some of our most dedicated board members and volunteers were out the woods this weekend, but leaving their riding for Sunday. It was rather timely, too; the first really autumnal morning of the year, complete with the first blush of color in the spruce and oaks, made the morning’s work feel more like Iceman season than we’ve seen yet!

The day focused on cutting in roughly .4 miles of trail to bypass Steve’s Secret, a well-worn section of the Iceman Cometh Challenge course that has been in need of improvement for some time. It’s a section that the race has already spent time avoiding in previous editions of the race, perhaps most noticeably in 2015, the year after the incredibly wet and muddy Mudman race.

If you blocked that out of your memory banks, don’t worry. We called on super-domestiques Kyle Macdermaid and Dan Ellis, along with Tom White and Mike Walters, to get the new half-mile in shape for the up-coming pre-rides. The goal is to balance the terrain and conditions on the ground with the needs of such a big event. With 150-person waves starting just a few miles away, we have to expect a pretty steady steam of riders with very difference paces, so there’s plenty of room to pass for much of this fresh-cut section. Coming just after Dockery Road and before the Three Sisters, this is a crucial stretch in the race, and we expect plenty of folks will want to give it a look over the next month.

There’s a lot more work to do, but your support makes it possible! If you’re ready to check out the 2018 course before race day, make sure you join kolo t.c.’s Out’n’Back on October 13 at 9 am from Timber Ride. Not sure you’re ready for a full Out’n’Back? You can also join the MMBA Clinic that same day to learn some skills and take a look at the Slush Cup course. There will also be food from Keen Technical Solutions and a lot of great folks there to ride!

It’s awesome to see the mountain bike community already excited for Iceman, and we’re working hard to make every inch of the course not just nice for race day, but nice for the whole month of October!

Michigan Trails Week: Bike Leelanau

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Bike Leelanau is getting Leelanau County rolling!

One of the most exciting things in northern Michigan is happening in a place that, just two years ago, hadn’t seen mountain biking in a long, long time. While the classic NORBA races at Sugar Loaf were a pinnacle of the sport in the Midwest, when those events went away, mountain biking nearly left, too.

No more. The folks at Bike Leelanau are building something special. The first step came this past winter, with volunteers and sponsors helping to open up groomed fat bike trails at the Leelanau State Park near Northport. With great reactions, the momentum began to build for an ambitious project, Palmer Woods. After working to being in donations and grants, Palmer Woods is taking shape right now on Wheeler Road, just a short ride outside of Glen Arbor. The professional, machine-built trails are going to be finished up this fall, and it’s sure to be a destination trail for years to come.

In addition to winter fat biking and summer shredding at Palmer Woods, there’s also plenty of work on the horizon with Echo Valley, a proposed trail system south of Glen Lake that is awaiting an environmental study and more ecological review before it can be moved forward.

There are plenty of awesome things in place right now, too. 45 North Vineyard and Winery has served as the race and ride hub for the County, offering year-round trails for mountain bikers who want a place to throw down laps without the long drive to Traverse City. Bike Leelanau also offers a bike library for kids and families, as well as events to get County residents moving.

For more on Bike Leelanau, make sure you check the site and follow along on Facebook and Instagram.