There’s a phenomenon underway in the winter woods this year. There are bikes – fat ones – everywhere. Sure, they’ve been around for years but with the pandemic, everyone wants out… and Leelanau County is answering the call!
If you’ve never been on a fat bike, get ready for what feels like a slow-rolling couch ride. These things will go just about anywhere and what a delight they are. Unlike skis, they can take you out in the woods in pretty much any condition. Groomed trails are NICE (yes!!) but a packed-down two-track or snowmobile trail will work, too. They offer a new kind of winter wonderland freedom. A go-anywhere, bump-along snowy-tour that you can’t get with any other outdoor sport.
This isn’t your high-flying look-ma no-hands experience. It’s not entirely a serene, slow roll either. Because, dang, if you don’t just feel like a beast on a fat bike. You can just go. Rolling those huge tires over the snowpack is like stomping, softly, with authority. You feel powerful, even as you’re out of breath…. Because did I mention? The bigger, sturdier tires mean there’s very little coasting – which is personally my favorite part of biking. Be prepared to be the engine, albeit a slow and touring engine, as you putter through the woods in all your beastliness!
One word of warning: Ice is ice. While weather conditions are almost always favorable for fat biking, you can’t beat ice. Look for traction on the trail – the give of a little snow. If it’s icy, consider going another day, finding a groomed trail, or being prepared to do a little fishtailing or meeting up with the ground.
Most trails ask that riders stay off the trail if it’s warmer than 30 degrees so that they don’t leave grooves in a soft, melting trail. If you are leaving more than a 1” trail with your tire, conditions are too soft for a groomed trail ride. Also, go for a PSI of 4-6psi in your tires. Lower pressure means more grip and less groove. If you have to walk for any reason, please don’t walk up the trail and leave divots. Try to roll your bike on the groomed trail and instead leave your footprints in the fresh snow along the side of the trail. Every divot that gets frozen into the base is a groomer’s headache the next morning! (And hats off to the groomers – thank you!)
- 45 North Winery's Vineyard Trail is a 3-mile, all seasons, the recreational trail through a vineyard that you can explore on skis, by bike, or on foot. The trail is free to use during business hours with gentle slopes and uphill climbs. The trail starts near the tasting room (tasting room? See why this is a favorite?!) and offers views of the entire property and surrounding rolling hills—the epitome of Leelanau’s wild beauty. Visit their Facebook page for trail conditions and events like the Short’s Brewing Fat Bike Race Series Vineyard Race.
- Leelanau State Park’s winter sports trail. This trail offers a couple of 2-3 mile groomed trail loops open to fat tire bikers, xc skiers, snowshoers, and winter hikers. There is a total of 7 miles of groomed trail that cuts through gorgeous Northern Michigan hardwoods, past an old farmstead, and through an open meadow. You’ll need a Recreational Passport or day pass.
- Leelanau TART Trail is a 17-mile groomed trail connecting Traverse City to Suttons Bay on a former railroad corridor. The Leelanau Trail features forests, farms, vineyards, lakes, and ponds. Watch for an old historic stone building along the trail – its crumbling structure is an ode to an old potato farm that used to be there. Take a rest on one of the benches along the way and soak in the views of snow-covered apple orchards.
- Sleeping Bear Dunes Heritage Trail is a beautiful multi-purpose trail winding through the Sleeping Dunes National Lake Shore. The trail is groomed from Glen Arbor to Empire (7.5 miles) and from Glen Arbor to Port Oneida (3 miles). The Empire to Glen Arbor section is quite hilly. You’ll also pass by the Sleeping Bear Dunes – an entirely different beast in a blanket of snow! Don’t be surprised to see (brave!) kids sledding down it!
Fat bikes can be rented from several places. Call early, as they sell out quickly!
- Suttons Bay Bikes, Suttons Bay
- The Cyclery, Glen Arbor
- Brick Wheels, Traverse City
Expect to pay around $40-$50 for a half-day rental or $55-$70 for a full day rental. Enjoy!