This past weekend, February 7-8, was spent north in the beautiful Upper Peninsula in a small town that you have heard us talk often about, Marquette. Now, if you have read my earlier post on the ride scene that Marquette has to offer, (Here it is) you will know that I am a big fan. But that was nearly 6 months ago in early fall, what could Marquette possibly offer for a cyclist this time of year with 2-3 feet of lake effect snow on the ground?
BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME
Alongside the staple winter sport activities, like skiing and snowshoeing, you will find an ever-increasing number of options for winter cycling. Fat bikes are making the off-road options possible on snow-covered trails, and Marquette is showing what a community is possible of doing by developing one of the better, if not best, trail networks around. By developing a ‘Snow Bike Route’ through Marquette’s already extensive trail network, riders have options on both the north and south side of the city. Our riding took place with a morning ride on the ‘North Snow Bike Route’ (NSBR) and then an afternoon ride on the ‘Snow Bike Route’ (SBR).
While these two trail systems are within a few miles of one another, they each offer a different flavor of trail. The NSBR, tight and scenic, is punched out by the relentless stomping of snowshoes and packed down further by fatbikes themselves. Following along the shore of waterways for a good portion of the trail, the NSBR provides great winter scenery and also a great trail surface. While a bit narrower than the SBR, it gives the feeling of a trail that moves through the forest with no destruction of it. This was proven by the number of handlebar dings and a few attempts at tackling this said forest with a shoulder…after a quick lunch break, we headed back out, now on the SBR, and in for a very different ride. The SBR has a full loop with a bit of networking off of it that is ‘groomed’. The grooming is done with a snowmobile that pulls a custom sled that packs and conforms the snow to a 2’-wide channel throughout the woods. Without this grooming, the trail would not be nearly as precise and not nearly as rideable. We ended up riding the SBR in the early afternoon, after a number of riders had already had their fun on the freshly groomed trail. With this in mind, I did not have the experience of riding on it freshly groomed; regardless, the riding was outstanding. During faster descents, you had to keep your focus, as near tunnel vision would set in due to the grooming of the trail. Keeping your bike between 2’ high walls of snow on either side of you made for a fun change from the NSBR. This is where the two trail networks truly differ. This mechanical grooming gives rise to what lake-effect snow from Lake Superior can really do, due to the ever increasing walls of snow that forms as the trail continues to be packed down. Additionally, the SBR includes one of the more labor-intensive sections of trail in the area, Benson’s Grade. If you are at all concerned about being cold during the ride, leave the parking lot and start with this, plus the view from the top makes it even more worth it. Comparing both the SBR and the NSBR, I cannot say which I preferred, I can say however, make sure you give time to ride both.
IN ADDITION TO…
Again, if you have read the earlier post on my fall trip to Marquette, you will know how great of a town it is for dining, lodging, and other activities in addition to cycling. This last trip was no exception. Sharing my earlier experience led the rest of the group to want to see for themselves what both the Vierling and Blackrocks Brewery are all about; I didn’t put up a fight.
A fantastic meal was had by all, this time seated in the back of the restaurant, which even on a cloudy winter night, had decent views of the lake. Blackrocks Brewery again did not disappoint, outstanding beer mixed with a great bicycle-related atmosphere worked just fine for a group of thirsty cyclists.
IN CONCLUSION (this time at least)
I hold my opinion of Marquette very high, as I am sure many others do. What the town has to offer in the down time, compliments the riding very well. Being able to offer so much makes Marquette a true cycling destination, check it out for yourself if you haven’t yet.
For more on the trails, check out the Noquemanon Trail Network page.