When Experience Grand Rapids first profiled the local fatbiking community back in 2018, it was clear the snow sport was exploding in popularity and participation. Three years later, we can report that area enthusiasm for this rad style of riding has grown even higher.
“The last year has been phenomenal for the whole biking industry,” says Brian Dokter, president of the West Michigan Mountain Biking Alliance (WMMBA), a group that builds area trails and promotes safe riding. “With COVID, people were looking for ways to stay healthy and still be distanced from each other.”
Biking fit the bill – and fatbiking, which is an even better workout than mountain biking or road riding, has seen an influx of new aficionados.
We get calls from Indiana, the Detroit area and up north asking ‘where can I ride and where can I grab a beer afterwards?
Local fatbikers have a “good density” of trails to choose from, says Dokter. In fact, the West Michigan area is gaining something of a regional reputation as a fatbiking destination. “We get calls from Indiana, the Detroit area and up north asking ‘where can I ride and where can I grab a beer afterwards?’”
Our groomed trails are part of the appeal (and 40+ craft breweries don’t hurt, either). Grooming mostly occurs when snowfall is too high and/or fresh to provide a firm base. Simply put, grooming makes riding easier.
WMMBA, which boasts 500-some members, trains and equips “an army” of volunteers to optimize riding conditions on miles and miles of trails around the area, both in the winter for fatbiking and in warmer weather for mountain biking.
Biking through snowy trails at Cannonsburg Ski Area.
Photo by Experience Grand Rapids
There are five trails groomed for fatbiking within 45 minutes or so of downtown Grand Rapids:
Merrell Trail. This 6.4-mile winter single-track trail in Rockford opened in 2012 and quickly became a favorite of local bikers.
Dragon Trail. 11 miles of this under-construction trail near Hardy Dam and Newaygo State Park are now open and groomed for fatbiking. When it’s finished, the Dragon will stretch 50 miles and provide a truly world-class biking experience. (WMMBA is inviting the public to contribute to the trail-building effort.)
Yankee Springs. 6.5 miles of this winter single-track trail near Gun Lake are groomed. (Additional ungroomed miles lay in wait for more adventurous riders.)
Indian Trails. This golf course features a 3.7-mile single-track fatbike loop groomed by clubhouse staff. Trail riders can purchase a day pass for $3 or a season pass for $15.
Cannonsburg Ski Area. This popular winter sports destination grooms five miles of rolling to hilly terrain for a fatbike trail loop. Purchase a $5 day pass or $35 season pass and experience a mix of open areas and twisty, tight single-track. In early 2021, Cannonsburg hosted a five-week fatbike race league to great response.
Taking off to fatbike at Cannonsburg Ski Area.
Photo by Experience Grand Rapids
Dokter was an avid mountain biker when he first started fatbking in 2015. “I got an opportunity to ride a fatbike and just really got into it,” he recalls. “It helps that I love winter – but I tell people that you’re only cold for the first five minutes, anyway.”
If you haven’t yet hopped on the fatbike bandwagon, Dokter advises you to start slow. “Try to find a bike to borrow or rent and hit a trail with somebody who knows their stuff. There are intricacies to these bikes and their gears and tire pressures that really make a difference.”
Rentals were a bit hard to come by this past year, as local bike shops experienced a run on both new and used fatbikes. But check out shops like Switchback Gear Exchange and Central District Cyclery – soon to be rechristened as Spinful Bikes – when next winter rolls around.
Dokter urges everyone to “just get out and try fatbiking.” (Dokter’s orders, you might say.) “It’s a beautiful way to take in the winter in West Michigan. And you’ll be joining a great community of riders!”