Duluth is destined to become the mountain biking Mecca of the Midwest.
The views from the Piedmont Trails system are amazing.
Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at firstname.lastname@example.org. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.
If you’ve seen the movie Fargo, then you probably have this image in your mind of what Minnesota looks like; a barren, ice cold, God-forsaken tundra of nothing but white stuff as far as the eye can see, which in the middle of a blizzard is about six inches.
And that image you have in your mind wouldn’t be far off, except for that fact that Minnesota does have some spring, summer and fall where the weather can be quite pleasant. And when it is pleasant, the locals pull their mountain bikes out of hibernation and go riding.
The rocky terrain and lush green forests make Duluth an ideal place to ride.
This past week The Angry Singlespeeder was invited by Salsa Cycles to ride their new Spearfish and Horsethief way up north in the fledgling mountain bike destination of the Midwest – Duluth, Minnesota.
Set on the shores of Lake Superior, or as the locals call it, the Canadian Ocean, Duluth has seen some tumultuous economic ups and downs like many cities in the Rust Belt. After a long run of prosperity, in the 1950s Duluth began its decline, when high-grade iron ore ran out in the nearby Iron Range. Once U.S. Steel shuttered in the 1970s, so did all of their local suppliers and thousands of jobs.
However, unlike other Rust Belt cities, Duluth has some remarkably beautiful country and natural resources that have enabled it to draw tourism and a constant influx of younger people. One of those forms of tourism as of lately has been mountain biking. Thanks to a number of local riders and volunteers who have worked tirelessly for years to put Duluth on the mountain biking map, the word is finally starting to get out – Duluth is destined to become a mountain biking mecca of the Midwest.
I know what you’re thinking. Mecca? In Duluth? Gimme a break. That’s exactly what I thought until I pulled into town and saw a beautiful, rock and tree-laden ridgeline towering 700 feet above the city, where an entire network of rocky, technical singletracks known as Piedmont Trails are located. The views of Lake Superior and the city of Duluth are simply stunning and the riding is anything but flat and boring. The trails are more like the middle of Pennsylvania, not the middle of the Midwest.
Spirit Mountain has gotten on board with mountain biking, boasting two new flow trails.
Spirit Mountain, a ski resort no more than 10 miles from downtown Duluth has gotten on board with mountain biking too, recently building two flow trails named Candyland and Smorgasboard. Candyland boasts nearly two miles of jumps, berms and tabletops suitable for riders of all skill and experience levels while Smorgasboard appeals to more experienced riders, with ramps, drops, rocks and technical berms. I must have ridden Candyland at least six times in three hours, and could have ridden it another six without getting bored. It was that fun.
But the big project is the Duluth Traverse, a 100-mile long trail through the entire city that Mayor Don Ness envisions to be the premier urban mountain biking system in the world. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Duluth-area native and IMBA Midwest regional director, Hansi Johnson and Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (COGGS) chairman Dr. Adam Sundberg, Mayor Ness saw the enormous possibilities that mountain biking can bring to the local economy.
And once the city took notice, money for trail projects started flowing in. With hundreds of thousands of dollars in the COGGS coffer, Sundberg is hiring two full-time trail builders and buying their own trail building equipment. They’re also hiring Progressive Trail Design out of Arkansas to help create two nine-mile sections of the Duluth Traverse trail by end of summer.
All of this sounds great, but the big question probably lingering in the back of your mind relates to the weather. What about the weather? I asked that exact question to Mayor Ness when he spoke with us briefly during dinner at Tycoons, a brew pub located in the historic Duluth City Hall – one of several new brewpubs in town.
His response was very matter-of-fact. He told us that yes, the weather in Duluth can be brutal. You have to be a special person to live in Duluth. You have to be strong, tough, positive and persevering, and that’s what makes the people of Duluth so genuine. Mayor Ness is a youthful 39-years-old, but his recent re-election after running unopposed speaks multitudes – citizens love the vision Ness has for the city of Duluth.
And even when there’s three feet of snow on the ground, Hansi and his COGGS buddies still ride. Fatbikes in Duluth are like fixies in San Francisco; they’re everywhere. Hansi showed us pictures of him riding frozen creekbeds in winter, opening up a whole new realm of riding possibilities. As the locals say, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.”
Whether summer or winter, having a fatbike in Duluth is a must.
Fatbikes in Duluth can even be used in summer, cruising the sandy shores of Lake Superior. Salsa hosted a midnight fatbike beach ride for us one evening, and it was so much fun. Until last week I never understood the point of fatbikes. I thought they were just a stupid novelty. But after riding in Duluth, I get it. Without fatbikes, people in Duluth wouldn’t be able to ride at least six months out of the year.
So whether you live in the Midwest or you’re just looking for a unique and affordable mountain biking destination, put Duluth on your short list. And if you decide to go, look up Hansi and Sundberg. They’ll be happy to show you all the great trails, brewpubs and fatbike rides that Duluth has to offer. Thanks guys. I’ll be back again.