Fat tire biking has transformed Northern Michigan biking into a sport that can be practiced year-round in Northern Michigan’s outdoors. The activity requires a specialized fatbike with over-sized tires and an accommodating frame, and the niche biking style has steadily gained traction for the past few years since its origins in Alaska. Whether it be snow, sand, or just cruising down the pavement, Fat Bikes make it easy to take a spin regardless of the season. Never tried it? Not to worry, read on for MyNorth’s comprehensive guide to Northern Michigan Fat Tire Biking.
Fat Tire Bike Rentals
Seeing as fat tire bikes (or, more simply, fatbikes) render basically any sort of terrain as rideable, purchasing one for yourself will cost a bit more than a pretty penny. Luckily, there are plenty of places in Northern Michigan to rent fatbikes at a reasonable prices.
Einstein Cycles — Offers day rentals of Surly Pugsley’s (a popular model of fatbikes). Plus they’re located seconds away from the TART Trail! Einstein Cycles is located at 1990 Highway 31 North in Traverse City. Call them at 231.421.8148 or visit EinsteinCycles.com for more information on rentals.
Brick Wheels — Has a full size range of fatbikes available for rental for a half-day, a day, or even a full week. Brick Wheels is located at 736 East 8th Street. You can give them a call at 231.947.4274 or visit BrickWheels.com for information on their rentals as well as a full selection of other bike options.
Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak — Located in the heart of Empire, Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak has fatbike rentals for 2 hours or a full day, perfect for a beach excursion or hopping on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. Find the shop at 10228 West Front Street in Empire; you can also call them up at 231.326.9283 or visit them on the web at SBSurfAndKayak.com.
Suttons Bay Bikes — With plenty of backroad trails and the Leelanau Trail in close proximity, Suttons Bay is a prime destination for biking. Suttons Bay Bikes rents fatbikes for daily use, and all rentals come with a helmet, a lock, a map, and a repair kit. They also deliver rentals to anywhere in Leelanau County. They are located at 118 North St. Marys Avenue, Building B in Suttons Bay. Call them at 231.421.6815 or visit their website for more rental info at SuttonsBayBikes.com.
Latitude 45 — Petoskey‘s premiere cycling and fitness shop rents Surley Pugsley’s for 4-hour, 24-hour, 3-day, or week-long use. On Tuesdays throughout the year, Latitude 45 and Twisted Stone Cycling Team host evening fatbike group rides on nearby trails, and discounts on fatbike rentals are offered. Latitude 45 can be found at 476 West Mitchell Street in Petoskey. You can call them at 231.348.5342 or visit them online at Latitude45.com for more information.
Why Fat Bikes?
Many “traditional” bikers (or really anyone unfamiliar with the fatbiking culture) have a unanimous question regarding the obese tires: Why? Alaskan cyclists have been riding bikes with fat tires for around a decade and it spread to the Midwest a few years after. Now, a bona fide community of fatbikers exists throughout the Midwest, primarily in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. It wasn’t until 2008 that more well-known companies like Surly, Specialized, and Kona began manufacturing fatbikes and boosting their presence in the biking community at large; soon after this fatbiking became a full-blown craze.
In Northern Michigan, Traverse City shop Einstein Cycles were on the forefront of Northern Michgian fat tire biking: according to salesman and avid fatbiker Cody Sovis, quality fat tire bikes were being made right around the time they opened. “When it came to winter, Jason [Lowetz, founder and owner of Einstein Cycles] didn’t want to rent skis or snowshoes or anything,” said Sovis. “He wanted to rent and sell bikes. Riding a fatbike is more accessible than cross country skiing, and easier to rent for people coming into town for the weekend.”
From when the first snow falls until it melts at the end of winter, Einstein Cycles (in cooperation with Timber Ridge Resort) hosts weekly “Friday Night Lights” rides on the snowy VASA Trail. They rent out the bikes and encourage you to bring your own fatbike if you have one, and take a friendly spin around the VASA. “Personally, I knew fatbikes were here to stay after we did our first [Friday Night Lights] ride,” he said. “We got almost 40 people on the first one of the year, rented all eight of our fatbikes, and nearly filled the parking lot of Timber Ridge on a night that was 10 degrees below freezing. There were pro cyclists there and also people who were trying it out for the first time.”
“It’s not just a winter thing, either,” he exclaimed. In Traverse City, the TART Trail System as well as the VASA Pathway are great spots to try out fatbikes in the summer. Also, due to their sturdy, balanced frame and comically oversized tires, fatbikes are capable of cruising on sand unlike any mountain bike (let alone road bike) ever could—this opens up a whole new terrain for cycling.
For Sovis, the answer to “why fatbikes?” is simple. “They’re just so much fun to ride,” he stated. “We have seen them become the replacement to people’s mountain bikes or commuter bikes.” He also maintains that the Northern Michigan fat tire biking community is an informal and inclusive one, making it enticing for newbies to give it a shot. “What else is really great about fatbiking is the attitude,” Sovis elaborated. “Unlike road riding especially, and like mountain biking, it’s so open. You get some of the fastest people in the state to people who are just trying a bike out, and everyone is having fun. There’s no negativity. It’s the most enjoyable type of riding for people to try out.”
Northern Michigan fat tire biking is alive and well, and always inviting newcomers. So once you get your hands on one, check out the list of destinations below to get riding.
Where to Ride
- VASA Pathway: A hilly, dirt two-track that is DNR-owned and maintained and groomed by TART, the VASA is a series of loops (3k, 5k, 10k and 25k) that appeals to any and every rider’s skill level. Trailhead is located at 4450 Bartlett Road.
- Boardman Lake Trail: 2 miles of flat trail that winds through heavily wooded scenery along the east side of Boardman Lake. Half crushed limestone, half paved. Perfect for beginners!
- For a more complete guide on TART Trails, visit MyNorth’s Northern Michigan Bike Trails for Kids.
- Leelanau Trail: This trail is 17 paved miles connecting Traverse City and Suttons Bay. There are three trailheads to access it, located at Cherry Bend Road, Fouch Road, and 4th Street in Suttons Bay. You can also bring your Fat Bike on the bus if you don’t want to ride the whole thing! BATA’s Bike-n-Ride Program is perfect for those who want to more fully explore Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties with ease.
- Little Traverse Wheelway: A 26-mile trail offering breathtaking views of Lake Michigan from many perspectives, the Little Traverse Wheelway starts in Charlevoix and ends in Harbor Springs, taking you along the Little Traverse Bay and through Petoskey’s Magnus and Bayfront Parks. Trailheads are located at Waller Road and US31 in Charlevoix and at Hoyt Street Community Park in Harbor Springs, but you can easily start and finish your ride in the Petoskey State Park.
- Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail: An ongoing project by Friends of Sleeping Bear, this trail is 10 miles of paved multi-use path connecting Empire and Glen Arbor along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Flat, well-groomed and clearly marked, it is perfect for testing your Fat Bike! You can also hop on a segment on the beach in Empire to rip around: ask the folks at Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak when you procure your rental!
- For a more complete guide to biking in the Sleeping Bear Dunes area, check out MyNorth’s Sleeping Bear Dunes Biking.
Frankfort & Elberta
- Crystal Mountain Resort’s Fat Bike Sand Tours on Elberta Beach: During the summer months, Thompsonville’s Crystal Mountain Resort hosts tours of Elberta Beach on fatbikes! Cruise along with a guide with a rental of a new, premiere fatbike. Tours are every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday at 9 am–12:30 pm. To make reservations, call 888.968.7686 ext. 7500 or visit CrystalMountain.com for more information.
In general, fatbiking is not much different than regular biking with the exception of the bikes’ weight and enormous tires. If you obey the rules of the road and practice common courtesy, it’ll be a breeze cruising along on a Fat Bike in Northern Michigan. Happy trails!