MARQUETTE - Local residents may have recently seen a slightly unusual sight on Marquette trails.They appear to be bikes but with some major modifications.
The first thing people might notice is the tires on the bikes are about 5 inches wide. Since the tires are so wide the bike is outfitted with ultra wide forks. While on the trail bikers need to be able to get on and off quickly so the bike sits lower then an average mountain bike.
The common name for these is snow bikes but they can be used in every season and on almost any terrain. These big-wheeled bikes have been around since the mid to late 1980's but over the last few years their popularity has grown tremendously, both in the Marquette area and around the nation.
Michael Brunet of Marquette rides his snow bike on the outskirts of the Noquemanon trailhead recently. Trails are still limited but Brunet said he hopes to change that in the next few years as the sport grows. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Just this past weekend marked the first time snow biking was included in the Noquemanon Ski Marathon. More than 75 bikers competed in the World Championship Snow Bike Race.
Michael Brunet of Marquette was one of those competitors. Brunet is a huge advocate of the sport and has worked for many years to make snow biking more accessible. He has worked at Marquette's Lake Shore Bike for 11 years and has been building trails since 1993.
His contributions - along with his seat on the board of the Noquemanon Trail Network - has allowed him to make the Marquette trails more snow bike-friendly. Brunet is also an active participant in the Kitchi-Mi-kana "KNK" Cycling Club.
"I just want to give people more options to get outdoors and enjoy everything Marquette has to offer during the long winter months," he said.
And that popularity is continuing to grow. Three years ago there were 20 snow bikes in the area. Last year, there were 60 and now about 200 bikes are hitting the trails, according to Brunet.
When looking at snow bikes for the first time, it is easy to find the big tires and wide forks intimidating. In truth, these bikes ride much like your average mountain bike, though traveling through the snow does require some extra effort.
Marquette has always been a great place for summer mountain biking and the popularity of winter biking stems largely from bikers who want to continue enjoying the sport they love during the winter months.
Even though snow biking is gaining popularity, local trail access is still limited. Many trails are specially groomed and set aside for cross country skiers and would not accommodate the bikes easily.
Parts of the Noquemanon and Harlow Lake trails are bike-ready, though the best trails are often snowshoeing trails, which have tightly packed snow and are easily accessible.
Such trail limitations aren't holding bike designers back, though. New designs and technologies are changing the way riders enjoy the wide-tired bikes. The idea of full-suspension snow bikes is being discussed, this would allow snow bikers off the ground, hitting jumps.
Those interested in snow biking can find further information about equipment and places to ride in many local bike shops, including the Sports Rack, Downwind Sports, Lakeshore Bike and Quick Stop Bike Shop.
Matt Keiser can be reached at 906-228-2500, extension 256.