Biking enthusiasts familiar with the biking-culture phrase, N+1, understand that when you love biking, one bike just isn’t enough! Nope, this isn’t algebra class; N + 1 is a saying that expresses the number of bikes you “should” own in the bike world. Maybe it’s just a weak justification to purchase that shiny new bike that just showed up in the bike shop. In the bike world, much like any other hobby, there are many styles of bikes suited for different types of riding and terrain. Whether it’s a skinny tire road bike with 1-inch wide smooth tires for paved roads or a fat bike with 5-inch knobby tires for a snowmobile trail, there’s a bike designed for just about anything – and another cycle to buy!
Lake County offers bike trails for all kinds of riders. So whether you like smooth cruising for miles on paved paths or you’re an adventure-seeker who craves rough terrain and twisting trails that challenge your abilities, you’ll find Lake County a must-do biking destination.
History of Biking in Lake County
While not corroborated, Lake County’s bike history probably started with some young lad riding a bike from a logging camp or railyard to get supplies. Imagine the trail pockmarked with horse tracks and the smell of fresh-cut pine lingering in the air. Over time, some of these trails and railroads turned into vehicle roads as more and more people moved to the North Shore to join the mining and timber industries.
The Open Road
Lake County isn’t well-known for miles of paved road; instead, it possesses trails that twist through scenic forests or along Lake Superior’s coastline. However, for more than 30 years, a group of local North Shore riders headed out on Tuesday evenings to ride the same fast-paced 40-mile loop starting from Earthwood Inn along Lake Superior and up “the hill” through the woods. This route takes advantage of the elevation gain away from Lake Superior and gives the riders a chance to test their abilities.
The Big Lake Bike Path
Photo Credit: Cascade Vacation Rentals
The family-friendly Gitchi-Gami State Trail features a paved path to encourage open road cyclists to bike off the congested Hwy 61 along Lake Superior. Because of the varied level of riders present on the trail, speed usually isn’t the primary goal. Eventually, the course will connect Two Harbors to Grand Marais via a paved bike path. In addition, riders in Lake County now have a 17.2 portion connecting Gooseberry State Park, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Beaver Bay, and Silver Bay. As a result, hikers, joggers, inline skaters, and bikers can enjoy riding a safe route within proximity to Lake Superior.
A newer bike phenomenon, the gravel bike looks like a road bike but has larger tires and disc brakes. Interestingly, these bikes seem to be made specifically for Lake County! While they hold their own on paved roads, these bikes were designed to be efficient and fast on a gravel or dirt road. Today, Lake County has converted the extensive mining and timber railways to gravel roads. There’s also a network of recent timber haul roads still maintain by State and County Forestry departments that are more rugged and adventurous.
Race events, such as Heck of the North, capitalize on these routes by linking them into a 100-mile race that draws more than 600 riders each fall. Riders can follow predetermined routes or, even better, plan their own adventures! Those looking for the ultimate experience carry camping gear and string multiple days of riding and camping together.
Winter Biking: Fatbikes
Photo Credit: Roberta Laidlaw
Riders in northern climates have always looked for a way to ride outside in the winter. Through many attempts by individuals and manufacturers, riders now have a well-suited bike to ride when the snow piles up. Enter the fat bike! Fat bikes feature 3.8- to 5-inch tires specifically designed to ride through the snow. Because of the new popularity of fat bikes, Lake County and the Minnesota DNR have created winter biking routes that wind through the woods on snowy trails. The county grooms the trails to pack the snow and keep ruts to a minimum. Two prominent areas to ride include the Lake County Demonstration Forest and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.
Download the Demonstration Forest Bike Map, courtesy of Lake County Mountain Bike Trails
While Lake County doesn’t possess actual “mountains,” its most recent biking development endeavor created purpose-built single-track mountain bike trails. Mountain bikes hold an essential purpose in Lake County; they’re perfect for riding through the plentitude of forest roads and snowmobile trails. The Demonstration Forest features Lake County’s first purpose-built mountain bike trails. Initially created for hiking, the county has modified or newly constructed the routes to make mountain biking a more enjoyable experience. The success of the Demonstration Forest seeded even bigger visions of making Lake County a mountain biking destination. What can we say; we apply N + 1 for trails, too.
Split Rock Wilds
Split Rock Wilds – the newest mountain biking trail in Lake County, was inspired by the vision of a County Forestry employee. Also an avid mountain biker, he walked through a piece of County-owned land to manage some dead and dying birch. The scenery and terrain screamed to have a mountain bike trail: no roads, amazing Lake Superior views, dynamic terrain, and many rocks. Fast forward ten years later, and Lake County has created a mountain biking master plan and nearly completed 20 miles of mountain bike trail between Beaver Bay and Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.
These trails offer a somewhat unique and promising experience for today’s mountain bikers. The challenging course highlights rocks and elevation gain. The remoteness of the trails delivers a unique experience in Minnesota; who doesn’t like to stop on a rock outcrop and gaze at the largest freshwater body of water in the world? Today’s riders own bikes that can handle rough terrain, and with the explosion of mountain bike popularity, riders’ skills have improved, and they desire adrenaline-pumping challenges. Once completed, Split Rock Wilds will feature trails for beginners and advanced mountain bikers.