Jul 17, 2023 - Things to Do

Mountain biking keeps climbing in Minnesota

Illustration of a mountain bike climbing up a hill, leaving an upward trending red dotted line in its wake.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Edina will likely become the latest Twin Cities suburb to add mountain biking to its park system as cities try to accommodate a growing interest in the sport.

State of play: The six miles slated to be built next year at Braemar Park are on top of roughly two dozen public trails and 170 miles for mountain biking in the Twin Cities, plus hundreds more outstate miles.

  • There were almost no dedicated mountain biking trails in Minnesota 25 years ago. The popular Cuyuna, Theodore Wirth, and Lebanon Hills trails had not been built.

Why it matters: Mountain biking is not only good exercise and a great way to experience nature, it's also been a boost for local bike makers, retailers, and towns near trails.

How it works: Most of the Twin Cities trails are built and maintained by Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists (MORC), a nonprofit group of volunteers.

  • MORC president Gunnar Carlson said that 10 or 15 years ago the organization would have to beg local governments to let its volunteers build trails.
  • "Now we have cities and counties and communities coming to us and asking us to put a trail in."

Flashback: Twenty years ago the sport was dominated by men in their 20s and 30s, said Renee Appel Mattson, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission.

  • Now the trails are filled with kids, families and people using adaptive bikes. The Minnesota High School Cycling League was created for off-road cycling in 2012 and has grown from 15 teams and 150 riders to 80 teams and 2,400 athletes.
  • "The sport has changed to really include more people," said Mattson, whose organization has partnered with the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota to study trail users.

Yes, but: With more users come more challenges. The sport surged during pandemic lockdowns and the rise of e-mountain biking has brought more people onto the trails.

Between the lines: There's disagreement within the mountain biking community over e-bikes. Some argue that they pose safety risks, damage the trails, and basically bring motorized vehicles into the mix. Others say they have made the sport more accessible to people who otherwise couldn't participate.

  • MORC put out a statement that falls somewhere in the middle, supporting only the Class 1 pedal-assist e-bikes, not the ones that have throttles.
  • Carlson said mountain biking trails were not designed for such heavy bikes that can go 20 miles per hour or faster.
  • But he added that adaptive mountain bikers are some of the biggest advocates in the country for trails and "we've got to figure out ways to accommodate that."

Mountain biking tips

Cuyuna trails
The Cuyuna trails weave around an abandoned mine near Crosby. Photo: Nick Halter/Axios

Just getting into the adventurous way to experience nature? Here are a few things to know.

Where to get a bike: Some of the bike shops in town rent them. The University of Minnesota's Center for Outdoor Adventure is open to the general public and has great prices, starting at $45 a day.

Where to ride: Minnesota Trails has a guide for the entire state.

  • In the metro area, Lebanon Hills in Eagan, Theodore Wirth in Minneapolis, and Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove have more than 10 miles apiece.
  • Cuyuna is the biggest and best in the state, with 50 miles of trails. The Galloping Goose is a great six-mile loop for beginners.

Etiquette: Minnesotans are "woefully undereducated" on etiquette because most riders grew up on single-track (one-way) — trails and didn't learn to be vocal when approaching other riders, Carlson said.

  • If you're approaching someone, let them know you're passing on their left or ask them if you can get by, he added. Oftentimes, riders have no idea someone is behind them.
  • If you're stopping to rest or to size up the next section of trail, move your bike off the trail and be mindful of other riders.
  • And Carlson’s personal pet peeve: leave the Bluetooth speaker at home. It makes it hard for people trying to communicate with you to warn you they're coming.

Be smart: Trails are color-coded for difficulty levels, so be sure to start on the easiest level.

  • There's no law requiring helmets, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone riding without head protection.
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