Gravity Fed: Mountain Bike Shuttles in Copper Harbor
Destination mountain bike trails weave through the terrain of the Upper Peninsula. The Keweenaw itself hosts over 100 miles of sweet singletrack trails for riders of all skill levels. Copper Harbor and Marquette have each been deemed a Ride Center destination from the International Mountain Bicycling Association. Ontonagon has trails and a race through the old mines in that area.
But now gravity is taking over.
It used to be that only ski hills with running chair lifts in the summertime could provide the transportation needed to run a successful downhill mountain bike operation. But the Keweenaw Adventure Company (KAC) in Copper Harbor has changed that.
During the summer of 2010 Sam Raymond, owner of the KAC, bought a used 14-passenger van and rigged up a trailer to haul bikes. After adding a driver, some insurance and eager riders, the van-powered shuttle service was born in the Keweenaw.
With newly built downhill trails such as Downtown, Danimal, Flying Squirrel and Overflow, Sam saw the potential in this service. The van drops riders off at two different summits 600 feet above the KAC. With over a dozen trails to bomb down from the top, this potential has proved a reality.
These days the KAC runs two 14-passenger vans regularly on the weekends – each with a custom built trailer, holding each bike securely in place. The vans stop back at the KAC every 15-20 minutes between passes. Sam says, “We can have 60-70 shuttlers on a busy day. The record is 90.”
Here’s a typical day of riding “shutties,”as the locals call them.
- Check in at the Keweenaw Adventure Company, and purchase a shuttle pass for a run, the day, the weekend or the summer.
- Make sure you are properly geared and suited up for your riding style.
- Wheel your bike to the helpful shuttle attendant who will load it for you while you find a seat in the van.
- On the way up, the driver will get a consensus from your van-load on where you want to get dropped off: Brockway Mountain Drive or the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge.
- The driver drops you off, and you pick which trail you want to rip down. Each summit offers several options for intermediate to expert riders.
- When you are done woo-hooing, conquering obstacles and catching air (optional), you’ll pedal back to the KAC, and hop on the van for another run.
Sounds pretty sweet, even though I used to think it was cheating. Part of the character of mountain biking in Copper Harbor is enduring those grueling climbs with the downhill as the reward. But after trying it myself, I’m hooked too. Here’s why.
The Copper Harbor trails are challenging. The 600 vertical foot ridges that rise from the shore to the hills are demanding, and there are always lines and obstacles to tackle. Climbing up with the intention of conquering a line on the way down just tires you out. Utilizing this shuttle service, you can try the same lines over and over without wearing yourself out during the climbs. Shuttles runs boost rider confidence on those gnarly descents, and still provide a great workout.
On weekends, I watch those vans pile full of riders, one after the other. As the mountain biking traffic increases in Copper Harbor, it’s refreshing to see business owners not only embrace this part of the tourist impact, but help it progress as well.
The KAC has seized an opportunity to take advantage of this growing culture. Here are some other ways the community caters to this group of cyclists:
- The town has a non-profit organization called the Copper Harbor Trails Club that hosts trail-related events and build more sweet singletrack.
- Many of the gift shops stock apparel designed with images and text about mountain biking in Copper Harbor.
- The Downtown Development Authority recently purchased three 12-foot long steel bike racks for the township park.
- The Keweenaw Adventure Company provides bike racks to any local businesses that choose to utilize them near their front door.
- Brickside Brewery makes delicious craft beer that attracts a large clientele of bikers.
- Into the Woods Mini Golf and Gardens encourages bikers to come by to play 18 holes and b.y.o.b.
- The Harbor Haus restaurant enjoys providing “Breakfast on the Flow” on selected Sunday mornings because the chef loves riding the trails and wants to bring more awareness and appreciation to them.
- Local author Amanda Wais (that’s me!) has written a pocket-sized adventure guide titled Touring the Tip that offers guided adventures in the Keweenaw, devoting a whole chapter to shuttle runs.
Learn more about how you can rip a day of “shutties” in Copper Harbor. Visit www.keweenawadventure.com. Get your brakes in check, and let gravity feed your speed!
Words and Photos by Amanda Wais. Amanda is an outdoor adventure writer based in the Keweenaw and travels through the Upper Peninsula. Follow along at Amanda’s Copper Harbor blog at www.daharbor.blogspot.com.