The sandy trail at the MN River Bottoms

I went riding at the MN River Bottoms again yesterday and discovered the trail segment that runs on the east side of the backwater, very close to the river.  The Black Dog power plant is right across the river, about midway between Cedar and I-35W.

Overall it’s flat and very sandy, with lots of small but fun ups and downs. And there are a fair number of optional technical obstacles.  It’s fat bike heaven but I had no trouble on my 29’er.

Sandy trail, MN River Bottoms IMG_20111229_143222 IMG_20111229_152927

MORC member Phil Westover has created this terrific Google Map he calls the South Bloomington Trail Network.


View South Bloomington Trail Network in a larger map

Battle Creek Park Reserve mountain bike trails

With temps nearing 50 and Christmas calories weighing me down, I went  riding on the Battle Creek Park Reserve mountain bike trail system on the east side of St. Paul for the first time this afternoon, early enough to give me time to explore since the MORC reviewer notes:

One common complaint with this trail is that there is no one right way to ride it. This leads to confusion on the part of people who are not familiar with the trail. It also causes some scary near misses by bikers bombing around blind corners not expecting to see people coming the other way.

Mountain bikers at Battle Creek Park Reserve: Tim Larson, David Gavin, Eric Marr and Dan MalechaI got lucky, though: five other guys showed up at the Battle Creek Community Center parking lot at the same time and they let me join them. L to R: Tim Larson, David Gavin, Eric Marr and Dan Malecha. Not pictured: Tim Brinkmann.

I’m not exactly sure where we went, but one of the guys said we covered 17 miles. Looking at the map (jpg)  of the area, I’m guessing we covered 50% or better, including sections called “Jesus Saves,” the “Wall of Death,” and “The Luge.”

The trails were 90% dry, with just an occasional muddy spot.  Despite the warms temps, “The Luge” (a series of big berms) was a combination of ice and frozen dirt as it’s well-shaded. Still, it had surprisingly good traction.

There weren’t any technical areas, though there were a few walls and downed trees for some skinny riding.

Given the two-way traffic on these trails, I’m likely to only ride here in the early spring and late fall when the lack of leaves makes for better visibility.  Oh yeah, warm and dry winters, too.

Minnesota River Bottoms mountain bike trail system

Minnesota River Bottoms, mountain biking  Minnesota River Bottoms, mountain biking  Minnesota River Bottoms, mountain biking

I rode a section of the Minnesota River Bottoms mountain bike trails system yesterday, my first time there. I started at the west end, via the Bloomington Ferry Road access point just off  Hwy 169 and Old Shakopee Rd, rode to the Cedar Ave Bridge and back.

With bright sunshine and temps in the upper 30s, there was very little snow left on the trail. It was 75% dry, the rest muddy but very negotiable.

I was by myself and with sunset at around 4:30, I stuck to the main trail rather than exploring some of the side routes. I still took several wrong turns, as nothing is marked, but it’s no biggie since the trail system is between the river and the high ridge. No way to get lost.

There aren’t many technical obstacles on the main trail and as the MORC review says, the west end is pretty flat, beginner to moderate in difficulty . That’s evidently why it’s a popular destination when there’s snow. My 29er would do fine here with a moderate amount of snow.

I plan to go again with someone who knows all the side routes.

Cuyuna: Minnesota’s Gift to Mountain Bikers (article in Dec. 2011 Mountain Bike Action magazine)

IMBA Midwest Director Hansi Johnson published a post to his blog in late October titled December 2011 Mountain Bike Action Magazine feature on the IMBA Cuyuna Lakes Ride Center. He wrote:

Earlier this summer I did photo shoot for Mountain Bike Action at Cuyuna.  Pro rider Eric Carter flew in from CA and along with some great local riders ( Peter Gustafson, Rori Stumvoll, Nick Statz, Peter L.)  we rode and shot the full system of trails. The results are in a 7 page, 16 photo feature in this months MBA issue. So check it out!

As an advocate for off road cycling I find myself constantly telling stories.  For me, using the visual medium of photography seems to be an effective method of telling those stories.  This feature is a direct result of that.  I would like to thank all of the folks that helped me on this shoot, especially Mike Van Abel and the folks at IMBA!

I subscribed to the digital version of the magazine (a great deal, only $15/yr). I patched together screenshots into this 4-page PDF (FYI, jpg screenshots converted to a PDF does not make for a crisp PDF.  The document text is readable but gets increasingly blurry as you zoom out past 100%):

MBA cuyuna1

Tim Wegner’s contributions to mountain biking profiled in Minnesota Trails magazine

Parks and Trails Council of MinnesotaMinnesota Trails magazineMy wife and I became members of the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota earlier this year when we decided to make bicycling a regular recreational activity… and were thrilled at the number and quality of paved bike trails around the state.

As members, we get a free subscription to the terrific quarterly print magazine, Minnesota Trails. It’s not available online, although the publishers do have a companion website, also called Minnesota Trails.

The Winter 2011 issue of Minnesota Trails has a profile of mountain biker and trail builder Tim Wegner. I’ve never met Tim but I’ve fallen in love with the sport mainly because of the spectacular mountain biking at two parks where he’s had a major influence: Lebanon Hills and the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System (DNR link).

I typed up the text of the article (below) so that more of my fellow Minnesota mountain bikers might A) know what Tim Wegner has done for our sport and thank him for it; and B) become members of the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota, both in appreciation for what they did to help the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System become a reality (details in the article) as well as to support the organization and their work.

Trail Builder

Tim Wegner: Mountain biking as a way of life

by Linda Picone

Minnesota Trails magazine, Winter 2011 - Tim Wegner: Mountain biking as a way of lifeTim WegnerFor Tim Wegner, a hobby turned into a business. But mountain biking not only changed his life, it helped create a new outdoor resource in Minnesota, the Cuyuna Mountain Bike Trail System, a world-class 25-mile bike trail network with areas for riders at all levels.

Wegner, the former southern Minnesota representative of the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), is credited by many as being the single most effective mover of the the mountain bike trails at the Cuyuna Lakes Recreation Area, which opened for use in June.

In the early 1980s, while Wegner lived Bismarck, ND, he did a lot of road biking and was a regular a local bike shop. “I walked in there one day and there was this funky looking bike,” he says. “The guys said, ‘You’ve got to ride it; it’s the best ride you’ll ever have.'”

They were right, and all of a sudden he was a mountain biker. When he moved to Minnesota about 10 years later, he assumed he was coming to a mountain bike mecca, but was disappointed with the number and quality of trails available. Appointed to a users’ group to represent cross-country skiers for Lebanon Hills Park in Dakota County, he ended up becoming friendly with the man representing mountain bikers and was encouraged to become the local representative of IMBA, becoming an advocate and activist for the sport.

Lebanon Hills turned out to be a good training ground for Wegner. “We learned that it really took a lot of time to build a trail by hand,” he says. Although there were machines that could make it go faster, they cost $25,000 to $40,000–more than Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists, which was doing the work, could afford. “That put the kibosh on plans to expand the trail at Lebanon Hills. You burn your volunteers out pretty fast when they work all weekend to finish 50 feet of trail.”

That frustration led to Wegner’s next move on the mountain bike trail: He and his buddy from the Lebanon Hills user group became partners in a new business venture, Trail Source. They bought one of those expensive machines and went into the business of building sustainable, natural surface trails in Minnesota and Wisconsin (he still has a day job, as a pharmaceutical representative).

A new trail opportunity

About five years ago, Wegner was in search of areas outside the Metro where mountain bike trails could be established. He met with Courtland Nelson, DNR state parks director, to see what might be accomplished. “I said, ‘Minnesota doesn’t have any true mountain bike trails in its state parks; I think you’re missing the mark,” he old Nelson. “He said, ‘You’re right, we don’t.'”

Nelson urged him to look at Cuyuna. “I thought, ‘Who wants to look at an old iron ore mine?'”

That was before he saw it. Wegner took a trip north to explore the Cuyuna Lakes area. “I looked at it and thought it was incredible. The potential was so awesome and the place was so beautiful.” Steve Weber, manager of the Cuyuna Lakes Recreation Area, was with Wegner as he visualized the possibility of 25 to 40 miles of trails through the area, but he didn’t see the same possibilities.

Wegner not only saw what could be built at Cuyuna Lakes, he set out to do what was needed to create it, from convincing then Congressman James Oberstar to get federal funding to getting a bill written at the Minnesota Legislature for matching funds.

“It was incredible the way it came together,” Wegner says. “It could have stumbled at any step.”

The Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota was a key player at several points, Wegner said. When he needed someone to carry–and write–a bill to get matching state funds for the trail, the Parks and Trails legislative liaison Judy Erickson showed him into an office at the State Capitol, got a bill written, found a legislative sponsor and pushed her contacts for approval (it was approved, but then vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, but it passed the next year). “Parks and Trails gave continuous support for us,” Wegner says. “I could always go to Brett (Feldman, now executive director) when I got beat up by someone.” At one point, the Parks & Trails Council provided a $50,000 loan in order to help get matching funds.

The finished trail

Construction of the trails had its challenges, Wegner says. “There were a lot of bidders on it, but not many truly qualified mountain bike trail builders.” That meant he, representing IMBA, was closely involved in advising the contractor. “We bumped heads a few times, but he was always willing to understand our point of view.”

Mountain bike enthusiasts see the finished trails as the best trails for accomplished riders in the Midwest. But Wegner is also pleased that there are trails for all levels of bikers, so it’s a place for families as well as for “aggressive” riders who want a serious challenge. “We put stuff up in Cuyuna Lakes that there’s no way I would ever ride,” he says.

He sees an economic boon for the local community–something he wasn’t even thinking about when he first envisioned a trail. “I was only looking for a place to ride mountain bikes, but I looked at the town and saw a lot of empty storefronts,” he says. “I thought maybe we could have an economic impact on this town.” During the grand opening of the trails in June, both restaurants in town ran out of food, he says. “That says to me, yeah, mountain bikers can make a difference.”

The next challenges

Wegner is still hoping to make progress on a trail system in Camden State Park and there are trail possibilities at Pillsbury State Forest and Cut Lake Trail in Foothills State Forest. But, other than his business, he’s taking a quieter role. “I think at certain times you need to step away a little bit and let others come in.”

He looks back at his activities as IMBA representative and at the push for the Cuyuna Mountain Bike Trail System and he’s satisfied: “I think we’ve improved the status of mountain bikers in Minnesota and I don’t think you could ask for more out of your life than to make it better for a sport you have a passion for.”

Learning to bunny hop: lifting the rear wheel with a rear foot ‘scoop’ motion

Hans "No way" Rey at the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Festival grand opening Hans "No way" Rey at the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Festival grand opening
At the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Festival grand opening last June, I asked Hans “No way” Rey how he was able to leap his bike vertically from a dead stop to the top of a picnic table. He pointed to his calf muscles, explaining that he lifts the rear wheel off the ground with his rear foot pushing back and up against the rear pedal. I didn’t own a mountain bike at the time so this concept didn’t make sense to me.

Nor did it sink in when I blogged back in August about learning to manual and noticed in BikeRadar’s Learning the Manual – Part 4 that there is a sentence about the bunny hop in which the author wrote:

Pushing forward on the bars as you ‘scoop’ backwards against the pedal with your rear foot to lift the rear wheel off the ground will also help.

It wasn’t until I saw this new BikeRadar video on the bunny hop in which Sam Pilgrim isolates the rear wheel lift with the rear foot (Step One in the tutorial) that I ‘got it:’

After just a few minutes of practice today, I was able to use this motion with either foot to clear a curb with my rear wheel. No bunny hop (or is it one word, bunnyhop?) yet, but I’m confident I’ll get it. I’m young yet.

Progress on the skinnies

I’m getting better at the skinnies at Leb. Instinctively leaning the bike instead of turning the handlebars is the key.

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Above: Last week was the first time I made the right hand turn on the man-made skinny. I used a front wheel hop at the apex of the turn.

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Above: I made this log for the first time about 6 weeks ago. Last week, I almost did it again, ending up a couple feet short.

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Above: I got about 3/4 of the way up this log last week. My goal is to get all the way up, do a sharp turn around on the hillside, and then go all the way back down… with no dabs or falling off, of course.

Once that happens, I’ll still have a ways to go. Look at this video for some amazing skinny rides: