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Mountain Biking at Crystal Mountain
Mountain Biking at Crystal Mountain

Mountain Biking at Crystal Mountain

Mountain Biking at Crystal Mountain

On a KiteBikeVan adventure to Northern Michigan, we rented some mountain bikes and went mountain biking at Crystal Mountain for an afternoon bike session. 

Ready to Mountain Bike at Crystal Mountain
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Pre-ride Photo

Initial Mountain Bike Adventure

So we are KiteBIKEVan, but the bike is for road biking. I (Jade) love cycling out on the open road. I average about 2500 miles per year and would ride more if I didn’t have to work during the school year. 

Andrew doesn’t love road biking, but he used to love mountain biking in college. For the last few summers, it has been on our bucket list to go mountain biking together on “no-wind day” (less than 10 knots). Before diving in and making the big purchase of not one but two mountain bikes and a bike rack, we decided to spend an afternoon renting mountain bikes and testing the waters.  

Mountain Bike Rentals at Crystal Mountain

Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville, Michigan (originally only a ski resort) offers a huge variety of family activities throughout the entire year. In the summer months, along with swimming, hiking, golfing, disc golfing, and riding the Alpine slide, you can explore the ski hill on a mountain bike. 

There are a variety of rental bikes to choose from depending on what type of riding you plan to do. For cruisers, townies, standard bikes, and kids bikes, it costs $15 per hour. However, if you are looking for a better quality mountain bike or fat tire bike, the cost is a little higher at $20 per hour

Crystal Mountain - Mountain Bike Rentals
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Mountain Bike Rentals – $20 per hour

In addition to bike rentals, you can purchase a chair lift pass for $29 per day to take you to the top of the hill (sweat free!). We decided to skip the lift tickets and rode up the hill instead. Andrew didn’t love the uphill ride, but I wanted more. I love riding uphill!

Trails at Crystal Mountain

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Bottom of Screaming Eagle

On the Slope Trails

As I mentioned in the previous section Crystal Mountain is a ski resort in the wintertime. For the summer months, you can purchase a chairlift ticket and ride 7 different trails down the “mountain.” To be clear this is not “Trestle Park” in Colorado. This is a more subdued and gentle mountain bike experience.

Since it was my first time riding, we passed on the lift tickets and rode up the trail called “Screaming Eagle.” At the top, I was really nervous. Andrew and I were debating which path to take down. We both immediately rejected the advanced trail “Deep End” marked with black diamonds. It was well beyond both of our abilities. A local guy recommended trying “Bee’s Knees.” He said he does it regularly, but avoids the big jumps on his way down. 

Since “Bee’s Knees,” “Indigo Rodeo,” and “Dirt Symphony” were labeled intermediates, I vetoed those. We went with one of the beginner trails “Electric Pistachio,” but I wish we would have tried the trail one notch down simply called “Pistachio.” My confidence and skill level was not quite ready for the speed and loose sand patches on the way downhill. 

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Top of Electric Pistachio

Off the Slope Trails

Besides the main ski slope trails, there are a few more paths in and around the resort. We didn’t have a chance to explore all of them in our two hour rental, but we did get a chance to ride the 5.35-mile “Aspen” trail, which has a few technical features. Excluding the loose sand patches, the Aspen trail was a fun, flat, and fast ride. 

Mountain Biking Trails at Crystal Mountain
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Connecting Aspen to Screaming Eagle

We also explored a small portion of the 7.9-mile “Betsie River Pathway.” The pathway continues much further outside the resort, if you are looking to ride in from Frankfort, Elberta, or Benzonia. 

Two other trails that we didn’t have time to visit were the 5.2-mile “Smooth Cruise” (paved path) through the resort and the 3.1-mile “Multi-use Trail.” I am not sure if either of these trails would be great for mountain bikes, but could be nice for a cruiser or just walking your dog.

Mountain Biking Feature on the Aspen Trail
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Aspen Trail Feature
Mountain Biking Feature on the Aspen Trail
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Aspen Trail Feature

Differences between Mountain Biking and Road Biking

Body Position on a Mountain Bike versus a Road Bike

The first big difference that I noticed riding a mountain bike versus my road bike was my position on the bike. On my road bike, my handlebars are directly under my shoulders and below my seat, putting me in an aerodynamic position. Also, the seat post on my road bike is almost 90-degrees from the ground and slightly in front of my pedals allowing me to use more of my hamstrings to push instead of my quads. Finally, there are no shocks on my road bike, so the initial bounce of the shocks on the mountain bike really surprised me

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My Road Bike
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Rental Mountain Bike

Mountain Biking Uphill

The next major difference that I noticed between my road bike and riding the mountain bike was cycling uphill. On the flats riding was very similar, but different skills were needed to climb as we worked our way to the top of the “Screaming Eagle” trail. On the road, I love climbing. Typically, I leave my bike in a relatively high gear and muscle my way up the hill in a standing position. When I tried to do this on the mountain bike, I didn’t get the same results. Instead I found myself sidewinding back and forth up the hill. However, if I sat down and dropped to a much lower gear, the climbing was much easier.

Mountain Biking Downhill

Finally, heading downhill was the last major difference in riding. On the road, I also love downhill riding. There is a hill on my regular ride that my riding partner and I always try to break our speed record on. My current top speed is 45.9 MPH (73.8 KPH). Unfortunately my love for speed on the road didn’t translate to loving downhill speed on the trails. First of all I don’t push the speed on roads that I am unfamiliar with because I don’t want to hit a patch of gravel and wipe out at a high speed. Since I wasn’t familiar with the trail, I wasn’t eager to push it on my first try downhill. 

Next Time: We will wear bigger helmets, extra pads and gloves to help instill confidence on the loose downhill gravel!!!

When I am riding downhill on my road bike, my goal is to get as small and aerodynamic as possible, using my knees to support my bike frame. Andrew suggested to me at the bottom of the hill, after catching my left foot on the ground multiple times, that on a mountain bike you stand on the pedals to help absorb the bounce on the way downhill instead. That would have been a helpful tip at the top of the hill. 

So do the exact opposite on a mountain bike as you would on a road bike. Instead of standing on the climb and getting small on the downhill, sit and relax on the climb up and stand more on the downhill. This was definitely not as intuitive for me as a road cyclist.

Are we getting Mountain Bikes?

The answer is a definite maybe. Considering the costs of two bikes and the addition of a bike rack on to the back of “Jo-Van-na,” we haven’t decided yet. Also, we currently don’t have as much time as we would like, adding another expensive hobby to our interest is not a priority right now. Next summer might lead to more mountain bike adventures, but for now we are going to focus on more kite, road-bike, and travel adventures with “Jo-Van-na.”

Plus, Andrew is still recovering from a pedal spike injury to the shin.

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Snack Break for Low Blood Sugar!

Which type of riding do you prefer: roads, trails, mountain biking? Any recommendations for where to ride next? Definitely check out Crystal Mountain if you have the opportunity. Have fun out there and thanks for reading! ~KiteBikeVan

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