Every rider who provided insight for this guide said some version of: “My favorite ride is any that leaves from my front door.” One of Duluth’s most beautiful features is its almost universally immediate, out-the-door access to mellow and challenging road, mountain, and cyclocross (and hiking, skiing, dog-walking, etc.) terrain.
“It doesn’t have to be just a weekend activity,” said ardent mountain-biker Ryan Nelson. “It can be every day, because even if you can’t get to where you want to ride from your door, you can be there by car in 15 or 20 minutes.”
Varied terrain makes this area a world-renowned Nordic-skiing destination, and could make it a mountain-biking destination equal to (but on its own, unique terms, of course) Moab, UT; Wisconsin’s Chequamegon area; Fruita, CO; Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; or any other place full of serious riders. Local cyclists who have wide experience outside this area say Duluth trails are differently challenging–in good ways–than many other places’ trails.
Road-riding opportunities are everywhere: long blacktop ribbons run along Lake Superior’s North Shore, through rustic forest and meadow areas north and south of Duluth, and up & down epic hills, creating infinite loops of widely varying lengths and difficulties. Northwest Wisconsin (just across the bridge from Duluth) boasts endless miles of smooth pavement and gravel just waiting for your wheels.
Cyclocross riding on gravel or dirt forest-service and fire roads is every bit as accessible as the MTB and road routes,and it’s abundant.
Every Duluth cyclist has stories about cold and heat, seeing Lake Superior’s aggressive and peaceful personalities, and finding moments of utter bliss within rides both extraordinary and mundane.
University of Minnesota Duluth education Prof., and Chequamegon Short & Fat top-10 finisher, Dan Glisczinski tells a story that illustrates a certain version of Duluth exoticism:
“I was on Normanna Road,” Glisczinski says—Normanna is northeast of Duluth proper a few miles, a bit into the sticks—”coming in from an out-and-back of hard intervals on my road bike. Mid-interval, with my head down, just hammering, I look up and there’s a mama moose taking up the whole road. I shut it down hard, locked up my rear wheel, and stopped about 20 yards short of her. She’d come up out of a steep ditch, and once she saw me she calmly went back down. It was the closest I’ve ever been to a moose. It scared the crap out of me.”
The same thing could happen in any other place with rural roads and moose habitat. Part of what makes Duluth unique is that those things happen—riders routinely encounter deer, grouse, porcupines, and the occasional bear—on rides that are accessible from front and back doors right in town. Depending on your perspective, Duluth is either urban wilderness or wild urbanity or both, and it displays those qualities in ways, and with cycling opportunities, all its own.