by Bri Kilroy • photography by Two Eagles Marcus
If the outdoor temperatures or the summer’s palette of blue skies haven’t lured you to the bike world, allow this article and the Grand Rapids Bicycle Company (GRBC) to offer you a seat at the handle bars and discover a universe of alternate transportation, leisure, races, fitness and community adventure.
The appearance of bike lanes connecting neighborhood and downtown roads in 2010 foreshadowed additions to come as Grand Rapids acquired its status as a bike-friendly community. Now, bicyclists can find pop-up bike repair stations equipped with an air pump and an arrangement of tools fit for hasty bike repair, a number of free bicycle maintenance classes (check out the Spoke Folks, Central District Cyclery and GRBC), and a delightful increase of bike racks perched outside of their favorite downtown hangouts.
As the number of bicyclists rise along with the interest in biking as a form of travel and sport, we’ve seen all sorts of bikes coasting throughout our city streets along with the occasional unicycle. Jill Martindale, manager of GRBC’s Fulton Street location (1311 Fulton St. SE), is in her third season of racing fat bikes since competing in 2013’s Iceman. Merging passion with leisure and career, she’s racked up a race history that includes the Arrowhead 135 winter ultra, the Hampshire 100 of the National Ultra Endurance series and the IronLine, where she pedaled past a pack of sled dogs in Michigan’s upper peninsula.
“I hear a lot of people say ‘I’m not a serious cyclist.’ I want to make the biking community more approachable and less intimidating.” – Jill Martindale
Moving from social media and event manager at the Ada Bike Shop to a management position closer to downtown gives Rapidians prime proximity to Martindale’s biking knowledge. Martindale is thrilled to mix her experiences with the GRBC team as they invite the community to reap the benefits of biking throughout the area.
“One thing that sets us apart from other shops in town is we have amazing employees,” Martindale boasted. “Everyone rides and everyone is knowledgeable because of their own experiences.”
Martindale and GRBC shatter illusions that the biking community is an exclusive group by initiating multiple efforts that invite people to get involved and fall in love with the activity. “I hear a lot of people say ‘I’m not a serious cyclist,’” Martindale said when commenting on why people are intimidated to hop on a bike. “I want to make the biking community more approachable and less intimidating.”
With that in mind, Martindale co-founded Skirts in the Dirt, a women’s-only mountain bike race benefiting the West Michigan Mountain Biking Alliance, in 2014. The idea surfaced during a group ride that sparked a discussion between Martindale and some friends on the differences between learning mountain biking with men versus learning with women.
In its third year, Skirts in the Dirt opens the rolling, dirt-packed terrain to women of all athletic abilities with six different race categories at Cannonsburg Ski Hill, August 28. Even bike tikes (ages 12 and under) can race for free during the Squirts in the Dirt girls’ race the same day. The event’s differing race categories and course lengths open opportunity to any woman that wants to pedal her mountain, fat, tandem or single speed bike through a new adventure. Register at SkirtsntheDirt.com.
Martindale has also organized a series of ladies-only group rides that invite women to join her and other cyclists on area trails in Ada. These weekly meet-ups offer the opportunity to introduce your bike to some new terrain while introducing you to some new people. Expand your experience by taking advantage of GRBC’s bike rental service where you can choose from their collection of rental bikes (including mountain and fat) to get a feel for the bike and the community.
The lady group rides are held at 6:30 p.m. every Thursday at alternating mountain bike trails (check weekly locations at Facebook.com/grbikeco). For more information on group rides, including Matt Acker’s Tuesday Gravel Adventure Ride and Women’s Road Rides led by Eve Gardner, visit GrandRapidsBicycles.com.
GRBC’s unmatchable Guru Fit System and other bike fitting services match you with your cycle soul mate for a comfortable and inviting ride every time. Keep your bike in top shape by counting on GRBC for repairs, tune-ups and treating it to new gear.
The invite is there, Grand Rapids. All you need to do it hop on a bike and pedal your way into the ever-growing biking community where your commute to work is upgraded to a salubrious activity, outdoor recreation is accompanied by adrenaline-boosting ups and downs and 5 p.m. traffic has no effect on you and your swerving abilities. Ride on!
Martindale clues us in on where to find some of West Michigan’s mountain bike trails. Full list at WMMBA.org.
- Luton Park (Rockford)
- Merrell Trail (Belmont)
- Cannonsburg Ski Area (Belmont)
- Cannonsburg State Game Area (Ada)
- Whalfield Park (Comstock Park)
- Bass River Trail (Allendale)
- Yankee Springs Trail (Middleville)
- Owasippe Trail (Twin Lake)
- Robinettes Apple Haus (Grand Rapids)
Interested in commencing your biking journey or advancing your skills? Join the bike community at the following upcoming events.
- Bike MS: Great Lakes West Michigan Breakaway 2016 June 11 • Holland • Learn more and Register by searching the event name at main.NationalMSSociety.org.
- Skirts in the Dirt Cannonsburg Ski Hill • August 28 • Register at SkirtsntheDirt.com
- Lady Group Rides Alternating mountain bike trails • Thursdays at 6:30 • Check Facebook.com/grbikeco for updates
- Gravel Adventure Rides Townsend Park • Tuesdays at 6 p.m.
- She Rides Her Own Way Westside Ride June 24 • Long Road Distillers at 5:30 p.m.
Scout one of these local stores for the perfect gear:
- Grand Rapids Bicycle Company 1311 Fulton St. SE
- Freewheeler Bike Shop 915 Leonard St. NW
- Central District Cyclery 1309 Plainfield Ave. NE
- Alger Bikes 120 28th St. SW
- The Spoke Folks 221 Logan St. SW
- Gap30 Cycles 3423 Lousma Dr. SE
Bri Kilroy is a Grand Valley and AmeriCorps alumna who learned to type through vigorous Mavis Beacon trainings. She also passes as an artist, illustrator and author of this bio.