Book: N. Michigan has some of the 'best' biking trails in the state

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May 20—TRAVERSE CITY — It's no secret that the pandemic caused a boom in bike sales and popularity.

Bob Downes thought he might be able to help those new to the sport with a guide book of Michigan's two-wheeled trails.

"The pandemic has really supercharged the cycling scene in this country, and I think my guide book will help a lot of newcomers to bicycling," Downes said.

Downes has released his guide to "Biking Northern Michigan: The Best & Safest Routes in the Lower Peninsula." The book includes 39 trails from north of Grand Rapids all the way up to Mackinaw City, highlighting both the history of the trails and the challenges riders can expect on them.

Downes submits in the book's introduction that the best among those trails in the state, and perhaps the country, are right in northern Michigan.

"We've got it all," Downes writes. "Lovely small towns reached by quiet roads, hundreds of lakes, vast forests, and 'the most beautiful place in America' with the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore."

Downes said he's ridden all of the trails in the book — some of them hundreds of times. He recently has completed rides from Traverse City to the northern tip of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada and from Seattle to Traverse City.

"On the rides through the forest from Alpena to Cheboygan I told all the history of the vast forest fires up that way and some of the disasters," Downes said. "I tell the story of the ghost towns of Thompsonville and Arrow, and that's kind of important to me, not only just to have dining and tourist sites and entertainment along the way but also the history of the places you're riding through. "

It's the sixth book for Downes, the former owner of the Northern Express and communications director of the Cherry Capital Cycling Club. Downes was going to create a guide about adventure sports in general, but when he arrived at the section on biking he realized that could be a book in and of itself.

"It was just kind of like already within me," Downes said. "All I had to do is put the words down on the page."

All the maps, diagrams and photos in the book were created by Downes, who self-published the book.

Downes said when picking out the routes that would be included in the book they had to be fun routes, but also safe routes.

"Even the very difficult problem of riding from Traverse City to Cadillac, I found some back roads to ride along that route, that 50 mile route. If it isn't safe, I didn't want it in the book," he said. "Generally I like to have a wide shoulder on a road for any road ride. If that's not possible, say on the Old Mission Peninsula, I recommend people to ride early on weekday mornings ... if there's a narrow road without a shoulder."

Michigan has the most rail trails among any state in the country, also the most rail trail miles as well. Those are bike paths that run along old railway lines, like the Leelanau Trail for example. The routes highlighted from Gaylord or Alpena to the Mackinac Straits both run along old rail tracks too.

Most routes are well known, frequently ridden among locals, and date back to the 1970s, but Downes said the book isn't necessarily for those groups of people.

The book is available to purchase for $19.95 at Horizon Books, Brick Wheels Bicycle Shop and McClain's Cycling in Traverse City, M22, Suttons Bay Bikes, and The Cyclery in Glen Arbor.

Follow Andrew Rosenthal on Twitter @ByAndrewR