Where we gonna ride today, Dyl?

Big M is nestled between Wellston and Manistee in the mighty Huron-Manistee National Forest. A trail head for cross county skiing, snowshoeing, and of course, FATBIKING! Today we are riding the Swedish Fiddle Loop! AKA The Beginner’s Loop. Officially known as the trail segments Swedish Fiddle and Bindle Stiff.

You can find the trail head simply enough by searching for “Big M Trailhead Manistee”, you should come up with a result on Udell Hills Road. You will see a National Forest brown and yellow sign from Udell Hills Road for Big M Trailhead. Avoid the “over flow” parking as it will most definitely NOT be plowed!

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Loop Description

The Swedish Fiddle Loop is generously groomed as a beginner fatbike loop. At about 5 miles long and 100 feet of elevation to climb, this is a great little spot to cut your teeth for winter riding. While the loop is pretty short by summer ride standards, if you are new to fatbiking you will definitely get a good taste of what Big M has to offer in the outer loop. We’ll cover the outer loop in another post. When you arrive at the trail head make sure you take the time to pay for parking. It’s $5 for the day or you can purchase an annual pass from the Forest Service ahead of time. Make sure you bring a $5 bill because believe it or not there are no credit cards or Venmo accepted at Big M.

Assuming you have done a little bit of research on fatbiking you’ll make some adjustments to your tire pressure based on the condition of the day. If you haven’t done your research, take some time now! There are tons of videos and web pages that can advise you on what to wear and tire pressure and all the details so you don’t damage our volunteer-groomed trails. Some sage advice for this sport is that it should be enjoyable, if you are having a miserable time there is probably something you can change! Some quick tips for new riders can be seen below. I love seeing new riders out enjoying the trails! 

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Take off from the trailhead for the spur that leads to the loop. If you are looking at the main map, the trail will be directly behind you. Follow the signs, always! After passing the awesome grooming shed, you’ll see the trail tail off to your left. Don’t turn right unless you want to go right back to your car! Follow the spur out to the loop. Head down the trail through the “over flow” parking lot. You’ll see why you didn’t want to park in that lot! You’ll need to be patient with yourself as this portion can be challenging especially if you are new to this sport. The spur is shared in the summer by a forest road. So most of the winter you will see truck tracks. The middle of the road is groomed so try to stay in the middle where the snow is packed for riding. If conditions are bad here don’t be surprised since there is mixed traffic. It will get better on the loop.

About a quarter mile up the road you’ll see the first sign for the loop. You can go either way and once you are on the loop it should be pretty obvious where the trail is, if not there are maps at all the major intersections. If you want to go the other way around the loop, follow the road about another quarter mile and follow the signs onto the loop to do it the opposite direction. As you go around the loop you will cross the snowmobile trails several times. Make sure you follow all posted signs and be mindful of any snowmobiles or other traffic. This being a loop, if you follow the trail you will come back to where you left the spur. Follow the spur back to the parking lot for beer with your friends in the awesome lodge at the trailhead. Make sure you stop at a map when you pass one to check your route. If you make a wrong turn you could get yourself on the outer loop and be in a way bigger ride than you bargained for. Don’t worry though there is plenty of signage and maps along the way. 

Some Thoughts on the Swedish Fiddle Loop

What I love about the Swedish Fiddle loop is that it gives you a scaled down taste of what awaits you on the outer loop. You’ll ride through some amazingly-consistent red pine plantations, new-growth cedar trees sprouting from the last timber harvest, and some adolescent oaks. Make sure you stop once and a while to enjoy the scenery, take a look up at the canopy in the red pines to see some naturally occurring social distancing. You might be lucky enough to jump a ruffed grouse along the way. You’ll be happy you did after you catch your breath since they’ll essentially wait until you run them over to fly. 

When you’re ready for more you can start doing a couple laps of the Swedish Fiddle Loop or take the turn at Marker 23 and do a bit of the outer loop. Just remember when you make the turn at 23 unless you do the whole lap every pedal stroke one way is one back! If you make the turn at Marker 23, or do any portion of the outer loop, you will notice the groomed trail goes from about 3 feet wide to about 18 inches wide for a true single track experience. If you have the legs and desire to do some of the outer loop from this point my best advice is to look down the trail about 20 feet in front of you. This will greatly smooth out your swerving and make it easier to stay on the trail. Again, please be mindful that this entire trail system is volunteer-groomed and any damage to the trail greatly decreases the experience of other riders. We are so happy to have you here enjoying the trails, keep them awesome by riding your skill level! 


Quick Tips for New Riders

  • If you are having a miserable time you are probably doing something wrong! Adjust your tire pressure, choose a different trail, adjust your wardrobe, or adjust your pace. A little bit of research ahead of time will really make a big difference. You can also find some fatbiking tips at the main map. If you are unfamiliar with the bike you are riding, just remember that making tire tracks is ok! But if you are making a rut in the trail deeper than half an inch you are damaging the trail and you need to reduce your tire pressure or come back when the trail is firmer.
  • Make sure you manage your expectations, fatbiking commercials may make it seem effortless but this is an athletic activity. Don’t be upset if you fall over, wipe out, or have to walk up a hill. These fat bikes are often heavier, and provide more resistance than riding in the summer or on pavement.
  • If you do have to walk, please walk in the ungroomed snow on the side of the trail so as not to damage the trail.
  • Finally, if you are in the middle of the loop, struggling, frustrated, just stop. Take a minute. Think about how lucky you are to be in such a beautiful space and look around. Compose yourself and keep on pedaling with a smile on your face!  

Have fun out there! 

Dyllan Walker is a resident of Manistee and a volunteer contributor for the Manistee County Visitor’s Bureau. He enjoys riding any day of the year, be it by gravel, fat, road, or mountain bike and spreading the word about the Manistee area’s vast cycling opportunities.