This year we decided our vacation would keep us closer to home. We opted for La Crosse, Wisconsin, along with a day trip to Minneapolis. Both cities boast a great cycling scene for road and MTBs. Not wanting to choose one over the other, we took our fat and road bikes.
Prior to the trip, we researched routes, trails and events via a local cycling Facebook group Ride or Die and apps like Strava and RideWithGPS. Also, Smith’s Bike Shop had information on their web site offering a variety of rides. We wanted to stop in Smith’s and check out the shop, but they are closed on Sunday and timing didn’t work for us the other days.
An early start on Saturday morning got us to our first stop by noon, the Elroy-Sparta trail. This would be my fifth time riding the abandoned Chicago & North Western Railroad bed, and it is one of my favorite trails. We parked at Speed’s Bicycle Shop in Sparta, a family owned shop that sits at the junction of the La Crosse River and Elroy-Sparta trails. Not one to pass up a bike shop, we stopped in and was greeted by the owner, Milt Leis. Mitch spent time admiring the vintage bikes hanging from the ceiling while I changed into my gear. Milt was doing a brisk business that day, selling a bike when we arrived and a bike with a burley when we returned from our ride.
If you’re headed to the area, Speed’s offers rentals, shuttle service, repairs and just about anything you need. You’ll want to purchase a daily trail passes there at a cost of $5/day.
The Elroy-Sparta trail is 32.5 miles long and boasts three separate century-old rock railroad tunnels. Two are a quarter of a mile long, and the one closest to Sparta is more than three quarters of a mile long. You can feel the cold air emanating from the tunnel well before you see the entrance. Definitely a welcome feeling on a warm summer day. The tunnels are dark, so bring a headlight. Water from the springs above the tunnels trickle onto the trail providing a refreshing shower as you walk through.
The crushed limestone trail is well packed and maintained. You can easily ride it on a road bike with 28mm tires. We decided to use the fatties because of the trail dust.
Post ride, we headed to Onalaska, WI and checked into the hotel for the evening. The next morning, we deiced on a road ride that would take us across the Mississippi River and into Minnesota. I had seen a route used by a charity ride the day before which followed the river.
After our ride we went into downtown La Crosse for lunch, then a walk along the river to watch the boats and barges. On our way back we came across a display of pelican statues decorated by different businesses. It reminded me of Chicago’s Cows on Parade.
After quick stop at the hotel to switch bikes, we headed to Upper Hixon trails in La Crosse. Both Upper and Lower Hixon have multi-use trails, some of which are used year-round for hiking and CX skiing. The Upper Hixon trail head is right next to a NOAA weather station and boasts a MTB track as well as challenging single track trails. Check out the Trailforks app for trail information and conditions.
On Monday we decided to head up to Minneapolis to visit Lamere Cycles. Mitch used their carbon frame to build his fat bike. If you have never heard of Lamere, they are a custom shop for gravel, MTB, road and ebikes. They source their carbon frames and wheels from Asia and then use components from top industry manufacturers. We spent a couple of hours with JP Lamere and his staff Liam and Shea. They were helpful in fitting Mitch’s bike with a dropper post and providing best practices for running wires for both a dropper post and Di2s.
Before heading back, the folks at Lamere suggested the Loppet Foundation in Theodore Wirth Park for mountain biking. We were very impressed with the park which offered paved cycling trails, hiking/walking paths and MTB trails. As we pulled up to the facility, a group of kids were heading off into the woods on their bikes as part of an adventure camp. The Trail Head facility there has locker rooms, a concession stand, and rentals. There’s no charge for using the trails, which were challenging and very well maintained.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in La Crosse for dinner. Unfortunately, our trip took a turn for the worse when we came outside to find our fat bikes had been stolen. They were locked together, but not to the rack. Lesson learned.
Fortunately, there was surveillance video from the hotel next door that showed a young male tossing them into a newer model dark colored Toyota Tundra truck. If you see anyone trying to sell a lime green Trek Farley (pictured above) or carbon Lamere fat bike with blue accent tape (see below) call the La Crosse police. We are still hoping we will get them back, but with each day that passes the chances are slimmer. I’ll follow up with an article next week that talks about what to do if your bike is stolen.
The theft of our fat bikes put a damper on our trip, so we cut the trip short by one day. On Tuesday we headed home with a stop at Trek’s headquarters in Waterloo, WI. I had taken a factory tour during the Women’s Advocate Summit last year, but I knew Mitch would enjoy it. After the tour, I was able to meet with one of the Bontrager product managers review some new gear they are introducing. Watch for upcoming reviews on exciting new products including Bontrager’s Triple X road shoes.
After lunch we were outfitted with Trek Stache mountain bikes and escorted over to The Farm, Trek’s private trails. This was a real treat as they aren’t open to the general public and you must be escorted by a Trek employee. At times, Trek does open these beautifully maintained trails for high school mountain bike events.
Being fairly new to single track, Jenn, our Trek escort sat on my wheel and coached me through the course. My second loop was much better than the first time around, but I definitely need more practice. This truly was a great way to close out our trip.
In September Trek is hosting the 2019 Telenet UCI Cyclocross World Cup. We hope to be able to make it back to Waterloo to watch some great racing.
We are still mourning the loss of our beloved fat bikes and appreciate everyone spreading the word on social media to be on the look out for them. There is still plenty of riding to do in the La Crosse and Minneapolis areas and we only scratched the surface. I’m sure we’ll be back again to further explore.
Read Part 2: What to Do if Your Bicycle is Stolen
Sheri Rosenbaum regularly contributes articles and reviews products for RBR. She’s an avid recreational roadie who lives in the Chicago area and a major advocate for women's cycling, serving on the board of directors and volunteering with the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club. Click to read Sheri's full bio or visit her web site sunflowersandpedals.com.