Bike every mountain Attorney is passionate about mountain biking in Michigan

By John Minnis

Legal News

Mountain biking in Michigan? Is that an oxymoron? Not for enthusiasts like attorney John P. Gonway, the director of advocacy for the Michigan Mountain Biking Association.

"Mountain describes the bike," says Gonway, a shareholder at Maddin Hauser Wartell Roth & Heller P.C. "In Michigan, of course, we don't have mountains."

As a member of the PrecisionMTB racing team, Gonway, 39, has been riding competitively for three years. He finished 32nd in his class in the 20th annual 2009 Iceman Cometh Challenge, a 27-mile mountain bike race from Kalkaska to Traverse City held the first Saturday in November, and consistently finished in the top five in his class in races throughout the year.

"It is so much fun, so adventurous, so intense at times, you forget you've just had a good 1-1/2 hours of strenuous exercise," Gonway says. "I'd rather spend three hours on a mountain bike than 15 minutes on a treadmill."

Gonway began biking as a sophomore at Michigan State University.

"When I arrived on campus and walked to class," he recalls, "I realized the necessity of a bike."

Because of the curbs and rough treatment of bikes on campus, Gonway required something more durable than a street rig. So he bought a Cannondale mountain bike and soon began venturing off campus as well.

"Since I had one," he recalls, "I said, 'Let's see what it does.' I started riding trails near East Lansing."

He even founded a mountain biking club at State.

After MSU, however, Gonway found himself going down a different trail.

"I went to law school, got married, raised a family, got away from it, quite frankly, for about 10 years," he says.

While at a soccer game with his wife, Leslie, and kids, Gabe and Allie, Gonway got talking to a friend, which led to a mountain biking trip to Stony Creek Metropark. His Rochester Hills home is just a mile and half from the Clinton River Trail that connects to Bloomer Park and Stony Creek Metropark.

To work around his kids' soccer, Gonway mostly competes in Michigan.

"Nearly every Saturday and Sunday," he says, "you could race if you wanted to in the state of Michigan."

Night riding is another way to get out.

"We'll head out in the dark," Gonway says. "It's a great time to do it without taking away from family time; with proper lights, navigating a trail is a different kind of adventure."

Of course, getting the kids to ride is another way to spend quality time with family.

"They've done some pretty tough trails for their ages," Gonway says. "Kids just love to ride bikes."

The law partner also rides to work when the weather and his work allows. It takes 55 minutes riding vs. 30 minutes driving.

"I have a road bike for commuting," he says. "It's a nice way to get two hours of exercise in the day."

Biking can be expensive. Gonway's "race rig" is a Q Ball 29er that he built up himself. The frame alone lists for $499. "The good thing about mountain bikes is they don't have to be pretty," Gonway says. "They're made to get dirty. They're made to get scratched. They're made to get abused."

In outfitting a good mountain bike, he quotes the legendary Keith Bontrager: "parts can have three qualities: light, strong and cheap. Pick two."

"That's where the big arms race is," Gonway says, "in one-upping your buddies and competitors."

Gonway is very involved in the Michigan Mountain Biking Association, and is proud of the thousands of hours of trail work its members do, logging over 9,000 man-hours per year - a contribution of $200,000 to public land in the State of Michigan.

"We are huge stewards of the land and parks," he said. "The only group that comes close to us is the Boy Scouts."

Mountain biking is a rough-and-tumble sport. Scratches and bruises are common, as well as poison ivy. Once a month he gets some type of minor injury, the most serious being a broken shoulder blade. Of course, he's had near-misses riding to work.

"You're more likely to get hurt mountain biking," he says, "but you are more likely to get hurt worse commuting."

Not to leave the wrong impression, Gonway says Michigan does have some challenging trails for serious mountain bikers.

"There are some dynamite trails in the U.P. up by Copper Harbor," he says. "They have those climbs that really punish you."

Gonway's pulse rises as he talks about legs burning, lungs searing while mountain biking.

"You don't want to let the hill beat you, quite frankly," he says.

Published: Tue, Jun 8, 2010