Calling all mountain bikers: Grace College is finding new ways to engage students during COVID-19

David Schramm of Bristol, Ind., grew up vacationing at the Village at Winona Lake. His grandparents lived 30 minutes north in Syracuse, Ind., and his trips to visit them would often include drives to the Village for some ice cream at Kelainey’s or candy from Rocket Fizz.

They occasionally stopped by Trailhouse Village Bicycles where Schramm was informed of the eight-plus miles of singletrack mountain biking trails that connect to Grace College. David Schramm, left, and his dad are avid mountain bikers.

Barry McManus, owner of Trailhouse Village Bicycles, says he loves introducing visitors, college students, and locals alike to the great trails the area has to offer.

“Sometimes people wander into our shop and have no clue that Winona Lake has such opportunities,” McManus says. 

News of the trails immediately caught Schramm’s attention--and eventually influenced his college decision.

He had enjoyed the hobby of mountain biking since sixth grade.

“It was a father/son bonding ordeal,” Schramm says. 

His mountain biking hobby started at Brown County State Park, where his dad rented bikes for them to try out on the trails. They loved it so much, they went home and purchased bikes to enjoy on the mountain bike trails close to home. And when they couldn’t go to those trails, they found another solution.

“The neighbor kids and I would take a leaf blower through the woods to create our own,” Schramm says, laughing.

When it came time to select a college, Schramm says he was drawn to Grace for many reasons: The small size, the three-year accelerated degree, and the opportunity to get his bachelor’s and master’s in his four years. But one thing tipped the scale when comparing Grace College to another small private school.

“The campus really sold me on Grace, because in my mind, the mountain bike trails are a part of the campus,” he says.

To Schramm’s surprise, the school did not have a pre-existing mountain bike club on campus.

“Indiana Wesleyan has a biking club that rides on only one mile of singletrack trails,” he says. “At Grace, we have more than eight miles.”

Eight-plus miles of singletrack mountain biking trails connect to Grace College.

But Schramm came to Grace at just the right time.

In response to limited campus events and gatherings, Kearstin Criswell, Director of Student Involvement at Grace began to brainstorm how she could create new, innovative, and COVID-safe involvement opportunities for Grace students. As a result, she reached out to Matt Metzger, an avid mountain bike rider who has been riding the Winona Lake trails for more than 30 years.

“The Winona Lake mountain bike trails are among the best, ranked seventh of 98 trails in the state of Indiana and perfectly maintained by Kosciusko County Velo,” Metzger says. “We’ve got to raise awareness about these top-notch trails less than a mile from campus and get more students involved in the hobby.”

Grace College students and staff are going on weekly Saturday morning rides during COVID-19.

Metzger and Criswell looped in other Grace College faculty who love to ride and started dreaming about creating an official team. They hope to see something materialize in the near future.

“I think it’s a great idea for Grace to do more in the biking space,” McManus says. “With such an ideal location and a strong established biking community to partner with, it just makes sense.”

For now, Metzger is taking groups of students on weekly Saturday morning rides, providing bikes and personalized instruction for novice riders. Schramm makes a point to join these rides as often as he can.

While biking is not new to Schramm, racing is. So when he saw a DINO (Do INdiana Off-road) race flyer on the side of the Winona Lake Heritage Trail in early September, he had a moment of insane courage.

“I have never biked competitively, but after seeing the flyer, I went to the website to sign up,” he says. “I showed up for the race a few weeks later.”

David Schramm competed in his first mountain bike race in 2020.

Schramm competed against 56 men in his class, many of whom had ample training and previous racing experience. While it was harder than he thought it would be, Schramm finished the eight-mile track in less than an hour and hopes to give racing another try in the future.

In the meantime, he, along with Metzger, Criswell, and others at Grace, is advocating for more mountain biking opportunities for students to take full advantage of the college’s ideal location. And should a team form during his time at Grace, Schramm will be the first on the roster.

Learn more about the Winona Lake mountain bike riding trails.

The author, Madison Cowman, is a PR and Creative Writer for Grace College’s Marketing Department.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.