MEDIAN HOME price $136,360
HOMETOWN HERO Nate Phelps, president of the Michigan Mountain Biking Association and champion of local trail building
THE LIVING: Michigan's second-largest city will surprise you. For starters, the regional economy is both more diverse and more robust than Detroit's—and includes everything from furniture (Herman Miller and Steelcase) to health and beauty (Amway) to footwear (Wolverine Worldwide). Plus, despite the state's overall woes and high unemployment, G.R. is, dare we say, thriving. In the past few years, it's gained a riverfront luxury hotel, a medical school, and the world's first LEED-certified museum. What's more, the county recently set aside 1,500 acres for a downtown park, and Grand Rapids' newly established ArtPrize competition—the largest art contest in the world by prize money—resulted in 1,200 works of public art on display throughout downtown.
THE RIDING: Sure, it's snowy much of the year. But it's neither flat nor boring. Don't believe us? In 2004, the last year they issued report cards, the International Mountain Biking Association gave Michigan a B+, the same grade as New Mexico, Washington, and Alaska. And, especially in G.R., it's only gotten better since then. The in-town mountain-bike park has a pump track (think rollers and berms), a skills area, and a new three-mile loop of singletrack in the works. Throw your bike on your car rack and you've got choices: 75-plus miles of trails in eight locations within a 45-minute drive, from beginner-friendly fire roads to technical singletrack—and that's not including mountain-bikeable stretches on the rugged North Country Trail, which cuts through 4,887 acres of national forest just 73 miles away.
THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Check out the Victorian homes in historic East Grand Rapids: A three-bedroom across the street from Aquinas College or on the shores of Reeds Lake, the town's gathering place, lists for $130K.