The Lake Michigan Circle Tour route makes a complete loop around the lake, involving Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. Off the Water photo/Terri Gordon

Archived Story

Bike trails plentiful in Michigan

Published 9:00am Sunday, August 26, 2012

Three Oaks Spokes Bike Club founder Bryan Volstorf laughs when he recalls his first bicycle trip — around Lake Michigan.

Inexperienced, he used a heavy “cruiser-style” bike. Butt what might have quenched anyone else’s interest only spurred Volstorf on. He kept cycling and learning, eventually founding the club. While he maintains local bike paths, he also travels and promotes other Michigan trails.

“Michigan’s got quite a few ‘Rails-to-Trails,’ as they’re called,” Volstorf said.

These trails follow old railroad tracks that have been converted for recreational use — walking, running, cycling and even horseback riding.

While the trails are safe, traffic-free routes, Volstorf warns that some are better than others when it comes to bicycling. Many of the trails, especially those in the process of conversion, are “unimproved,” meaning they are little more than a rugged dirt track.

“You almost need a mountain bike,” he said, “and a lot of nerve, because you’re bouncing all over the place. They’re pretty dangerous for a novice rider.”

It pays to know the terrain around the route, too.

“Some of the rail trails are boring, because they just go in a straight line,” Volstorf said.

These kinds of routes are often found in more urban areas, like Detroit or Pontiac. While they may be less interesting, the routes are important to the areas they serve, providing safe, traffic-free places for people to ride. They are especially good for children.

Of the Rails-to-Trails routes, Volstorf’s favorite is the Hart-Montague Trail, which goes from Whitehall to Hart.

“It’s about 22 miles,” he said. “It winds back and forth through fields and forests. It has a lot of variety in it.”

Many cyclists follow existing roads, though again Volstorf issues a warning: know your road. Road maps can be deceiving and can lead cyclists astray, turning to dirt roads or just plain ending.

Volstorf advises cyclists to contact the League of Michigan Bicyclists or other bicycle organizations for proper route maps. Serious cyclists, like Volstorf, often undertake longer tours, even camping out along the way.

One such tour route is Circle Michigan, which takes riders completely around Lake Michigan, north along Michigan’s western shore, across the southern edge of the Upper Peninsula, south through Wisconsin and Illinois, then through Indiana and back to Michigan. Of course, the route can also be reversed, or riders can ferry themselves and their bikes across Lake Michigan to catch the trail on the other side, doing only parts of it.

The romance of a “camping” bicycle tour can diminish quickly without proper research, proper equipment, and careful planning.

“It’s (fun) if you have the right gear,” Volstorf said. “You don’t want to buy a new bike, with a new seat, and say, ‘I’m going to ride 500 miles.’ It  does not work at all. You have to prepare yourself physically and mentally.”

While a lot of people carry camping gear and rough it, Volstorf advises having SAG support, a vehicle accompaniment with supplies and emergency equipment. Cyclists can either take turns driving the vehicle, or a non-cyclist can come along. Either way, it can make for an easier trip.

With or without SAG (supplies and gear) support, traveling with a group of riders is a good idea.

“It’s safer,” Volstorf said. And, if money allows, he suggests figuring a motel into the plan. “You’re going to get rain, and days where you wish you were in a motel to take a shower.”

Anyone interested in Michigan trails can contact Volstorf (www.applecidercentury.com), the Michigan League of Bicyclists (www.lmb.org) or Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance (www.michigantrails.org) for information on bicycling in Michigan and about state trails.

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