Backroads Bikeway gets new trails

Published 7:43 am Friday, July 27, 2012

Backroads Bikeway creator Bryan Volstorf checks his bike trail against the mapped route. The bike routes range from five to 60 miles in length, and from beginner to advanced in difficulty. The trails follow country roads through Berrien County in Michigan and La Porte County in Indiana. Off the Water photo/TERRI GORDON

For family fun or for serious cycling, the Backroads Bikeway offers a system of sign-marked, self-guided bicycle routes through Berrien County, Mich., and neighboring La Porte County, Ind. The bike trails begin in Three Oaks, Mich, and are mapped and marked by the Three Oaks Spokes Bike Club.

Bryan Volstorf, the club’s founder and president, has recently reconfigured some of the trails, adding four new ones in the process, for a total of 20 routes.  Where in the past, they had one map with 16 marked routes, they now have two maps with 10 trails on each map.  The trails range in size from the five-mile Spring Creek Trail, to the 60-mile Fernwood Nature Trail.

The south routes map shows routes through La Porte County, and are characterized as “rolling hills to hilly.” The north routes cover Berrien County and range from “flat to rolling hills.”

“It’s more of a challenge to ride the south routes,” Volstorf said.

The bikes trails begin at the Dewey Cannon Trading Co. Maps are available, as well as souvenirs — T-shirts and caps — and some cycling supplies — water bottles and flat tire kits.  Bicycles are also available for rent.

Many of the trails include local points-of interest.  Riders can, for instance, visit the New Buffalo Railroad Museum on the Union Pier and Lake Michigan trails. Or, they can stop at Warren Dunes State Park while riding the Warren Dunes and Grande Mere trails.

The one local attraction found on every trail is the Bicycle Museum, also located in the Dewey Cannon Trading Company. Visitors can trace the evolution of the bicycle through the ages.

“The earliest bicycles were the ‘hobbyhorse’ bicycles which were nothing more than a scooter,” Volstorf said. “They pushed them with their feet. It had a padded cushion for a ‘seat’ that they lay on. There were no pedals, no brakes.”

In the 1860s, they came up with the “bone shaker,” or velocipede where they put pedals on the wheels.  The bicycle was very impractical — the front wheel hit peoples’ legs when they turned — heavy, and expensive.

The next evolution was the “Ordinary,” or high-wheel, and it became a popular form of transportation.

“Because of the size of it (the front wheel), with every turn of the pedal, you went 15 feet. They went very fast. People rode these across the United States — through the mountains and everything,” Volstorf said.

The problem with the high-wheel was that when it came to a sudden stop, the bike’s “body” tended to flip over the front wheel.  Head injuries were the common result.

The “Safety” bike finally got it right.  Though it has been improved over the years, this is essentially the bike we know today.  Its wheels are the same size, it has pedals where the riders’ legs are safe, and it has brakes.

The public is invited to visit the museum and folks encouraged to ride the Backroads Bikeway. Cyclists who want a more rugged ride can try Outback Trails, a series of routes that travel secondary, gravel and dirt roads. Information about the Bikeway or the Three Oaks Spokes Bike Club is available at  or by calling (269) 756-3361.