Robert Downes 9/28/09
Our Bicycle Revolution
The sun is setting on the cycling season here in Northern Michigan and another year of advancing the most eco-friendly form of transportation on the planet. Most of us have swallowed our last bug, cussed out our last flat, and (finally) tossed those over-ripe bike shorts in the wash.
Some, such as author Jeff Mapes claim that were on the brink of a Pedaling Revolution in America (the title of his new book), in which cyclists are changing the landscape of cities across the country. Thats certainly true in Northern Michigan and other parts of the state. Even Detroit is establishing a network of bike paths and greenways to fill in urban areas that have been vacated by its dwindling population.
David Byrne, the former frontman of the Talking Heads, whose own book The Bicycle Diaries hit the shelves this month, stated in a recent article that a bicycle has been his primary form of transportation around New York City for the past 30 years.
Ive watched the streets fill over the years with more and varied bike riders, Byrne writes. Its no longer just me, some food delivery guys and a posse of reckless messengers. Far from it. That said, the revolution isnt here just yet. Hedge fund managers and General Motors executives arent riding to work (though dont laugh, they will).
Closer to home, you see a few more people cycling each year, either as commuters or for recreation. In Traverse City, hundreds of residents have been clued in to the value of a bicycle for heading downtown to events such as the Cherry Festival and Film Festival, with no parking hassles or gridlock traffic to deal with.
Still, like Byrne says, the bicycling revolution still seems a bit off in the distance (especially now that you have to wear ski gloves to bike to work). You can ride along the bike path adjacent to Bayshore Parkway in TC at rush hour and find 200 cars or more for every cyclist. Most with one occupant per vehicle.
But motorists take note: its amazing where you can go on a bicycle these days. Almost anywhere in Northern Michigan, it seems; and that trend is on a roll. Our region has been blessed with visionary groups: TART in Traverse City, the Top of Michigan Trails Council in Petoskey, and the Friends of the Betsie Valley Trail come to mind, and theyve all contributed treasures of inestimable value to the region through the years.
A big boost for our region (and cycle tourism) has been the expansion of the Little Traverse Wheelway, which runs more than 25 miles from Charlevoix to Harbor Springs. Outdoor columnist Mike Terrell reports that the last section of the trail will be completed in the months ahead.
In Traverse City, plans are moving forward to complete a cycle trail around the west side of Boardman Lake -- an event which will dramatically extend the citys parklands.
Just these two trails alone are compelling enough to bring thousands of cycle tourists to the region, and we have so much more to offer. Traverse City alone, for instance, has 55 miles of trails in the TART system, along with a membership of nearly 1,000 supporters.
For me, our cloudy, cool summer made exploring new cycle routes the perfect alternative. Some memorable rides included:
The Betsie Valley Trail from Beulah to Thompsonville, rolling through 12 miles of some of the wildest country on our western coast. You see echoes of the lumber era along this trail, and the time when Thompsonville was a bigger town than TC.
The nine-mile mountain bike trail at the new conservation area just north of Arcadia -- a roller-coaster, single-track thrill ride through the forest.
The new mountain bike trail through the forest from TC to Kalkaska, a collaborative effort between the Grand Traverse Hiking Club and TART.
The 55-mile Zoo-de-Mac ride from Boyne Highlands to Mackinaw City, culminating with 2,000-plus partying cyclists on Mackinac Island.
Within the next few years, it may be possible to ride a bicycle all the way from Grand Rapids to the Mackinac Straits. The White Pine Trail currently runs 100 miles north from GR to Cadillac; while the new 62-mile North Central State Trail extends from Gaylord to Mackinaw City.
Considering that so many people today have grown sedentary to the point of being chronically ill as a result of being permanently plunked in front of a computer or a TV, its great to see this counter-revolution going on in Northern Michigan. Who knows? Maybe David Byrne will catch wind of our cycling utopia and bring his band up here someday.