Traverse City is Getting to be an Exciting Place for Cyclists!

Cherry-Roubaix Cyclists on the Brick Streets of Old Town
Cherry-Roubaix Cyclists on the Brick Streets of Old Town

By MIKE NORTON

Finally — a summer weekend that FELT like a summer weekend! What splendid weather we had, and it looks like there’s more just around the corner. Karen got her fill of  beach time for once, and I’m looking forward to getting out for some serious bike riding this week.

Speaking of bicycles, I think it’s time Traverse City started to claim a little glory for being one of the great biking destinations. We’ve long been a friendly place for recreational cyclists, after all. This glacier-carved landscape of gentle hills, long narrow lakes and winding rural roads is challenging but not exhausting, and we have a well-developed system of paved and unpaved trails available for off-road cyclists. But lately the trickle of serious cyclists has become a flood.

Thousands of hard-core off-road cyclists have long known about the city’s legendary Iceman Cometh Challenge, a 27-mile point-to-point race held each November – sometimes in blinding snow – in the nearby Pere Marquette State Forest. Now in its 22nd year, the Iceman is the largest single-day mountain bike race in the U.S. But in recent years, “TC” has broadened its appeal to road-racing cyclists and recreational riders.

“This is getting to be quite the cycling mecca,” says web designer Tim Barrons, who races with the 43-memberl Hagerty Cycling team. “Traverse City’s name is starting to get around.”

The first sign of that increased interest came four years ago, when a group of local racers decided to create an August event called the Cherry-Roubaix. Named for a small city in northern France (best known for its teeth-jarring cobblestone streets) the  Cherry-Roubaix began as a ride through Traverse City’s historic Old Town district, whose streets are paved with massive bricks brought as ballast in the holds of 19th century lumber schooners.

Since then, the event has grown to include a Tour de France-style road race on the nearby Leelanau Peninsula and now features a series of downtown sprint races, a charity ride, a kid’s ride and a cruiser classic. The 2010 Cherry-Roubaix attracted almost 600 racers and spawned a much larger event, the week-long Third Coast Bicycle Festival, which brings cyclists of all ages and ability levels to this bike-happy town.

This year’s festival will be held Aug. 12-21 — and now that the Cherry-Roubaix has been named the official event of the 2011 and 2012 Michigan Road Race Championship, the entire week should see a major influx of participants. They’ll include triathletes, fixed-gear riders and road and cyclocross racers, as well as ordinary folks who just like to get outside on their bikes for some touring.

The festival will begin with an “all-bike” version of Traverse City’s celebrated “Friday Night Live” block party, with sprint races through the middle of downtown, demonstrations of obstacle-course riding and high-flying BMX jumps. Saturday begins with a charity ride fundraiser for the local women’s cancer fund on the scenic Old Mission Peninsula, followed by the harrowing Cherry Roubaix Criterium road races in Old Town.

Group Cycling on the Old Mission Peninsula
Group Cycling on the Old Mission Peninsula

On Sunday, the focus shifts westward to the winding roads of the Leelanau Peninsula for a 13.7-mile road race. (There’ll be organized group rides for non-racing cyclists who want to get out to the course and watch the race.) Monday will bring a group ride to the Old Mission Peninsula sponsored by the Cherry Capital Cycling Club, and Tuesday will feature a fun ride in which obstacle cyclist Jonathan Pool and his crew from 2 Wheel Technique offer tips and instruction for riders who want to stretch their limits.

Wednesday events will include a time trials race on the Old Mission Peninsula and a downhill race on the ski hill at the Mt. Holiday Ski Area, while Thursday’s festivities open with a cyclists picnic and a costume/bicycle parade to the State Theatre for “bike movie night.” On Friday, there’s a “fixed gear alley cat” high-speed scavenger hunt, and Saturday will be given over to a wide range of classes and clinics on techniques, equipment and skills, as well as a mountain-bike ride on the popular Vasa singletrack trails, while Sunday will feature a major triathlon (combined swimming, biking and running) at Bowers Harbor on the Old Mission Peninsula.

More information and registration materials can be found at www.cherry-roubaix.com/ and www.tcbikefest.org/.

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About mikelovestc

These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job! I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland. What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
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