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Summer, safety & scenery: Best bets for cycling on West Michigan's trails

From left, Tom Tilma, Kate Avery, Brooks Twist, Brian Van Zweden, and Kim Kordecki.

Dust off your spokes, oil your chains, and get rolling: It's summer on the trails, and Rapid Growth shares a few of the best spots for cycling both in and out of the city. Whether you're looking for a casual summer ride or an epic summer event, read on for some of our favorite rides.
It's time to take to the trails. As the summer days get longer, cyclists dust off their spokes, oil their chains and get rolling downtown, up north and out to the lakeshore in a variety of bike trail events. Whether they're raising money for a good cause, promoting their favorite pasttime or simply joining in on the camaraderie, cyclists are finding a home on West Michigan's vast trail network.

In early June, Eastown favorite Brewery Vivant hosted Fly to the Coq, an annual bike tour that takes off from Rockford Brewing on East Bridge St., traverses the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail Sate Park, transitions to city streets after reaching Riverside Park off Monroe Ave. and later arrives at the Cherry St. brewery. The third annual event for the partnership of the two breweries, Fly to the Coq is an approximately 15-mile ride of over 200 participants that grew out of the friendship of Brewery Vivant employees. "The ride itself came about because several of our staff would ride from downtown Grand Rapids up to Rockford Brewing for a pint," says Brewery Vivant's Abbess of Beer and Head of Marketing Kate Avery.

Officially kicking off in 2013 with the efforts of Vivant Prophet and Head of Operations Brooks Twist and server T.J. Masker, the ride also reflects the brewery's passion for West Michigan's trails. "We really just wanted to see more people out on bikes, enjoying part of the White Pine Trail," says Avery.
 
Because the majority of the route is on the trail itself, with just five miles on Grand Rapids city streets, riders can feel safe and secure at all ability levels. "We've got folks that tear down that trail and we've got folks who mosey along and enjoy the scenery, experienced hardcore people with clip-in shoes and first time riders with brand new helmets," she says.

Most of all, the ride allows fans of each brewery to enjoy the great outdoors. "White Pine Trail is beautiful. It gets you out of the city and into the country," says Avery. By also hosting a reverse tour, Coq to the Fly, each September, both breweries collaborate on a unique beer recipe for the events, and tap the new brew for thirsty cyclists at the after parties. "That's a fun way to acknowledge the grueling 15 miles are over!" says Avery.

Also based in Grand Rapids, the Michigan State University Gran Fondo utilizes a scenic West Michigan trail for one of its four course routes. Taking place this year on Saturday, June 27, the annual Gran Fondo is a non-competitive cycling event designed to raise awareness and funds for skin cancer research. All cyclists participate in fundraising, even children, whose admission fee is waived for ages twelve and under, making this a fun, accessible event for families.

While the Gran Fondo's 80-, 40-, and 25-mile routes take to city streets, the 12-mile path is designed for cyclists of all ages and ability levels and utilizes the Fred Meijer Millennium Park Trails. "It's a family-friendly route," says Course Director Kim Kordecki.
 
After biking two miles through the city to the trailhead at O'Brien and Butterworth, participants are provided a rest stop furnished by the Gilmore Collection before undertaking the majority of the ride in the scenic Millennium Park. "It's such a beautiful park," says Kordecki. Afterward, kids are invited to join in at the finish line festival in the parking lot of the Bob, where they can rest up, watch the Herman Miller Brickyard Criterium that takes place that same day or even participate in a free kids' race.

With approximately 150 participants of mostly families in this 12-mile course each year, Kordecki and company are happy to offer this accessible, scenic route. "Having the park so close to the event is great," she says. 

Members of Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition (GGRBC) also appreciate the wide variety of trails at the city's fingertips. Providing mechanical support for Coq to the Fly and Fly to the Coq each year, as well as the 2015 Mayor's Ride, an event that hosted the ribbon cutting of the new protected bike lane alongside Riverside Park on Monroe Ave, GGRBC supports multi-use paths that "serve all kinds of cyclists," says the nonprofit's Executive Director Tom Tilma.
 
GGRBC is also involved in longer rides, such as Climate Ride Midwest, a three-state, approximately 300-mile ride from Grand Rapids to Chicago that utilizes the Musketawa Trail and Kal-Haven Trail State Park. Tilma himself, who can mostly be seen on the city's increasing number of bike lanes, enjoys the unique experience of biking on the trails. "I use a multi-use path whenever I can," he says. "It's a different kind of cycling for me," he adds, noting the open spaces and natural beauty of Michigan's many pathways.

In the small window of beautiful Michigan weather, cyclists take advantage of rare sunny days to traverse the many scenic trails in West Michigan. With organized races and tours, participants can enjoy the ride with the greater cycling community, get away from congested city streets and take in the beauty of nature, all from the seats of their bikes, and perhaps with a beer to look forward to at the finish line.
 
This article is part of an ongoing series, Moments on the Trails, and was made possible by the West Michigan Trails & Greenways Coalition. For more information about the WMTGC, visit wmtrails.org.

Lauren F. Carlson is a freelance writer and editor, Aquinas alumna, and Grand Rapids native. Her work can be found at www.emptyframecreative.com, and she can be reached at lauren@emptyframecreative.com for story tips and feedback.

Photography by Adam Bird
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