Michigan Bicycle Summit Recap

Andy Clarke, Exec. Director of the League of American Bicyclists, and some guy with bike pins.

“There’s no better place than Michigan to show by example that things are changing.” — Andy Clarke, Executive Director of the League of American Bicyclists

Andy Clarke speaks with an English accent that gets your attention right away.  How did this short British chap get the primo bicycling job in America?  He is paid to speak on behalf of all cyclists in America and get people excited about creating change in American culture to create increased opportunities for bicycling.  He was the keynote speaker at this year’s Michigan Bicycle Summit on March 27th in Lansing.

His stump speech is a mix of positive examples from Portland, Europe, and elsewhere, mixed with the realization that change of this magnitude is like trying to change the direction of a glacier.  It’s going to take awhile.  But, he was quick to highlight the positive steps in this direction, such as the recent announcement by Ray LaHood, Secretary of the US Dept. of Transportation, that “This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.” (google search: “ray lahood bicycle”)

LMB merchandise for sale

Andy Clarke was not the only draw of the Michigan Bicycle Summit.  While at a session led by the charismatic Jean Doss on lobbying your legislature, I learned the importance of timing, that successful advocates are patient, persistent, and planful in their approach, and that the most important phrase working with politicians is, “I’m sorry that we disagree, but I look forward to working with you in the future.”   At a panel on the Complete Streets movement, we heard from the the bicycle and pedestrian advocates who played a key role in Lansing becoming the 100th city in the US to pass a Complete Streets ordinance.

In addition to the seminars, there was a Friday evening reception at the downtown Radisson where the League of Michigan Bicyclists handed out awards to some of the most active and inspiring volunteers promoting bicycling in Michigan.  Some of the other sessions that followed Andy Clarke’s keynote speech included:

In 2009, I attended my first National Bike Summit, and this was my first Michigan Bike Summit.  There are lots of opportunities to hear about all the great things that others are doing, but I think the best part is being around so many other people who “get it”.  They know how much fun bicycling is and they want to spread those feelings of joy and happiness to others, just like I do.

Bike parking at the summit

I invite you experience that same feeling on May 26th at the 2010 Lucinda Means Bicycle Advocacy Day in Lansing.  Join the League of Michigan Bicyclists, Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, and the Michigan Mountain Biking Association for a day of lobbying your state legislators and fun (yes, those two things can go together).  It kicks off with a rally on the north lawn of the Capitol at 8:30am.  Visit http://www.lmb.org for more information.

I’ll end with another quote from Andy Clarke, via the League of Michigan Bicyclists’ eNewsletter.  When asked how to respond to people who ask why we should build bicycling facilities in places where people don’t ride their bicycles, he said “how many cars crossed the river before you built the bridge.”

Are You Hardcore Enough For These Races?!?

IMG_0307 (by fotoman311)Two fantastic endurance cycling events this weekend will draw riders from all over the US (and even the World) to West Michigan. The National 24 Hour Challenge will be held in Middleville, MI, just SE of Grand Rapids in Barry County, and the Lumberjack 100 will test the mental and physical strength of mountain bikers at the Big M ski area in Manistee National Forest west of Cadillac.

National 24 Hour Challenge

Started in 1983 by local bicycle racing supporters Diane and Skip Obermeyer, the National 24 Hour Challenge is in its 27th year, and is the largest event of its kind in the country.  While it is a “race” of sorts, for most participants it is more of a personal challenge.  They set a goal for how many miles they want to ride, or they try to beat their personal best.  The idea is to ride as many miles as you can from 8am on Saturday morning to 8am on Sunday morning.  Riders will complete a 126.7 mile loop of rolling hills around Barry County.  Once that is complete, they will do as many laps around a 23.7 mile loop.  And once nightfall sets in, they will continue on a 7 mile loop until 8am hits.  Once riders complete the first two loops, they are allowed to sleep whenever/however much they want.

The record for this event is 502.6 miles, set in 2007 by Chris Ragsdale, a Grand Haven native who lives and trains in Seattle, WA.  I’ve heard rumors of another experienced rider intent on beating that record, but the ability to do that relies in part on luck, weather, and having a good team of cyclists to help pull you along.

Good luck to all the National 24 Hour Challenge participants this weekend!!


A recent interview on WGVU with Rapid Wheelmen member Joel Bierling, who has ridden over 400 miles each of the past two years.

2008 photos (in 2008 I was the official event photographer and took over 1,400 photos of the riders in an attempt to capture each individual who participated)

DSC_3777 (by davisrc19)
by davisrc19

Lumberjack 100

This is the one I am attempting this year.   The Lumberjack 100 is a race to see who can survive 100 miles of singletrack the fastest.  The fastest riders will complete this task in around 7 hours!  I am just hoping to finish my third lap by the 10 hour cutoff time and get to the end in one piece.

Riders must complete four laps of both an 8 mile loop and a 17 mile loop with a brutally steep climb up to the top of an old downhill ski hill at the beginning of the 8 mile loop.

Good luck to all of the riders participating in this awesome weekend, particularly my Rapid Wheelmen Race Team cohorts!  And if you’re going to Founder’s Fest on Saturday, dance a bit to Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe for me!  I’ll be totally exhausted!  It’s going to be AWESOME!!!


Local endurance cyclist Danielle Musto’s 2008 Ride Report

Lumberjack 100 map (pdf, follow the tiny arrows)


Of course, these races pale in comparison to the efforts put forth by participants in the Race Across America (RAAM), which started on Wednesday, 6/17, with the first racers finishing the 3,022 mile grueling course just over 8 days later on 6/26.  Amazing!


Or there is the 2,745 mile Tour Divide, which started on June 12th and has riders racing unsupported (they carry all their gear on their bicycles) from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, NM.  The fastest riders in this race should finish in around 20 days.  INSANE!

Link:  You can follow the riders at this link, and even track them live, here.  As you can see, last year’s winner, Matthew Lee has a commanding lead and is approaching the Grand Tetons (which is a LOOOONG way from Banff, Alberta).

NBL Midwest Regional at GRBMX track

I rode by the GRBMX track yesterday to check out the track and also look around where the new Mtn Bike Park and pump track are to be constructed. The track is located just SE of US-131 and Burton in some old little league field they have leased from the city.

While there, I ran into Paul Maycroft, one of the guys responsible for building and running the track.  It turns out that this weekend BMX racers from all over Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois will be converging on Grand Rapids for a NBL (National Bike League) regional event.

Sounds pretty awesome, and I would recommend heading over there sometime this weekend and checking out the track if you haven’t been.  There should be lots of racing to watch.

The schedule of events can be found on the NBL website.

First GR Bike Summit a Success!

IMG_0344With 60 bicycles crowding the Bike Valet Parking area and around 200 attendees inside to learn how to make Grand Rapids into a Bicycle Friendly Community, I would call the first ever Grand Rapids Bike Summit a big success!  In the crowd there were young people, old people, roadies, mtn bikers, casual bicycle riders, hardcore cyclists, fixed gear riders, gov’t officials, politicians, and many others.

We had fantastic City Commissioner, Rosalynn Bliss, to start things off with introductions.  Ms. Bliss explained how the Bike Summit began as an idea over a cup of coffee between herself and Bob Zylstra.  They brought in help, including committee chairperson Kevin McCurren, myself, and many others.  With many Monday morning planning meetings and funding from our many sponsors, the result was this summit.

IMG_0395 editBill Nesper from the League of American Bicyclists was our keynote speaker.  Mr. Nesper is head of the Bicycle Friendly America program, and he was there to provide the inspiration for what Grand Rapids could be in the future as a Bicycle Friendly Community.  He provided plenty of examples from Portland, OR, Boulder, CO, and Davis, CA, the three current “Platinum” Bicycle Friendly Communities.  He explained that while we have an excellent start, and a lot of great things providing momentum, Grand Rapids has lots of room to improve our 5 “E”s, Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Encouragement, and Evaluation.  And he said that improvement will have to come from both the top and the bottom of our local city and county governments.  We need the support of the Mayor, through activities such as the first Mayor’s Bike Ride, and the support of the community, who showed up in great numbers for this summit.  I was also happy see that Interim City Manager Eric DeLong took time out of his busy schedule to attend and hopefully get an idea of what is possible with strong leadership and support within City Government.

IMG_0403Following Mr. Nesper was Ann Freiwald, from Alta Planning and Design, the national leader in bicycle friendly design and planning.  Ms. Freiwald was there to show us how to actually make our community more bicycle friendly.  She began by stressing that one of the keys to increasing bicycling is to create a welcoming bicycle culture that includes everyone from kids to seniors.  The bicycle culture must be visible and be accepted as part of the community to create a sense of pride.  To do this, you must convince the 60% of riders who are “interested, but concerned” that it is safe and healthy for them to ride their bicycles everyday.

After a break for lunch, we heard from Josh DeBruyn, who works for MDOT as our federally mandated state Bicycle & Pedestrian coordinator (every state must have one or they miss out on some federal road funding).   Josh talked about the reasons why Michigan ranked 12th overall in a recent League of American Bicyclists study ranking states on bicycle friendliness.  Our highest rankings were 7th, in Education and Encouragement, and 8th, for infrastructure.  In Michigan 35% of roads in the MDOT system, over 2,925 miles, have a shoulder 4 feet wide or larger.  Statewide we have over 1,576 miles of rail trails.  We placed lowest, 35th, in the legislation category, where we have no statewide complete streets policy, and bicycles are not considered a legal vehicle, despite being given all the rights and responsibilities to operate as one.

IMG_0392 After that we heard from Suzanne Schulz, our tireless Planning Director at the City of Grand Rapids.  She talked about the City’s efforts to improve bicycling after it came up in the talks for the 2002 Master Plan.  In 2004, the city developed a Bicycle Plan and have since put many roads on a “road diet” going from four lanes to three, with a striped shoulder.  However, many of these shoulders have not been wide enough to meet the technical standards to be labeled a bike lane, and in the past, the city has been concerned about liability for maintenance of a labeled bicycle lane.  These are two of the reasons we do not have a single marked bicycle lane in the City of Grand Rapids.  She talked about the money for implementation and maintenance being a large  obstacle to the widespread implementation of bicycle lanes throughout the city.  The city roads dept. is already beyond it’s budget just trying to maintain the status quo.  She did mention that shared use facilities, such as sharrows, may be an option because they do not require much extra plowing or maintenance.  She also said that bicyclists need to advocate strongly on their own behalf or the city will not budget for facilities that take them into account.

IMG_0368Ms. Schulz also mentioned that the Green Grand Rapids master plan process currently underway will be producing a new, more detailed Bicycle Plan.  A draft of this plan is available here.  I hope that the city will be able to use this plan to leverage funding.  Possible sources include the Transportation Enhancements program, and the next Federal Transportation Authorization Act,  which may specifically set aside $50 million for improving the bicycle infrastructure network in Grand Rapids through the Rails to Trails Conservancy’s 2010 Campaign for Active Transportation.

Next were the four breakout sessions to brainstorm ideas from community members on what priorities should be addressed and what actions we needed to take to improve bicycling in the Grand Rapids area.  The breakout sessions were:

  • On-Road (2 groups)
  • Off-Road
  • Policy, Law, and Enforcement
  • Advocacy and Education

I was moderating the Advocacy and Education, with the help of Barb Schmid and Ann Freiwald, and thought we had a lot of good ideas that were discussed amongst the four small groups in our session.

IMG_0336After the breakouts, our panel summarized the sessions and then we had some open question and answer for our experts.  Although the crowd had thinned out some by this time, we finished with remarks by Kevin McCurren and a big round of applause.

A big thanks to all who  came out to make the first Grand Rapids Bike Summit a success.  We’ll be looking at our feedback forms, compiling the data from breakout sessions, and trying to figure out how to move forward and implement the ideas spurred on by this Summit.  Watch PedalGR for ways to get involved in this process.  I think we can make Grand Rapids a better community for bicycling and a better community for living!  See you on the road!


Check out the very good story that Fox 17 News did on the Bike Summit.  Thank you Carl Apple and crew:

GR Bike Summit Pre-Registration Ends Soon

2009grbikesummit_logoAs of this afternoon there were 189 people pre-registered for the first ever Grand Rapids Bike Summit, this Friday, April 24th at Loosemore Auditorium on the downtown GVSU campus.  Due to the deadline of the catering service, free registration will stop at 200 225 and any attendees after that will have to sign-up on the day of the event and pay a $10 fee for the box lunch.   The capacity of Loosemore Auditorium is only 232, so get there early if you’re not pre-registered.

I’m very excited that over 200 people will be joining us to kick off our effort to make Grand Rapids bicycle friendly.   Back in the early planning stages, our committee was optimistically hoping to get 100-150.  I think this really shows that the demand for increased access to bicycling for transportation and recreation is there.   We just need to help our cities and the county along in developing and implementing a solid bicycle plan, make the case for building complete streets, and work to nurture new bicyclists and get more people out riding!  The City of Grand Rapids is well on it’s way, with a new Bicycle Plan being drafted through the Green Grand Rapids master planning process and using input from this summit.

After the Bike Summit, there are more things planned, with the start of my PedalGR rides and the first ever Mayor’s Bike Ride on May 6th at 6:30 at John Ball Park!  With a short kid’s ride at 6pm, kid’s activities during the adult ride, and a bike polo demostration afterwards, this promises to be a fantastic event!  Mark your calendar and join hundreds of your closest friends and the Mayor!  Longer routes will also be available for those that want to continue after the 5 mile ride with Mayor Heartwell.

Also, there are still plenty of spaces in my Smart Cycling – Street Skills 101 courses.

I am ecstatic at the possibilities for bicycling Grand Rapids!!!