Cyclists, here’s one to add to your bucket list: the Lake Michigan Circle Tour. This is the only one of the five Great Lakes Circle Tours that takes place entirely in the U.S., winding you through four states in the Upper Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
The Lake Michigan Circle Tour circumvents Lake Michigan primarily along state highways, but of course, on a bike, you’re free to stray from the official route to breeze through bike paths and side roads, or to check out attractions just off the main drag (there are a dozen or so breweries along the route, for instance).
Your first step to cycling the Lake Michigan Circle Tour is to find companions to join you on this great adventure. Once you’ve formed your crew, you’ll need to pick up a few essentials before you get started. Here’s what to budget for in order to have the ride of a lifetime.
The single most important piece of equipment you’ll be bringing on your trip is, of course, your bike. You’ll be sitting on your bike for approximately three weeks and for more than a thousand miles, so make sure it’s a good one!
Due to the sheer length of the route, the Lake Michigan Circle Tour is not necessarily a great trip for brand-new cyclists, especially if you plan on doing the entire trip in one go. Some people opt to do either the northern section or the southern section as small tours of their own.
If you don’t already have a quality road bike, this will most likely be one of the largest investments of your trip. Take it out on shorter trips before your big trek so that you’re 100 percent ready to tackle Lake Michigan in all its glory.
Ultimately, you want to take a bike that you’re well acquainted with, that you know how to repair, and that is the right fit for you. Head to a specialized bike shop and, just as important, learn how to maintain and repair it. Oh, and make sure it has a comfortable saddle; you’re in for a long ride!
Panniers and handlebar bag
You’re going to need somewhere to stash all of your stuff for your trip: maps, water, food, extra clothing, repair gear, supplies, and so on. Panniers and a handlebar bag will give you plenty of room to store your items. Just be sure not to over-pack, as you’ll likely pick up a souvenir or two along the way—maybe some art in Ludington, fresh coffee beans in Lake Leelanau, or some delectable fudge in Suttons Bay.
The Lake Michigan Circle Tour winds through small towns, large cities, and just about everything in between. Some cyclists choose to camp where it’s available (and it’s not always available—finding a campsite in Chicago, for instance, is a little tricky), while others choose to stay in hotels, inns, B&Bs, and other accommodations every night of their trip.
The choice is yours to make. Camping requires the upfront cost of picking up camping gear (including tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, cooking gear, etc.), but campsites are a lot cheaper than hotels. If you’re camping, you’ll also need to be able to lug all of your gear on your bike. Hotels offer hot showers, shelter from nasty weather, and the occasional continental breakfast.
Another factor to consider: Your accommodation costs will depend on whether you plan on racing the Lake Michigan Circle Tour at full speed in two weeks, or meandering your way around the lake over a leisurely month.
Spare tubes and spare tire
Realistically, it’s not a matter of if you’ll encounter tire issues along your trip; it’s simply a matter of when it’ll happen. Though some of the larger cities (especially Chicago, Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Traverse City) you’ll pass through will have specialty cycle shops, many of the small towns and rural stretches along the route won’t have such resources readily available.
In other words, you need to be well stocked so that you’re prepared for repairs no matter where they might occur. It’s a good idea to take three spare tubes and one spare tire, and to restock as needed when you hit bike shops along the way.
Pumps, tools, and other repair supplies
In addition to your spare tubes and tire, you should bring a well-rounded repair kit that will cover your bases. Keep a small air pump, a patch kit, a tire pressure gauge, chain lube, spokes, brake pads, chain tools, spare links, and a bike multitool. And don’t forget your charged cellphone, just in case.
It may be difficult to find detailed maps before you hit the road, but don’t panic. Start off by picking up larger maps of the general areas you’ll be hitting. Wherever you choose to start from, grab a detailed map before you take off from that particular area. As you pass through different counties, you’ll be able to pick up new maps covering the areas ahead.
As a cyclist, you may want to deviate from certain sections of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour. While much of the route is bike-friendly, the occasional detour may be necessary in traffic-heavy areas.
Further, you’ll be passing through some great bike trails that are definitely worth straying from the regular path. For example, check out the Hart-Montague Trail, a lovely flat, wide rail-to-trail in western Michigan.
Some people may say that a camera is not an essential piece of equipment, but we beg to differ. You’re going to want to snap some shots of the incredible places you pass through on your bike, from charming downtown Petoskey, Michigan, to the lighthouses of Door County in northwest Wisconsin to the stunning Silver Lake Sand Dunes of west Michigan. Be prepared and bring a camera!
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