Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Michigan Steelhead Ride II - Riding the Spine

Some readers might recall last Spring I took part in an early season vintage bike ride in Michigan, dubbed the Steelhead Ride (after the steelhead trout). This past weekend my friend Jim T., who organized the ride last year, had a "sequel" ride of sorts that followed the White Pine trail in Western Michigan - a trail some of the locals call "The Spine." I was happy to have the opportunity to make the trip from Akron to Grand Rapids so I could join in the fun again.

The White Pine Trail is a converted Rail-to-Trail that runs over 90 miles north and south through Western Michigan - from Grand Rapids to Cadillac. Though the majority of the trail is paved, there are sections of it that are dirt and gravel, and a little bit of a challenge on skinny road tires. Riders were encouraged to choose their bikes and tires accordingly. The route was chosen so that we'd get a full metric century - 62 miles - though in the end, most of us finished up with around 64 miles.

Having about a 5-hour drive from Akron to Western Michigan, Jim was kind enough to let me stay at his home for the weekend. The hospitality was excellent. I left right from work on Friday and arrived around 8 pm, where I found his wife, Maureen, had a bowl of spicy chili and a beer waiting for me. That was a great welcome.

Although Thursday and Friday had seen a lot of rain and strong winds, Saturday morning we got up to find ideal riding weather. Whoever had suggested moving the ride from April to the first weekend of May made a good call. We had brilliant sunshine throughout the day, with temperatures starting out around 60 in the morning, and ending up in the high 70s by the afternoon.

Our group gathered and headed out from Jim's house, which is just a few miles of road riding from the trail. The ride took us through the quaint and picturesque little town of Rockford, which has numerous shops, restaurants, and watering holes. It was a bustling place, and we saw a lot of groups such as wedding parties taking pictures by the riverside and its waterfall. We also passed through a few sleepy little villages, including Howard City where we stopped for lunch.

That looks like Gordy V. (on the right) and Marc I. on one of the paved stretches of the path. There's somebody behind Marc, but I can't tell who it is (unless Marc has a third arm I hadn't noticed before).
Tim, Steve, and Jason P. (from front to back)

Nice picture of the group on the trail. Tim Potter is apparently way better at taking pictures while riding than I am. (thanks, Tim)
Sand Lake is a sleepy little town. I understand they have a pretty nice 4th of July festival, though.
Howard City is dead quiet on a Saturday afternoon. I was standing in the middle of the main intersection when I took this. I didn't have to hurry.
After lunch in Howard City. The Pizza Cafe had good sandwiches and a friendly waitress. Not another soul entered the place the whole time we were there. The pizza place and the bowling alley across the street were the only places that were open. (photo from Tim Potter - or more accurately from the gregarious Harley rider we met there in town who used Tim's phone)
That's Skip M., Tim, and Mark A. (from left to right) on the gravel. 

And Marc on his Hunqapillar, and ride organizer Jim on his green Colnago.
Unfortunately I didn't get great pictures of all the bikes on the ride (sorry - I hope nobody feels slighted), but here are a few pics that came out pretty good.
Skip had this '60s vintage Peugeot PX-10 in the classic white/black (photo from Tim Potter).

Gordy brought this P G Wells - a framebuilder I'm not familiar with, but I believe he was a custom builder in Michigan (photo from Tim Potter).

Jason had this '80s vintage Miyata. Its red paint absolutely gleamed in the sun. He had some cool drillium chainrings on it, too.

Steve brought this great old Pogliaghi. We were all admiring the metallic orange paint with yellow accents.

Tim had this Louison Bobet which he had converted over to 650b. The burnt orange paint with cream panel and bands, and fantastic pinstriping made this one another favorite on the ride. This really got me thinking I need to find a nice old French bike and do something similar.

Marc (of the Simply Cycle blog) brought his Rivendell Hunqapillar. With those tires, Marc was probably thinking "Gravel? What gravel"?
I chose to ride my green and white Mercian with the barber pole paint scheme. If there had been any threat of rain, I might have taken my Rivendell because it's equipped with fenders. Given that there would be sections of gravel, I installed the fattest tires I could fit into the Mercian. It turns out that the frame was only built to accommodate 25mm tires, though it can handle 28 without any trouble. I decided even 28mm wasn't going to be enough. On a whim, I took some 32mm Paselas off another bike just to see if they'd fit. They did. I had no more than 1/8 inch on either side of the rear tire between the chainstays, and less than that under the rear brake. I also had no more than 1/8 inch of clearance under the front brake. All in all, had there been mud, it could have been a problem - but with the trail dry under full sunshine, it worked out fine. On the gravel sections I felt great and the tire volume really kept the vibration to a minimum.

Somehow, this was the only picture I got of my own bike.
Can't get any tighter fitting than that.

We encountered this little guy towards the end of our ride. He'd been riding with his parents, then when our group approached, he took off like a solo breakaway. His little bike probably only had 12" wheels, but he was making the most of them.

The White Pine trail is quite flat for most of its length, but I think Jim knows that I come from an area known for more hills (I've said repeatedly that it isn't a proper ride without a good hill climb) - so I think it was at least partly on my account that he worked at least one solid hill into the ride. In the last few miles of the route, there was a pretty steep road that crossed the trail. Some opted to skip the hill, but about half gave it a shot. We rode down to the bottom, then turned around to take it to the top. I'm guessing it was at least 15% grade in the steeper sections. Made me feel right at home.

We got back to Jim's late that afternoon where a big pot of sloppy joes, potato salad, watermelon, and beer were waiting for us - once again, courtesy of Maureen. It was a great way to end the ride. The gang hung out for a while afterwards with most of the conversation being bike related, with occasional dips into the serious (like solemn rides of silence) and occasionally to the absurd (like unconventional wart removal methods).

Although 5 hours is a long way to drive for a bike ride, it was great to get together with friends and make some new ones. All told, it was an excellent weekend visit. Jim's already giving thought to hosting a ride for next year with another route. If I have a suggestion, it might be to explore some of the (many) dirt and gravel roads that seem to abound in the mitten state.


  1. Great report Kyle! Was very nice to meet and ride with you and the others. I appreciate the photo credits. For those who want to see more photos of the bikes (like me) and are on Facebook here you go:
    Looking forward to next year and happy to share what I learned about doing the 650b conversion to an old French road racer from the late 60s!

  2. I love the bikes--especially yours!

  3. Great report! Thanks for coming to the ride, and it was great to see you again. I wholeheartedly support having a ride on the gravel roads. A caveat about riding vintage bikes on the SW Mi gravel: If the weather has been good (i.e., recent but not too heavy rain) and the county road commissions or farmers with big rigs have not been scuffing up the roads, riding on them with vintage bikes and 25-28mm regular road tires can be a lot of fun. Right now, however, the farmers are using many of the roads to access their fields, and the gravel/dirt/sand is really loose and those roads are difficult to ride without 28-32mm X-tires.The Barry Roubaix course, which starts in downtown Hastings, is a challenging and hilly ride that is, at least for me, also better tackled on a vintage bike with X-tires. People using modern gravel bikes on the Barry Roubaix course usually choose 35+ mm tires. These SW MI gravel roads might therefore be better suited for vintage or KOF bikes with clearances for big tires, e.g., touring bikes, 650b conversions, or old racing bikes (ca early 70s or before.) Gordy's Maserati would not be a good candidate for the gravel!

    1. Sounds like my 1st generation Stumpjumper (updated and equipped for more "roadified" riding) would be a good choice to bring - assuming that were to be the ride.

  4. I forgot to add that your stunning Mercian that could barely fit 28mm tires would probably not be a great bike for most of the gravel roads up here!

    1. for a mostly-gravel road ride, I'd definitely bring something different.

  5. The bikes in the photos make this look like an 'eroica' ride. There is an awful lot of exposed, non-"aero" brake housing visible. I love it.

  6. Do you know if the owner of the Orange pogliaghi would be interested in selling the frameset?