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Elk Rapids: Michigan’s Retro Bike Paradise!

Posted on July 13th, 2012

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Editor’s Note: It’s been too hot to hike so Jim DuFresne has been hanging around his cottage in Elk Rapids the past week, trying to stay cool, and filed this blog for MichiganTrailMaps.com. For more on the Ride Around Torch see the Cherry Capital Cycling club web site.

On Sunday there will be hundreds of bicycles in and around Elk Rapids along with spandex shorts, colorful riding jerseys, Camelbacks and aerodynamic helmets, not to mention a lot of serious cyclists.

Jim DuFresne

Jim DuFresne

The reason for the two-wheel festival is because this small town in southwest Antrim County is the start and end of the Ride Around Torch, a 63-mile ride that encircles Torch Lake. Staged by the Cherry Capital Cycling Club, this event is often called the most scenic bike ride in the state, where more times than not you looking at water while pedaling.

On Monday Elk Rapids will be back to normal but bicycles will still be there. Only the 21-speeds and all-carbon bicycles will be gone and the fat tire, clunkers will be back.

Elk Rapids; the retro bike capital of Michigan.

In the late 1800s Elk Rapids was challenging Traverse City as the economic powerhouse of the region, today it’s a sleepy village that has become a haven for retro bicycles, cruisers, beach bikes, urban bikes or, in my case, a bicycle that was actually built in the 1960s.

I ride around town in a single-speed Schwinn that still has the registration sticker Grosse Isle Township made me purchase and display in 1965 as if kids on bicycles were part of a communist plot to take over the world.

When you want to slow or stop on my Schwinn, you pedal backwards. How cool is that? 

Retro bikes at the Elk Rapids Lower Marina.

Retro bikes at the Elk Rapids Lower Marina during a sunset on Lake Michigan.

Retro bikes dominate this town with locals and visitors a like because clunkers are much more practical. This is a place that demands you to ride slowly and stop often, making clip-in pedals a hassle to say the least.

Elk Rapids is incredibly scenic as it is literarily surrounded on three sides by water. Elk Lake nudges into it and from there Elk River splits the town in half before emptying into Lake Michigan. Oh, and on the northside of town is Bass Lake.

There is a spot downtown where you can look to your left at the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay and see the skyline of Traverse City. To the right you can see the coastline wind north to Little Traverse Bay and due west is the end of Mission Peninsula and the blue, endless horizon of Lake Michigan.


This is also a small town, population 3,000, so you need to stop at the bakery before they run out of hand-cut donuts or the library to pick up a novel for the beach or to catch up to Joe so you can ask him what the movie is next week at his single-screen theater.

The marinas also contribute to the town’s retro craze. Blessed with a watery location, the village has two of them; the Lower Marina overlooks Lake Michigan and its slips are filled with large sailboats and cruisers. The Upper Marina is on Elk River and the pontoons and speed boats docked there have access to the Antrim County Chain of Lakes that includes Torch Lake, Bellaire Lake and Clam Lake.

The marinas maintain an army of bikes – retro bikes of course – that any boater can borrow to ride around town. If you arrive without one, you can rent a retro bike at the new Right Tree Adventure Rentals Shop  just off Main Street.

Add it all up and this up-and-coming trendy town with great restaurants and wide beaches is like a Mackinac Island with vehicles in the summer. Cars replace the horses-and-carriages and everybody drives, pedals and walks cautiously and courteously with drivers always waving through two-wheelers and pedestrians.

Let’s face it, if you’re driving through this trendy beach community, marveling at the beautiful scenery or the historical buildings on Main Street, the last thing you want to do is cause an eco-friendly cyclist to have a header on an old clunker like mine. Would not be cool.

 So on Sunday a lot of us will enjoy the beginning and end of the Ride Around Torch and a small town overwhelmed by top-of-the-line road bikes.

On Monday we’ll be back on our clunkers.

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2 thoughts on “Elk Rapids: Michigan’s Retro Bike Paradise!”

  1. Beth says:

    Hello, I just happened upon your blog when I googled bike rental Elk Rapids…We will be staying in Elk Rapids the first weekend of August and I was wondering if there was anywhere to rent bikes? I’m looking for more of the road bike type, for longer bike rides? Thank you for your time. Beth

    1. Jim DuFresne says:

      You can rent bikes (and a lot of other things like kayaks, paddleboards and jogger carts) at Adventure Rentals (231-668-8220) at 107 Bridge St. They’re only 50 yards from a village boat launch so the kayaks can be easily be carried to the Elk River for a fun day of paddling to Elk Lake.

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