The Apple Cider Century: A Fall Biking Tradition in Three Oaks, Michigan

For many Chicagoans, the last Sunday in September means the Apple Cider Century bike tour in Southwest Michigan.

Bryan Volstorf, director of the Apple Cider Century and executive director of Three Oaks Spokes bike club, says Chicagoans make up well over 60% of participants for the event, which attracts 6,000 riders.

What’s not to like? The event now includes routes of 15, 25, 37, 50, 62, 75 and 100 miles, to accommodate cyclists of all abilities.

Inspiring Landscapes
The Apple Cider Century will keep you coming back for the variety and the peaceful respite from urban life—the rolling hills of LaPorte County in northern Indiana, flatter terrain and the awesome vistas by Lake Michigan, plentiful wooded areas and the wineries and orchards. This is the 38th year of the event, where thousands converge on the Americana small town of Three Oaks, located 10 miles inland from Lake Michigan and 5 miles from the Indiana border.

The ride starts in a downtown Three Oaks campus of sorts, where everything is within walking distance. The area includes a campground that can handle 500 to 600 tents, a stage for entertainment on Saturday night before the ride, a playground, and a laundromat.

Food and Lodging
What’s a cycling extravaganza without some carbs and ice cream? The Apple Cider Century features an ice cream social, spaghetti dinner and pancake breakfast. Volstorf says about half the riders come on Saturday and enjoy the ice cream social, with the rest driving in the morning of the event. Be forewarned as the motels and B&Bs fill up in nearby Michigan City and New Buffalo.

Tour Amenities
The day of the event, you and your family and friends can leave your worries behind. The event includes rolling sag wagons, bicycle repairmen at all the food stops and ham radio operators at remote locations along the routes, reporting back about any problems or snafus.

Tips and Tricks
A word of advice—the earlier you register, the cheaper the price (applecidercentury.com). Volstorf advises starting the ride early in the morning, between 7 and 10 a.m., to avoid a crowd of cyclists. From 10 a.m. to noon, it gets more congested.

Exploring Three Oaks
Non-cyclists in your group can enjoy Three Oaks’ downtown that has undergone a renaissance in the last decade or so. The Acorn Theater with live, sometimes big-time entertainment opened about eight years ago. The Vickers Theater, an independent art film venue, has been around for about 15 years and packs them in every night. Two new breweries opened up and there are many art galleries and antique stores— many owned by Chicagoans!

The Three Oaks area has been known as a cycling mecca since the 1970s. Volstorf developed the Backroads Bikeway system of self-guided routes that include the green and white Backroads Bikeway signs. The routes are color-coded and easy to follow. The bikeway system will be expanded to 20 trails this winter.

About the Author: Karen Gentry is a writer and reporter based in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area and author of two books on cycling in Michigan. She is the major contributor to the new 84-page West Michigan Trails magazine.

Lead photo: Three women enjoy pedaling the countryside in the annual Apple Cider Century that starts in Three Oaks, Michigan.