Biking Chicago to Grand Rapids, In One Day, On a Fixie

The approaching warm weather has me itching to take long bike rides.  I’m betting you all feel the same.  For some inspiration, I’m sharing reader Jeff Kwapil’s story of biking on his Trek fixed gear, leaving from Chicago, Illinois in the morning and arriving in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the evening.  Enjoy!

My long-time half-baked plan to ride from my place in Chicago to my mother’s house in Grand Rapids Michigan (GR) became reality last summer. I haven’t ridden much long distance. I commute a lot, 12 miles each way. And I take weekend rides, 10, 20, 30 miles, occasionally 50 or 60. I have done one century, four years ago.

However, in my mind I’m a bike touring kind of guy. But three obstacles have prevented this ride until now.

1) The one-way ride would take take three days. That reduces the time I have in GR to visit Mom, compared to just driving there in three hours.
2) Amtrak does not take any luggage from GR to Chicago, so I would have to ride back (another three days) or arrange some other ride home.
3) Navigating through the steel mills & such around Gary Indiana does not look like fun.

So, I have a week off work, and the solution popped into my head. I made it in ONE day! Here’s how I did it.

06:15 AM Depart home on bike to Metra commuter train stop
06:33 AM Depart Chicago on train to Kenosha WI
08:25 AM 35 miles biking Kenosha WI to Milwaukee ferry terminal (arrived 11:00 AM)
12:30 PM Depart Milwaukee on boat – arrive Muskegon MI ferry terminal 04:00 PM
04:40 PM 50 miles biking Muskegon to GR
09:00 PM Arrive Mom’s

This was not planned as a fixie ride, but my geared bike suffered a catastrophic frame failure Wednesday, so I went ahead on the my lovely fixie*.

Holy Moly, people have built A LOT of trails in the past few years!! Maybe 60% of the riding was on paved and crushed rock trails. Much appreciated. It’s very different from the days of my youth, riding 2-lane roads and earning the ire of drivers who felt crowded and expressed themselves with honked horns and upraised fingers.

The Racine and Kenosha county crushed rock bike rails-to-trails bike path got me most of the way to Milwaukee. In Milwaukee County a lot of the ride was in the lakefront parks.

In Michigan, the Musketawa Trail led from the outskirts of Muskegon to the outskirts of GR.

Notes:

Google Maps bicycle directions are amazingly helpful.

Navigating with only a smartphone is a pain in the ass, but the GPS is spiffy. In the future I will carry real paper maps, augmented with the GPS phone.

Fixed gear is no fun on downhills. Normally I only use my fixie around town, where the “hills” are bridges with 10- to 40-foot elevations. I missed tucking in and racing full-bore downhill. Instead I had to either brake a lot, or spread my legs and risk the Whirling Pedals of Death (not comfortable).

85 miles in a day was hard, but not bad. After a long hot shower and a good night’s sleep I felt fine, no aches, no sores. I think I am in pretty good shape thanks to the commuting.

– Jeff Kwapil
Chicago IL USA

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10 thoughts on “Biking Chicago to Grand Rapids, In One Day, On a Fixie

  1. Lisa Curcio says:

    What a brilliant idea and sounds like a great day! I, too, am itching to get out there and do some real miles. Thanks for sharing, Dottie.

  2. That’s great! I didn’t know they had ferry rides from Kenosha to Milwaukee. Was this an expensive trip? Did you have a lot of downtime? What was your pace?

  3. Here’s a write-up of a similar trip I did, except when I got to Muskegon I camped nearby, then leisurely headed south on the coast, catching a bus home from South Haven: http://gridchicago.com/2012/circumnavigating-lower-lake-michigan-by-metra-bike-ferry-and-bus/

  4. Here’s a write-up of a similar trip I did, except when I got to Muskegon I camped nearby, then leisurely headed south on the coast, catching a bus home from South Haven: http://gridchicago.com/2012/circumnavigating-lower-lake-michigan-by-metra-bike-ferry-and-bus/

  5. Kim says:

    I LOVE bike touring! This sounds like a fun trip (except for doing it with a fixie maybe). Good job!

  6. Jack says:

    Glad to know the Ferry system is still around. The first thing that came to mind when I read the title was “how do you get through Gary?!”

    Brilliant.

    Well done.

  7. Alaina says:

    Great story. I have traveled the same route by car/ferry several times, as I live and work in Muskegon, and my company’s corp HQ is just outside Chicago. Very cool to think of traveling it by bike. I spent a lot of time on parts of the Musketawa trail when I previously lived in GR, but have not explored the Muskegon end since I moved here. I think I have will have to make a trip of it some weekend

  8. Roger Placer says:

    Wouldn’t mind a little more back story on the catastrophic frame failure!

  9. Roger Placer says:

    Wouldn’t mind a little more back story on the catastrophic frame failure!

  10. bali countryside tour says:

    article is quite helpful to me, this may be my first trip with the bike since the last time cycling tour in http://www.baligracecycling.com, always update the article. thanks

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