The Chainlink

Some of you may know that Rob and I are moving to Southwestern Michigan to a town called Dowagiac,  actually about 8 miles outside of town. I checked the Walking Score and it is 0, the only cyclists I have seen have been a few tourers and some people that most likely lost their driver's licenses due to DUI (not kidding). The town's population is about 5,000 spread out over a pretty vast rural area. Although that may sound like a large population considering some small towns, it is still a huge difference from Chicago.  I still intend to try cycling to work once I get a job there, but I was wondering if it sounds feasible to try to start a casual cycling club out in the boonies? The roads there are smooth, kind of hilly and are beautiful to ride, and a plus is our house is on a small lake, which I used to ride around when I was a kid. Also, no stop signs for miles and miles in most places, albeit there is barely a shoulder on the roads and the cars drive drive pretty fast. 

I guess I am just wondering where to begin? I checked the internet and the nearest cycling club is pretty far away in a place called Three Oaks, but at least there is one somewhere so I believe it is possible. If we were to start our own, does anyone know what to expect, how to gain members, or how to go about spreading the word? There is internet access, although it is somewhat limited, but would just posting flyers around town in shops and grocery stores sound like a good way to get some cyclist-minded people together?  Oh, also, we have yet to see a bike shop, unless you count the one house with a sign by the side of the road that read "Gud Bikes 4 Sale", so it is good Rob & I know at least some basic maintenance.

We are truly going to miss the Chainlink and everyone we have met over the past few years. This year has been hard with Rob's ankle injury and now our emergency move to help care for my family, and we haven't been able to get out and mingle like we have in the past.  I'd love to develop some type of camaraderie in our new home, though, for those days where we just want to be with other strange and wonderful people :) 

And just to give you an idea of how this area is laid out, the nearest grocery store is about 8-10 miles away, but the nearest bar is about a mile away...I thought about starting a Southwestern Michigan Mauraders Chapter, although without streetlights on the majority of the roads, that might be a risky proposition- but I bet it would be fun as long as no one fell into a ditch or got eaten by a giant raccoon or gored by a deer.

Also, if anyone is planning on traveling in or around Southwestern Michigan, let us know, especially if you are touring and want a nice little place to stop along the way- I think we'll have a spare bedroom handy for fellow cyclists or at least a comfy couch to rest on.  And, if there are any other Chainlinkers out there that just happen to be in Southwestern Michigan, drop us a line! 

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Melanie - I've never started a bike club, but I think starting by calling the Three Oaks Club would be a good idea.  They may some good advice for you and know other cyclists like you in the town.

- from there possibly : create a website.  Can we done easily on weebly. create a flier and post at town hall or online.  contact neighbors.  

I agreed actually.  Maybe you need to build the community around it first.  If most folks don't already bike, you may have to start slow.  You could start with a bike tune up session.  Everyone bring your rusty bikes to one place and we will all work on them.  


Chris C said:

Don't start a bike club.  Instead organize social activities that employ a bicycle.  Working with local businesses help.

- ice cream / milkshake / pie social rides

- halloween trick-or-treating by bike

- decorated bike team in the 4th of July parade

- pub crawl (destined to be a huge hit with your biking-DUI crowd)

- monthly midnight rides during the summer

- friday fish fry ride to neighboring town(s)

- charity rides (MS, Diabetes, etc.)

Your perspective on distances will change after you've lived in a small town for a while.  My best cycling friends live 10 - 20 miles away from me.   By rural standards, you're going to be pretty close to Michigan City and South Bend, IN and St. Joseph, MI.  There's nothing wrong with starting a new club, but the Michiana Bicylce Association (mbabike.com) or St. Joseph Bike Club (stjoebikeclub.org) is where I'd look first to find other riders in the area.   

This is why I love you guys! Thanks for the great suggestions.  We will be working hard on getting settled in and familiarizing ourselves with the local population, but once we are, we can actually find time to organize some events and activities.  

I agree with not starting a bike club- especially since I am not a bike-club type of person, but rather love the social events, so that makes a lot more sense to me. I would love to start some type of cycling community and get people out and about on bikes. There is some gorgeous scenery out there to be taken advantage of. As for midnight rides, I would probably have to gather up some bike lights and reflective tape/vests and order them in bulk as incentives- it is pitch black out there, but still gorgeous, and as long as I can help people gear up, maybe they will see that night riding can be safely accomplished. 

Thank you & I'll keep you updated on any local events we may plan. This whole thing may be fun after all :) 

I agree with you there, mark. When I was a kid/young teen living in Michigan, I used to cycle to my best friend's house, who lived a about 10 miles away, and then we'd cycle to the ice cream shop in town (another 8 miles) and I didn't have a problem and at the time didn't think it was all that long of a distance to cycle. Southbend is only about a 40 minute drive from where we are, maybe about 25 miles so not too bad and Michigan City is still a bit of a haul at about 50 miles, but definitely a doable road trip. Thanks for the links, btw.  

mark stetson said:

Your perspective on distances will change after you've lived in a small town for a while.  My best cycling friends live 10 - 20 miles away from me.   By rural standards, you're going to be pretty close to Michigan City and South Bend, IN and St. Joseph, MI.  There's nothing wrong with starting a new club, but the Michiana Bicylce Association (mbabike.com) or St. Joseph Bike Club (stjoebikeclub.org) is where I'd look first to find other riders in the area.   

Step one:  Pick up a set of nice bright headlights and rear lights!

Definitely worse places to live.  I got to know Michigan doing the Michigander ride a bunch of years and I think almost as important as the distance to the next grocery store is the distance to the next bakery that sells fresh-baked dutch apple pie.

I am from a town of 5000.  My cousin is an avid cyclist and has started a very popular cycling club out there.  They hold weekly time trials, do all kinds of training rides and put on races.  It's absolutely feasible if you want to.

I think you'll be surprised by how many cyclists you'll find out on weekend mornings.  St Joseph, Berrien Springs, and Niles have quite a few riders out throughout the warm months.  I often ride out of Union Pier with a friend, usually to a brewery in Kalamazoo, LaPorte, or South Haven.

The really nice part is that all the riders are social; just talk to people and its easy to find small group rides that go out regularly, or make the connections to start your own.  Enjoy the good roads with low traffic and HILLS! I'm jealous.

and now our emergency move to help care for my family

I would like to nominate you for Awesome Chainlinker(s) of the month. Bravo!

In other "it won't be so bad" news, Indiana finally passed a no smoking ordinance so having a few brews at the Shoreline Brewery (53 miles) will no longer be such a gross experience.

People will still be allowed to smoke in taverns, but Shoreline, I hope, is pretty clearly not a tavern.

I'm curious to know what town you're talking about.  Sounds like a pretty active club for a town that size.  I feel lucky if I can get 4 or 5 riders together for a group ride. 

Katie said:

I am from a town of 5000.  My cousin is an avid cyclist and has started a very popular cycling club out there.  They hold weekly time trials, do all kinds of training rides and put on races.  It's absolutely feasible if you want to.

Thanks for the kind words, Tony :) 

The town of Dowagiac isn't that bad at all, please don't misunderstand me about that- it really is a beautiful place where everything moves at a much slower and less hectic pace.  I did grow up there so it is not a foreign land to me, but I left due to certain reasons 20 some years ago when I was 18, and came to live in Chicago.  Totally different worlds. I also worry that the same reasons may make it hard to go back to, but again, family comes first.  They need me and Rob there permanently as mom and grandma can't really take care of themselves or their house alone. I am loathe to put any loved one in a nursing home when they have a paid for home to live out the rest of their days in and just need assistance and care to do it. BTW, Rob is an awesome caregiver as he is the one staying there while I wrap things up here in Chicago.

There are many things Google can't tell you about a smaller town, one of which is that while it is a great place to vacation and visit, sometimes it isn't such a great place to live. Just like everywhere right now, there is a huge lack of jobs, unemployment is high and many are on state assistance. Also, almost everyone that I have talked to  who has moved back to Dowagiac after living somewhere else has asked me "why are you moving back here? If I could do it over again, I would never have moved back".  These are almost exact quotes from about 5 different people- so I guess that has put me on edge as far as the moving back goes. But I don't regret our decision to do it, and I am looking forward to starting fresh in my old hometown. 

Overall, I want to make this a positive experience and would like us to feel a part of the community and actual add to the community. I would like to integrate cycling in our everyday lifestyle as I did here in Chicago.  I would love to see more cyclists on the roads and using a bike for everyday transportation and commuting, although I have a feeling that it will be a slow process as everyone is extremely car-dependent there.  I love the Chainlink because people have such great ideas about how to do just that. 

Thank you everyone for your advice and suggestions. 

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