One day every fall, the streets and trails of Three Oaks are filled with chrome-covered wheels whizzing through town, as bikers of all ages participate in one of the biggest century events in the Midwest.
The Apple Cider Century is an annual one-day bicycle tour around Three Oaks, sponsored by the Three Oaks Spokes Bicycle Club. The trails move through the orchards, forests and wine country throughout the area. Now, in its 45th year, the ride is considered a tradition for residents of Michiana and beyond, bringing in more than 5,000 riders annually.
The ride is always hosted on the last Sunday in September. Registration costs vary based on the date registered and the event is free for children 12 and under.
“This is a really fun ride that we look forward to every year,” says Bryan Volstorf, founder, executive director and president of the Three Oaks Spokes Bicycle Club. “It’s something that most everyone can do to have fun and be active.”
The ride is designed to accommodate riders of all skill levels, boasting seven routes of 15, 25, 37, 50, 62, 75 or 100 miles, respectively.
“Our 15 and 25 routes are made for our families and beginners,” Bryan says. “Our 37 and 50 takes care of our intermediates. The 62-, 75- and 100-mile routes are for our most serious riders.”
The universality and low-impact workout of cycling is part of what drew him into the sport and why he encourages the sport to others through the Apple Cider Century.
“We have riders in their 60s and 70s who have ridden for a long time because biking doesn’t bang up your knees the way running does,” Bryan says. “We make the ride free for [children] 12 years old and under, so parents can introduce their kids to the sport early. Biking is something that can keep you healthy for a long time.”
In addition to encouraging a healthy lifestyle, Bryan says the century is a love letter and a tribute to Three Oaks and southwest Michigan, which is evident from the name of the ride itself.
“I came up with the name just laying on the living room floor testing out different names. And because we are in southwest Michigan, where the orchards and vineyards are, and it was September, I came up with the name Apple Cider Century,” Bryan recalls from his memories of the fall of 1974. “It just sort of rolled off my tongue, and the rest of the members [of the Three Oaks Spokes Bicycle Club] agreed.”
The Apple Cider Century has received a great deal of support from the local community, and the bike club works with nonprofits to put on the century ride, Bryan says. Part of the support comes from the fact that the ride brings in tourism dollars to the community and allows riders to see the beauty of southwest Michigan, he adds.
“[The ride] helps the local economy here and keeps us afloat,” Bryan says. “I think it works really well for everyone.”
As the Apple Cider Century continues to inch toward its 50th anniversary in Three Oaks, Bryan says he hopes people will continue to promote healthy living by participating in the ride so that it can continue even after he retires.
“It’s a great event that I’m proud to have been a part of for so many years,” he says. “It’s something of a tradition around here.”
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