Trail riding along Lake Michigan on a custom Honda XR650
Written by Daniel Peter
It’s been exactly 4 years since my first moto trip around Lake Michigan. In 2011, I set off on a fully prepped DR650, accompanied by a group of friends, and spent 5 days riding forest roads and trails trough Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. It was the best Midwestern riding I had experienced at the time, and I've been itching to get back out there ever since. A few weeks back, seeing I had a few days off, I charged up my GPS, and went for it again.
It was much easier to prep for the trip this time, since I already knew what was waiting for me. I still have a 650 in my stable, though the current bike is a very stripped down XR650, with lowered suspension and a small 2.2-gallon tank. The fuel range was the only thing I was a little nervous about, so I mounted a 1-gallon Rotopax fuel cell to my rack. This would give me about 130 miles between fill-ups.
(Tool wrap by Black Sage Supply)
My gear list was pretty minimal - a tool kit, 2 spare tubes, tire spoons, an air pump, a super light camping setup, some spare clothes, toiletries, and a few granola bars. The only luxury I allowed myself was a tiny stove and a percolator, for my morning coffee ritual. I also wired up a USB charger to my battery, to supply juice for my GPS and phone.
You can absolutely make this trip using a regular printed map, but after having toured a big chunk of the US off-road, I definitely recommend having a GPS. The main reason is the fact that there are many interesting routes others have already taken and recorded. This will save you a lot of time making wrong turns and coming to dead ends. Not to mention some of the trails are not even on the map. I plan most of my trips ahead of time, so I can just hit a button on the departure day, and braap all day, every day. Almost all of the US states now have some kind of an adventure trail, that allows you to cross most, if not all, of the state off-road, avoiding main roads and highways. For Michigan and Wisconsin, I can definitely recommend checking out some of he tracks that Cannonshot has laid down. You can find more info on the ADV Rider forum here. Be prepared for lots of fun rural roads, forest logging roads, some ATV trails, and sand. Lots of sand.
I had to convince my riding partner Jason to order proper MX boots prior to our departure, and after a few times dropping his bike in the sand, he agreed it was a wise decision. On 90% of my trips, I wear Sidi MX boots, padded pants and a jacket with zip-in rain layers, and a full face DS helmet. Better be safe than sorry.
After riding 2 days at a fairly leisurely pace (this was Jason's first big off-road adventure), we decided we wouldn't make the full Lake Michigan round trip, and just ride trails south of the Mackinac Bridge. He had work to do in Chicago, and I planned on surprising my girlfriend for her birthday in Milwaukee. We cruised around the Leelanau Peninsula, hiked the Sleeping Bear Dunes (beautiful place - highly recommended!), and made our way down to Muskegon. The next morning, Jason took off for Chicago, and I boarded the high-speed ferry to Milwaukee. The ferry is not cheap, at $150 for a one-way ticket for a rider and a bike. Although, it's definitely a great experience worth trying at least once. You roll in, strap your bike down, and then you can enjoy the brisk 2.5hr. sail, either from the top deck, or the comfortable cabin, with an Oberon in hand.
If you decide to make a similar trip yourself, you should know that there are plenty of camp sites along the way. Some are busier, with showers and other amenities, and some are very remote, with only a drop box for your night's stay payment and possibly a beautiful lake. Finding gas stations is also pretty easy. I ended up not even using my Rotopax tank a single time.Go out there and have fun!
- You can see more of Daniel's custom Honda XR650 here. -