Over 1,100 bicyclists depart MSU for annual DALMAC ride
This week, more than 1,100 people are taking off from the Michigan State University Pavilion on bicycles heading north.
The 51st DALMAC is underway. DALMAC is the “Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinac,” an annual event that invites riders from across the U.S. and Canada to share the journey and enjoy Michigan’s scenic landscape.
The closest thing Michigan has to its own Tour de France started with a dare.
In 1970, Dick Allen was a thirty-something state lawmaker with a dream.
An avid bicyclist, Allen proposed building a recreational bike system that could one day spread to other Great Lakes states.
American roads weren’t very bike-friendly in those days, and neither were Allen’s colleagues.
The bill failed.
But when Allen told a fellow lawmaker that he was going to ride his bike to the Mackinac Bridge, he was met with a sneer.
Challenge accepted…and accomplished. Today, Dick Allen’s feat has been honored by countless thousands who’ve followed in his tracks.
DALMAC Director Steve Leiby says it’s a social event that brings all types of people together.
“It’s the fun of riding, and it’s more fun to ride with your friends or to meet friends on the road than to ride by yourself,” Leiby said. “I’ve done both. You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to do it. If you look around, the riders are in all different shapes, sizes and ages.”
Unlike the Tour de France, DALMAC is not a race.
Riders can travel either four or five days along two different routes. Leiby says the path generally follows county roads rather than busy highways.
“The two west routes go over towards Traverse City; the west riders that are leaving today will be spending Friday night in Elk Rapids and Saturday night in Petoskey,” he said. “It’s a little more scenic and more enjoyable place to ride.”
This is Mari Gorzenski’s first DALMAC ride. She’s looking forward to the sights along the way, but she’s also got her game face on.
“It’s a really intimidating ride for me. But yeah, I’m up for the challenge today,” Gorzenski said. “It’ll be exciting today to see all these different places from the road at a slower pace than just driving past. So, I definitely will be able to enjoy the scenery more.”
It’s Howard Weaver’s first trek, too.
His bike is adorned with thick offroad tires and an electric battery that helps with long-distance pedaling.
“It weighs 75 pounds with the battery. If you find that you can no longer ride a road bike at speeds you want to, this is great. You don’t have to worry about getting stuck. I’m ready to go. Even if it turns to gravel, I’m ready. If it turns to snow, I’m good to go.”
There’s plenty of veterans along the road, too.
Ron Smith made his first DALMAC in 1991, and by his account has done it seven or eight times.
A few years ago, at age 61, Smith took on a much bigger challenge. He rode from his home in Marshall to Copper Harbor and back. 1,400 miles in 17 days.
One particular moment stands out in his mind.
“I tried to go too fast down a hill one time, so I was doing 66 (miles per hour) down a hill and I broke three spokes and spun a bearing in my front wheel and just about went over the edge,” Smith said. “I'd never drive that fast again! Thirty is like my top speed. When I go down hills, I use brakes now.”
For many, the Dick Allen Lansing to Mackinac bicycle tour is tightly woven into the Mitten State's identity.
I met my wife on DALMAC. ... It’s been a major event, it gets lots of people out riding.DALMAC Director Steve Leiby
Director Steve Leiby has seen strong bonds forged on many up north adventures.
“I met my wife on DALMAC. I’m not the only one that met a spouse on DALMAC,” Leiby said. “So, it’s been a major event, it gets lots of people out riding. If you go around town, you’ll find lots of people that have ridden once or twice. Sometimes it’s been 20 or 30 times. So, we have a really loyal ridership.”
Dick Allen passed away in December 2021 at the age of 88, just long enough to see the golden anniversary of the cultural touchstone that bears his name.
The five-day riders who left East Lansing on Wednesday and the four-day bikers who’ll leave on Thursday will finish their tour Sunday in Mackinac City.