Mackinac Island: Bicycle capital of the world

The Netherlands is the so-called bicycle capital of the world, with upwards of 20 million bicycles for a population of 17 million. That’s more than one bike for every person.

By comparison, in the United States there’s only one bike for every three people.

But there are some places in the USA, like Mackinac Island, where bikes are more prominent. Way more prominent than even in The Netherlands. On Mackinac, there are more than 170 bikes for every year-round resident!

That’s right. The island has a population of less than 500 and yet licenses 85,000 bicycles each year.

The vast majority of those bike licenses are for visitors who flock to the island in droves from April through October. They bring their own bicycles because motor vehicles are banned on Mackinac.

And even if cars were allowed, many people would bring bikes anyway because Mackinac has more than 70 miles of natural and paved trails around the perimeter and through the interior of the island. That’s the equivalent of more than 1,200 football fields placed end to end.

Mackinac has so many bikes because it’s just an awesome place to go for a ride. More than 80 percent of the island is state park land that’s free for you to roam, with terrain ranging from flat to steep, 300-foot bluff climbs. The island is small enough that you can pedal around it at a leisurely pace in an hour and a half. Yet, it’s big enough that you can take several rides during your stay and explore something different every time.

On a single half-day adventure, you can ride by iconic Mackinac sites including the Grand Hotel, Governor’s Residence, Skull Cave, Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf, the island’s old cemeteries, Fort Mackinac and more. Along the way you’ll come across many incredible vantage points for stunning photos of the island and the water around it.

Since you can’t drive to Mackinac, almost everybody gets here by ferry. You can bring your own bike on either of the two ferry companies that serve the island for an $11 round-trip fee, in addition to the $26 per-adult ferry fee. (You can get a $2 discount on ferry tickets by buying them online at either Star Line or Shepler’s.)

Even if you don’t bring your own bike, you can still pedal around Mackinac by renting any of nearly 1,500 commercially-licensed bicycles available on the island. You can get a single-speed bike, a 10-speed bike or something in between, a mountain bike or a beach cruiser, a fat-tire bike or a tandem. There are bikes available for kids, too, as well as Burley carts, tagalongs and child carriers for little tykes.

There are several bike rental shops on Mackinac, and each one has its own rates and rules. But you can generally rent a bike for $6 to $12 an hour, with discounts for half-day or full-day rentals.

Whether you’re bringing your own bike or renting one on the island, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Stay to the right – Just as if you were driving a car – which, of course, you can’t on Mackinac – you should pedal your bike on the right side of the road.

Watch for horses – Don’t worry about cars. But be prepared for busy downtown streets full of bikers, pedestrians and horses. Horses don’t stop quickly, so be cautious!

Park in the right place – If you park your bike on the street, keep it within the white line. Otherwise, look for designated off-street parking areas. Burleys, tandems or bikes without kick stands must use off-street parking, and bikes should never be parked on a sidewalk or locked to a fixed object.