A few weeks ago, the streets of West Michigan were filled with 300-plus tandem bikes for the Midwest Tandem Rally (MTR), a four-day fun, social tandem bicycling event held every Labor Day weekend. 

The largest tandem rally in North America, the MTR has been in existence since 1976, rotating annually between 10 states in the Midwest and hosted by a local tandem club.  In 2018, the MUTS (Michigan United Tandem Society) chose Grand Rapids as our location for the 43rd MTR (also previously in Grand Rapids in 2005 and 1987).  

In addition to providing a fun and social experience, our group’s goal was to introduce tandem riding to others to join in the fun and make local residents aware that 300-plus bikes will be on the road to keep our cyclists safe.

The 2018 Midwest Tandem Rally was wildly successful at many levels, as tandems, triples, uprights, recumbents, trikes, and single bikes attended.  Some successes:

  • We hosted 621 registrants participating in 315 tandem teams from 24 states plus Ontario Canada – our highest attendance since 2013.
  • Of the registrants, more than 120 had never attended a Midwest Tandem Rally.  We hoped we impressed them enough to come again!
  • The event generated approximately $614,000 in economic impact plus 662 hotel nights booked at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. 
  • Michigan is one of only four Midwest states to host the event six times since its inception in 1976 (in addition to Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin).
  • We raised money for the West Michigan Trails and Greenways Coalition.

A key part of the success of the 43rd Midwest Tandem Rally came down to the location. When looking for the 2018 MTR location, we chose Grand Rapids for several reasons. 

Our 2005 attendees loved Grand Rapids. 

When we asked our 2005 participants if they would come back, we received overwhelming "Yes" responses.  Many of our 2005 key organizers also were still available.  We found our files, refreshed our memories, and started planning. 

Grand Rapids has the right local ingredients.

The keys to a successful Midwest Tandem Rally are a great hotel, great food, great volunteers and great cycling routes.  Grand Rapids, West Michigan, and the MUTS have all these qualities. We partnered with the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel as our host hotel plus location for registration and afternoon educational seminars.  The DeVos Center provided indoor bicycle storage for participants. As for great food, our Friday night ice cream ride should be one indication of the culinary experiences our participants discovered!  Our participants also raved about tasty lunches, cookies, and pie from Grand Traverse Pie Company.  For volunteers, we looked no farther than our wonderful MUTS team members whose leadership and help were invaluable.  As for cycling routes, see the last point.

We received assistance from the WMSC and City of Grand Rapids Special Events office. 

We discovered both of these organizations since hosting the event in 2005 – and what a difference these groups made for us!  The West Michigan Sports Commission (WMSC) helped us in multiple areas – creating a presentation for us to promote Grand Rapids at MTR 2017; connecting us with the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and DeVos Place for our bike storage; creating a press release and providing media outreach to promote MTR, tandeming, and awareness of bicycles on the road; providing a PA system, etc.  We are truly grateful for WMSC's help and support to host a successful and safe event! Grand Rapids’ Office of Special Events also helped us coordinate police support, street closings, barriers required and placement, permits, insurance, and parking. 

Proximity to excellent cycling routes and local mapping assistance. 

Not only does Grand Rapids have bicycle lanes and bike-friendly routes, West Michigan is a great region for tandem riding, with easy access to less populous roads. Within only a few miles from downtown Grand Rapids, you can be riding on rural roads that are excellent for cycling. We led our participants to a variety of lovely destinations daily, from Richardson-Sowerby Park in Rockford, to Allendale Community Park, to even Lake Michigan at Kouw Park in Port Sheldon Township. And from a statewide perspective, Michigan is a safer place to ride in general with bike-friendly state laws like the recently passed three-foot safe passing law.  We also are thankful to REGIS (Regional Geographic Information System), part of the Grand Valley Metropolitan Council, for creating our excellent route maps that were a great help to our registrants!

We finished the event strong, closing on a weekend of great cycling, fellowship, fun and food. And while our event has come to a close, we continue to receive positive comments from participants, and we are proud that we could show off West Michigan to tandem riders from across the country. We hope that we can bring back the Midwest Tandem Rally to West Michigan again in the future!

For those interested in learning more about tandem riding or wishing to join a local riding group, contact the Michigan United Tandem Society.


Diana Hugo
Guest Blogger
Diana Hugo was co-chair of the 43rd Midwest Tandem Rally held in Grand Rapids Aug. 31 to Sept. 3. She is a 27-year tandem cyclist and member of the Michigan United Tandem Society (MUTS).

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