The Tour da Yoop, Eh didn’t begin as an organized group bike ride around the U.P.
Triathlete James Studinger simply wanted to pedal his bike around the peninsula to promote the U.P. as a cycling destination and to encourage other riders to bring their bikes across the bridge with them. He also wanted to let people know how safe it was to cycle along the peninsula’s extensive network of less-traveled roads.
James Studinger, a native of Manistique, founded the annual ride.
“My intention was to showcase all the safe biking up there,” says Studinger, who grew up in Manistique and returned frequently to his hometown to train for triathlons. “I’m always looking for safe ways to do things … I thought if I rode around the U.P., I could get some attention for the peninsula … I biked all over the place and hardly saw anybody.”
Before beginning that inaugural trek around the U.P. in 2018, Studinger posted something about his lofty plans on Facebook. That post caught people’s attention; a few buddies and several strangers joined him, most riding for just a few days.
Studinger, however, was the sole rider to complete the 1,200-mile course he had mapped out – a circuit route along the perimeter of the U.P. That distance, by the way, is about the same from Detroit to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Although he didn’t intend to make the ride a recurring event, people kept asking him, “Are you going to do this again?”
He did. And today, the Tour da Yoop, Eh is an annual event, drawing a few dozen riders from all over the United States and beyond. The 10-day ride, which kicks off Friday, July 28, has evolved into a fundraiser for U.P. families who have children dealing with cancer; to date, the ride has raised more than $100,000 for charitable organizations, Studinger says.
“My intention was to find an event company that does this for a living to take over – I thought they could do a better job,” says Studinger, a financial planner who lives in Bloomfield. “I did start working with different people but the culture in the U.P. is different. If you’re not from there, it’s hard to understand. The event managers were operating too much like a business … I’ve learned to put an event together. It’s kicking-*** now.”
A rider finds time alone during last year's Tour da Yoop, Eh.
The Tour da Yoop begins and ends in Manistique and remains about 1,200 miles, believed to be the longest loop event route in the country. From Manistique, the route goes clockwise around the U.P., with each day tallying about 120 miles. The ride is divided into 10 sections. Riders can choose one or multiple sections or the entire course.
Riders who complete the length of the circuit earn a coveted plaid jersey, something Studinger created that first year to draw attention to his efforts. Riders can also complete the course in successive years, also earning a plaid jersey. Today, there are various plaids to honor those who “complete the journey” in various fashions.
The ride, of course, requires considerable planning. Studinger works with the Michigan Department of Transportation, county road commissions and towns in planning the route and making route improvements. He has hired Gary Perala, a member of the U.P. Lions Serve, to help coordinate the event. “You need someone in the U.P. to help with us,” Studinger says.
Towns across the U.P. have also embraced the event, welcoming riders, hosting parties and providing police escorts. Bike shops stay open later to accommodate the mechanical needs of cyclists. Houghton, for example, typically serves as a leg of the tour in some fashion -- and members of its robust cycling community join part of the ride. The community also rallies cyclists at the start of their leg in Houghton and police escort riders across the lift bridge.
The annual bike ride begins and ends in Manistique."It is a great way for us to show others who we are and what we are about," says Eric Waara, Houghton city manager who has led riders across the bridge. "I often finish telling someone about something great about (Houghton) and finish ... and some of us get to live here.”
Organized group bike rides are held across the United States and in Michigan, but "there's really nothing else like this in the country,” Studinger says.
"Most rides take you from point to point … we’re riding along Lake Michigan and along Lake Superior, following the perimeter of the U.P. When it comes to the U.P., everyone thinks of waterfalls, forests, Northern Lights, beaches .. but the U.P. is also thousands of miles of road with hardly any cars at all.”
But Studinger, as well as ride veterans, will tell you the Tour da Yoop is about more than traffic-free roads and scenery.
“It’s a physical and mental challenge,” says Dan Dalquist, who lives outside Houghton and joined Studinger on that initial ride. He’s participated ever since then and now helps with planning. “Getting on a bike and riding 120 miles in a day is both a physical and mental event. You get tired and sore. The road seems to go on forever and there are always hills. But when you’re out there, you get tough and you meet that challenge.”
A stop along the 1,200-mile route.
Reaching the finish line brings bragging rights: the plaid jersey. “You wear it proudly because it’s something you’ve earned,” says Dalquist, a retired financial advisor, noting riders also face challenging vertical climbs during the ride, ranging from 2,000 to 4,500 feet. “I’m still here to talk about it.”
One of the lasting benefits is the friendships built over miles of riding together.
Darin and Cristy Brink are among the returning riders this year. The St. Paul, Minnesota, couple joined the tour in 2021 after discovering the organized ride on Google. Darin finished the circuit that year to earn a plaid jersey. Cristy Brink fell short, becoming ill on the trek, but she returned the following year to finish the days she missed, earning her plaid jersey.
Cristy Brink says she and her husband are returning this year because they not only love riding the roads of the U.P., but find local residents and riders “super friendly.”
“We loved the people we met,” says Cristy, who teaches English as a second language to adult immigrants. “We loved the people who do the riding. You get to become friends pretty fast when you have nothing to do but talk when you’re on your bike.”
The couple is also impressed with ride’s partnership with U.P. Lions Serve.
“My husband is a family practice doctor. He knows the challenges these families face,” Cristy says. “We want to promote helping these families as much as we can. You get to meet these families and hear what it’s like for them. It means a lot to us.”
It’s the interaction with others, the camaraderie, the sense of community that develops along the ride that resonates with most riders, Studinger says. Some interactions are hard to forget. Many meet the challenges of the ride; others struggle.
He recalls a woman rider last year who brought the wrong type of bike, rode slowly and finished last each day. Within a few days, other riders, even those among the fastest, began joining her, encouraging her journey. She cried most days -- tears of joy and accomplishment and in gratitude for the riders who were helping her.
“The amount of human kindness in supporting each other is amazing,” he says. “You don’t see cars all day long and sometimes you see animals – a moose, wolves – and breathtaking beauty but each year, it’s the human factor riders remember most.”