Whether you're interested in the "Family Ride," a 16-mile adventure, or you're up for the challenge of the 100-mile "Tonka Century," Tour de Tonka, the annual bicycle event is back for 2021.

After a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Tour de Tonka, or "Minnesota's Ride," returns for year No. 16. From 819 riders in the inaugural year in 2006 to 3,500 riders annually, the west metro community staple is on course for Aug. 7, 2021.

"Bicycle riders participate in Tour de Tonka because it is pure fun," said Tim Litfin, Tour de Tonka director. "All ages and all abilities, from families and recreational bicyclists to cycling teams and serious athletes, can successfully ride and enjoy the beautiful scenery and be part of this highly organized event."

Starting locations are Minnetonka High School (16-, 30-, 36-, 42-mile rides), Minnetonka Community Education Center (62-, 71-mile rides) and Clear Springs Elementary (100-mile ride).

Routes include the "Road Trip" around Lake Minnetonka through Excelsior, Mound, Orono, and Wayzata, and the "Hills and Thrills" through Orono, Watertown, Waconia and Chaska.

"I officiate high school sports and when we were able to have basketball games in January, I was asked the question what it felt to have games going again and I said I felt great for the kids. My first reaction with Tour de Tonka is I'm happy for our bike riders. I'm happy for our volunteers, who come from all across the metro to be a part of this. They all have this share of love for all of the events, and Tour de Tonka. This is awesome. We might not have as much time for planning, but our staff, we're going to get it done," Liftin said.

Liftin called assistant Alexis Beckman his "right-hand brain" for course design. One of the annual draws of the ride is the planning and top-notch coordination.

"We've already had two events, a Tonka Trail Trot and youth triathlon. People have been biting, really chomping at the bit. They feel good about being there. Everyone is so engaged in everything. They feel like they missed out on so much last year and they're excited to have things returning this year," Liftin said.

BENEFITING THE COMMUNITY

Tour de Tonka partners with the ICA Food Shelf to give participants an opportunity to make an impact with their ride. A portion of each rider’s registration fee is donated to the ICA, which serves those in need in Hopkins, Minnetonka, Excelsior, Shorewood, Deephaven, Greenwood and Woodland.

Since 2006, Tour de Tonka has raised more than $75,000 to support the ICA. Riders can also donate money or non-perishable food items on or before the day of the ride. Remaining proceeds support Minnetonka Community Youth Education and Early Childhood Programs.

"They have been partners since day one. Before we had the first event, I reached out to them and they have been on board every since. Their buying power is so much greater than one dollar is like $10 to them. That $75,000 is suddenly $750,000 and now that number looks a lot larger," Liftin said.

The concept for the Tour de Tonka was drawn out on a napkin by Liftin in 2005.

"Now, we need bigger and more napkins. I wanted to start an event, and running events are everywhere. They're much more common. I wanted some kind of marquee event, and there weren't many cycling races when I designed it in 2005," said Liftin, who figures he rides 1,000 miles a year.

"My goal has always been to make it the best ride possible, and we do that because we focus on the participant. We focus on the experience of each rider."

Events