Detroit Bike City!
After leaving Maryland we headed northwest toward Detroit. As we got closer to Pittsburgh we were all looking for a place to ride. Our route was going to cross the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) at some point, but none of the assorted maps and GPS systems could tell us exactly where—at least not in the time we wanted it sorted out.
Peter steered off the highway to bushwack a path toward the GAP and we headed west. That turned out to be a stroke of good luck. We found a (“Five Star”!) gravel path running along the train tracks into some town. We rode up and down the path and then into the neighboring areas. A few more turns and those roads turned into glorious country back roads without any cars. It was perfect except for the random gunshots from the folks in the country.
Another off the road find was the delicious Indian food that filled us uo and helped us fall asleep in the “best hotel around” in Monroe, MI just south of Detroit. When we woke up, we found the truck stop nearby had pretty tasty omelets, too.
The Detroit stop on the tour was hosted by the Motorless City Bicycle Company. A great new shop in the city (opened in May). When we pulled up the owner, Chris, who also builds bikes under the Motorless City label, was setting up tents and getting the front of the shop ready for a scavenger hunt throughout the city.
Michigan Bike Law Bryan was next to arrive. Always smiling, always happy to be on his bike. What a guy!
Here’s the frame shop:
Teams started assembling, and while we were waiting we toured the shop and the new space it acquired next door, talked bikes, and let folks try out the Bullitts. Once all of the teams were assembled and checked in, Bob, Peter and Timmy were added to teams since we had no local knowledge.
Here’s Timmy’s report.
I was added to a group of guys who had been friends for many years. They were super nice and a lot of fun. I knew I was in with the right crew when I realized they were the only ones that packed delicious beer in their panniers.
Here’s m team going over their (winning) strategy.
Bike Law Amy and her wonderful husband Stephen made the trip up from Tennessee to join the fun. Here they are going over the map:
The rules of the scavenger hunt were simple. Be back in two hours or lose 100 points for the first minute and more for every minute after. Each team got the map, the targets and a list of bonus items to gather. Having the Bullitts was a great addition as we could carry almost anything.
Motorless City sits in the middle of the targeted area for the hunt with collection spots spread out far and wide. My team split up and set a cadre of two riders south into the business end of the city while two others and I headed north an west into what appeared to be a post-apocalyptic suburb.
We rode fast through broken pavement on roads that used to see hundreds of thousands of cars. We saw dozens at best. Six lane intersections could have been crossroads in the far west. It was also mysteriously windy in every direction of travel.
The two guys I was with, John and Dante, were shouting destinations to each other in shorthand as I tried to keep up in between them. Each stop drew out evidence of an incredible sample of life and creative rebirth in the blighted wasteland of this once vibrant area.
Our first stop was a blocks long folk art installation with brightly colored collections repurposed and arranged in empty lots. A quick picture and we were off again. Flying through streets to the abandoned Packard factory for another pic. Along the way we passed piles of broken concrete but few bricks—one of the bonus items I had on my mental list.
After the Packard factory, I found a box; “not broken down” full of discarded Christmas decorations (another bonus item) and threw it in the Bullitt’s bucket. The rest of our time was spent at high speed to places called “Disneyland” (a backyard folk art explosion), “Little Pope” (a miniature model of Pope John Paul II addressing an empty miniature St. Peter’s on a corner next to a Checker’s).
We grabbed six rolls of toilet paper, five bolts, a gas station sandwich, a Detroit souvenir (Tiger’s hat with faux fur ear flaps attached), and set off for more pics on the far west edge of the city. We snapped at entrances to buildings and with cops and parade goers. Bought water on the side of the road and just kept humping it.
Before we checked in we managed to grab an elusive brick, a huge piece of Styrofoam, and some discarded weave. We rolled back into the shop with a few minutes to spare.
Tired and thirsty we pretty well attacked the food and beer spread and sat out under the tents to share stories and ride bikes around the empty market area.
There was tons of energy in the city and pride and excitement for living there it was hard to reconcile with what you were seeing as far as its desolate nature so close to the downtown.
But it was a hell of a place to ride a bike. I would love to do it again.
Here I am with the winning team:
Here’s Bob’s report.
It seems everyone has an image of Detroit. Just ask someone about the Motor City and you will hear a range of responses that will invariably include phrases like “urban blight’ and “dying city.”
I had not been to the state since competing in the Tour of Michigan over 20 years ago and had my own expectations of what to expect. Our adventure would start at a unique fabrication/retail bike shop situated in a perfect setting to see for ourselves the state of the Motor City.
The shop, Motorless City Bicycle Company, was hosting a scavenger hunt by bike. Along with Bikelaw tourmates, Peter and Timmy, I was assigned to a team and handed a map of the city with markings denoting our sought after treasures. There was also a list of iconic locations and our assignment was to snap a photo of a teammate, with bike, to provide proof of arriving at the destination.
My team consisted of Dave a semi-retired bike club president and life-long resident of Detroit, and Rich, a cargo bike fabricator and part time pedicabbie. These guys knew the city and, on my Bikelaw cargo bike, I jumped on their draft headed into the heart of the city.
The plan was for Dave and Rich to pick our target while I kept an eye out for scavenger bonus points which included things like a lone discarded brick (easy) or a bike in the People Mover (not so easy). The Tigers were playing a home game and there were various festivals and street parties in full swing; in other words, the people of the city were outside playing on the last day of summer, just like us!
The few drivers we encountered were driving slowly and were friendly and seemed happy to share the road. Dave and Rich were eager to show off all the new infrastructure available to bikers and we were able to ride everywhere with ease. The historic evacuation of the city had opened up opportunities for design other bike planning efforts could only dream of. And it wasn’t just the great riding but the burgeoning growth of appealing inner city revival that struck me.
This city is an entrepreneurial dream for a millennial who wants a big challenge but has an equally big vision for what is possible. Like small shoots arising from the fecund decay of last years crop a thousand beautiful flowers will appear like the Motorless city bike shop.The fact that the fallow fields are being tilled by bike makes me smile.
Here’s Peter, back from an after hunt beer run:
I/Peter was not on the winning team, but I saw Detroit up close, and loved it. Filled with characters, to say the least. This fellow (with ankle monitoring bracelet) was looking for a lawyer:
I met this union man on Labor Day smoking a cigar and drinking a beer on a bar patio. He stopped me to get a closer look at my cargo bike:
The Tigers were playing. Stadium in the heart of downtown.
This is the best image of my hunt. The old Michigan Theatre, now a parking garage:
Street art everywhere:
And back at the Motorless City base, they were spinning vinyl:
I love this place! And will be back.
And Bryan got a Bullitt. He’s happy! First two photos by Wade Burch.