Detroit has long been the Motor City, the hub of transportation, the city of wheels. But according to artist David Byrne (best known as the creative force behind the Talking Heads), it’s also one of the great biking cities in the world. Yet with so much hype about transportation, the transformation to a biker-friendly city is just now taking hold.
Detroit has seen many changes in recent years, and its residents are used to shifting gears — we know how to move forward, to get from point A to point B. We’ve taken a lot of detours lately, and now it’s time for us to be rerouted.
With its ever-expanding miles of bike lanes (55 at last count), the city’s bike scene is quickly emerging with new metropolitan bike trails, park trails, city bike tours, and fresh businesses that incorporate rentals and information on navigating and touring the city. With all this happening, Detroit is really cruisin.’
Cycling the City
If you’re cycling the city for the first time, there’s no better place to start than the Dequindre Cut Greenway. The below-grade pathway, formerly part of the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, has been converted into a scenic greenway for bicycling. The path, which begins near Eastern Market at Gratiot west of St. Aubin, in the shadow of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, runs northwest/southeast and continues at 25 feet beneath grade until it enters the riverfront area just south of Jefferson.
Currently, the cut consists of a paved path with separate lanes for both walkers and cyclists. No cars are allowed, so it’s especially safe for children. Bicyclists and pedestrians can access the cut at Woodbridge Street, Lafayette Street, and Gratiot Avenue. And wherever you choose to enter, you can enjoy the graffiti that’s been intentionally left in place — artists are encouraged to continue to use the walls as canvas.
Another city trail good for leisurely rides can be found along the Detroit riverfront, which has been artfully redeveloped by the nonprofit Detroit Riverfront Conservancy (detroitriverfront.org) since 2003. The Conservancy has provided public access to approximately three of its 5.5 miles of riverfront, stretching from the Renaissance Center to just east of the Belle Isle bridge. The riverfront now consists of plazas, parks, green space, and pavilions. Since the riverfront is a prime location for locals and tourists alike, the folks at Wheelhouse Detroit (wheelhousedetroit.com) have made it even easier to bike the boardwalk, offering rentals, tours, and repairs.
Just north of downtown is the city’s cultural and medical center, all of which may soon be connected by the Midtown Loop. Already in progress, the Midtown Loop is a great new development for students and professionals who bike the Midtown area between Wayne State University, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Detroit Medical Center. The loop is a planned 1.8-mile, shared-use trail that will follow existing streets, including Kirby, John R, Canfield, and Cass, with Warren Avenue functioning as the main connector. The loop aims to accommodate pedestrians, as well as cyclists. And amenities such as bike racks, lockers, dog and human drinking fountains, benches, and LED-lit paths would make the greenway a safe and popular route.
Bike Rentals, Shops, and Repairs
If you’re just looking to rent a bike for the day, or if you want to give a tandem a try, here’s a list of shops in metro Detroit that provide rentals, sell bikes, and offer tune-ups for grandma’s old Schwinn that you might not otherwise be able to sell on Craigslist:
Hub of Detroit
Hub of Detroit (thehubofdetroit.org), a full-service bicycle shop and co-op in located in Midtown on Cass Avenue, uses 100 percent of its proceeds to benefit Back Alley Bikes, a nonprofit bike shop and community center that provides cycling education and services focusing on youth development, sustainable practices, and community access.
Bikes, Blades, & Boards
Bikes, Blades, & Boards, better known as B3 (bikesbladesandboards.com), sells and services bicycles and accessories, including products from Specialized, Cannondale, Giant, Haro, and Moots. The staff is expertly trained in helping people find the right bike, as they carry road, mountain, recreation, hybrid, and commuting models.
American Cycle and Fitness
American Cycle and Fitness (americancycleandfitness.com), with seven different locations in metro Detroit, is one of the most well-respected and convenient places to buy a bike. They carry a wide-range of models, and the staff is professionally trained and certified to work on all bikes, not just the ones they sell. Estimates are always free, and walk-ins are welcome.
Fender Bender (fenderbenderdetroit.wordpress.com), a bicycle collective for biking advocates and mechanics, provides a bike shop and resource space primarily for women, transgender, and queer bike enthusiasts in Detroit. They offer mechanic training programs, safety instructions for street riding, and group rides.
Downtown Ferndale Bike Shop
Downtown Ferndale Bike Shop (downtownferndalebikeshop.com), owned and operated by bike enthusiast and skilled mechanic Jon Hughes, carries a full line of biking products and offers comprehensive repair services. They also offer group rides and sponsor local events. If there’s anyone to talk to about being a part of a biking community, it’s Jon. So next time you want to hear a good story, just pop into the shop. It’ll be well worth it.
D&D Bicycles and Hockey
D&D Bicycles and Hockey (ddbikes.com) has served the cycling community since 1977. Their five locations — in Berkley, Brighton, Northville, Waterford, and Westland — are staffed with cycling and hockey experts.
Unbeaten Detroit Paths
If you prefer the road less traveled, Detroit is filled with even more secluded trails, including single and shared paths exposing cyclists to hidden routes throughout the city. The Conner Creek Greenway (connercreekgreenway.org), already in progress on Detroit’s east side, aims to stretch nine miles from Eight Mile Road south to the Detroit River. The greenway consists of a shared-use path and bike lanes. A few segments have already been completed, from Detroit City Airport to Harper Avenue, St. Jean from Mack to Jefferson Avenue, and Clairpointe from Jefferson to Maheras Gentry Park on the Detroit River. The goal of the greenway is to link people, parks, green spaces, neighborhoods, schools, and shops to enrich the community and create business opportunities and a better environment. Through initiatives such as the “Earn-a-Bike Program,” children can learn how to fix a bike and keep it. This program also helps children learn about biking safety and the importance of wearing a helmet.
One of the most appealing things about Detroit is that you only have to go a few blocks to get out of the city and into its natural parks, many of which are very welcoming to cyclists. Belle Isle (belleisleconservancy.org) is perfect example, as there are bike lanes that run around the 6-mile circumference of the island, and outer bike lanes on the MacArthur Bridge, better known as the Belle Isle bridge, to ensure your safety when crossing over. Belle Isle is rich in beaches, grassy areas with picnic tables, and forested areas. The park is one of the city’s true gems, and there’s no better way to appreciate it than by biking it.
The Lafayette Park and Elmwood trails also have paved paths for bicyclists and pedestrians alike, connecting the beautiful and historic residential areas to the surrounding streets that lead to local shops and restaurants. So does the Palmer Park Loop, which begins at the pool within the park and runs along Seven Mile Road and back along Merrill Plaisance. The Palmer Park Loop is a paved, shared-use path, but off-trail paths also run through the forested areas. From now through October, you can join in for a leisurely group ride on Thursdays at 7 p.m. The rides stretch about 10 to 15 miles through the historic forest, around the periphery of the park, and through the Detroit Golf Club area, allowing you to enjoy the juxtaposition of both the architecture and natural surroundings.
Beyond the City
For cyclists looking to bike in the suburbs and beyond, there are a wealth of trails out there. From Kensington, Stony Creek, and Lower Huron metroparks to the wineries of the Leelanau Peninsula, there’s a path waiting for you to explore.
The Paint Creek Trail, Michigan’s first converted train rail-to-trail, is a linear park consisting of almost nine miles of crushed limestone trail. Its natural pathway is ideal for biking, jogging, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and fishing. The 8-foot-wide non-motorized trail, located in northeast Oakland County, goes through Rochester, Rochester Hills, Oakland Township, Orion Township, and the Village of Lake Orion.
Additionally, the West Bloomfield Trail, recently expanded and improved to include crosswalks, boardwalks, and an additional 2.7 miles of non-motorized trail, runs east to west through the West Bloomfield area, including Keego Harbor and Orchard Lake.
The Clinton River Trail, a 16-mile, partially paved path that runs through central Oakland County, also connects the West Bloomfield Trail and Macomb Orchard Trail.
It’s part of an even bigger project, the Great Lake-to-Lake Trail Project, which aims to span both off-road and on-road connections from South Haven to Port Huron.
There are numerous other trails in Michigan, from the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail in Montcalm and Gratiot counties to the Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trails (TART) through the Leelanau Peninsula wine country.
Looking for even more places to bike in Michigan and beyond? The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit with a mission to create a nationwide network of trails out of former rail lines. For more information, visit traillink.com.
MORE MICHIGAN BIKE TRAIL RESOURCES
Michigan Department of Transportation — order county bike trail maps (michigan.gov/mdot; click on “Roads and Travel”)
Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance — Michigander Bicycle Tour (michigantrails.org)
Leelanau TART Trail — 15.5-mile trail route from Traverse City to Suttons Bay (traversetrails.org)
League of Michigan Bicyclists — order a free Michigan bicycling packet (lmb.org)
Epic Bike Tours & Organized Rides
With biking becoming so popular, there’s always a way to get involved. With organized rides happening every night and various tours throughout the city, there’s simply no excuse not to join the movement. A good starting point for bicyclists of all levels is the organized Slow Roll, sponsored by Detroit Bike City (detroitbikecity.org). In fact, the Slow Roll has become the most popular organized weekly bike ride in Detroit, with more than 400 participants. The ride through downtown Detroit takes place Mondays at 7 p.m., and finishes at a select rotating venue, announced each week.
If you just can’t get into the routine of weekly rides but still want to tour the city by bike, consider the Tour de Troit (tour-de-troit.org), which included some 5,000 cyclists last year. The annual Tour de Troit, scheduled for Sept. 21, 2013, is a bike tour that shows off the city’s most beautiful and historic landmarks by letting bikers legally take over the streets of Detroit — with a police escort. The event continues to grow in popularity and fundraising each year; proceeds go toward greenway development in Detroit, including the Corktown-Mexicantown Greenlink, which helps to provide more bike lanes to connect various pockets of Detroit’s neighborhoods.
If you’re an early riser, Beat the Train in Detroit (beatthetrain.org) is a group bike ride that takes place every Saturday at 6 a.m. from April through October, starting at historic Fort Wayne on Jefferson Avenue and Livernois. The ride runs about 30-35 miles, touring neighborhoods such as Indian Village and Corktown, concluding in Mexicantown for breakfast at Los Galanes.
Motor City Bike and Brew Tours (motorcitybrewtours.com) are guided, historical-themed biking tours offered from May through September. Some of the most popular themes include the Brewery History Tour, the Prohibition Bike Tour, and the Theater History Bike Tour. If you don’t have a bike, no worries; they also offer rentals. Whether you want to cycle or just be a spectator, check out Criterium Detroit City (criteriumdetroitcity.com), a closed-circuit race course where bicyclists race at speeds up to 40 mph. The short race (usually less than a mile) allows spectators to watch the race from start to finish, making it the most popular form of competitive road cycling in the United States. Criterium Detroit accepts participants in the categories of beginner, professional, children, and relay race, and accepts volunteers to help with the exciting event.
Motor City Bike Manufacturers
A handful of bike manufacturers are setting up shop in Detroit.
Detroit Bikes built a prototype in a coach house off Woodward Avenue, a couple of blocks from where Henry Ford once lived. Frames are made in a factory in west Detroit.
Detroit Bicycle Company
Detroit Bicycle Company produces custom-made bikes with a true Detroit feel, with names like Russell, Canfield, Jefferson, Madison, and Woodbridge.
Shinola is a manufacturing hub of custom-level assembled bicycles by experts in a workshop within Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. Each bike is assembled by hand one at a time in the former Argonaut Building with precision and meticulous attention to detail, using only the highest quality components available. Visit the website to learn about their factory tours.