Detroit and the Slow Roll (Part 2- The Ride)

My hunch proved to be correct, the guys with the cool bikes were headed to Slow Roll. As they crossed the intersection, a mother and daughter drafted into the flow.

Slow Roll Detroit The crew was from the Southwest side of Detroit. They wanted to know if I was headed to Slow Roll and was it my first time. I told them that I was back ‘home’ on a visit from NYC and yes, I was a Slow Roll ‘virgin’.

Slow Roll Detroit Slow Roll Detroit
Slow Roll Detroit Slow Roll Detroit

The night’s meet up point was the Old Shillalegh parking lot in Greektown. A steady stream of people on bikes slowly trickled in. There were also a lot of people arriving by car, unloading bicycles brought along for the ride. You may question why one would want to arrive at a bike ride by car. At least two reasons for this. One: many of Detroit’s streetlights don’t work. Once it gets dark, it may not be safe (or feel safe) for some one to ride back to their home neighborhood. Two: people come from all over to participate in Slow Roll. One of my cousins and her husband travel from Ypsilanti (about 40 minutes away by car) to Slow Roll. They were joining that night; as were other cousins, spouses and old friends.

Slow Roll Detroit Slow Roll Detroit

From of the corner of my eye, I spied a gentleman unloading some familiar looking custom bicycles. Excited, I hurried over to ask if he was with Grown Men on Bikes. He was and his name was Marcus. Introducing myself to him, I explained that I had been following them for a few years and was elated to meet them. GMOB, as they are familiarly known is one of many cycling clubs in Detroit. Aside from fabulous custom bicycles and panache, the thing that made me such a big fan of GMOB was their requirement that members  volunteer time for community service. Marcus was a bit bemused when I asked to take his photo. “With my wife’s bike?” Sadly, I neglected to introduce myself to his wife- because damn, she is a woman after my own heart. Love those shoes.

Slow Roll Detroit Slow Roll Detroit
Slow Roll Detroit Slow Roll Detroit

The steady trickle of people on bicycles gathered up steam. The parking lot and streets surrounding the Old Shillelagh began to resemble a happy beehive of cyclists. It was a diverse and beautiful crowd- representing the many faces of Detroit.

Slow Roll Detroit Another Slow Roller kindly introduced me to Mike MacKool (one of Slow Roll’s co-founders- in case you missed my previous post). During our brief chat, I discovered they were still able to host Slow Roll without needing a permit. Considering how many people show up for Slow Roll each week (2200 the night I rode, over 4000 at the August 24th ride according to posts on their FB page)- that’s pretty incredible. I scrambled onto the bed of a pick-up truck to try and get a shot of how many people were in attendance. I would have been better off climbing on top of the People Mover or one of the buildings – it’s impossible to convey the number of people amassed through my photos.

Slow Roll Detroit
Amid cheers and much bell ringing, we finally began to roll. There were so many of us, it took about twenty minutes for all the riders to clear out of Greektown.

Slow Roll Detroit Slow Roll Detroit

Slow Roll Detroit

Past Comerica Stadium- home to the Detroit Tigers baseball team.

Slow Roll Detroit

Downtown gently faded into the background as we pedaled east.  I love the picture above, since it’s the only one I managed to get of Slow Roll co-founder Jason Hall riding. (Correction, it’s not Jason Hall but Bobby Brown, Jr, but I still love the photo.).  You can also see Jason and the Slow Roll in this recently released Apple commercial. It’s great to finally see Detroit represented in a positive light- nationally. Frankly, I prefer this TedX Detroit 2103 clip where he talks (humbly and humorously) about the journey and reasons behind Slow Roll. One of them- he wanted to bring people back into Detroit and remind them what a great place it is. A handful of people have even moved back in to the city because of Slow Roll.

I think it’s safe to say that Jason and Mike have succeeded beyond expectations.

Slow Roll DetroitEven though the Slow Roll Code of Conduct asks cyclists to stay right (so as not to impede motor vehicle traffic), most of the time we had the streets to ourselves. There were no street closures, it’s simply that most of the streets we traveled just didn’t have any MV traffic. We were just a glorious sea of people on bikes. This may not represent daily cycling in Detroit yet, but sit up and take notice Denmark and the Netherlands.

Slow Roll Detroit

Speaking of the Netherlands, I even spotted my first bakfiets in Detroit.

Slow Roll Detroit Slow Roll Detroit

The pace of Slow Roll is just that: slow and easy. It’s a very family friendly event and it was great to see the number of kids along for the ride.

Slow Roll Detroit Slow Roll Detroit

Rounding a corner somewhere in East Detroit, I stopped to hang with one of The Squad (and try to find my friend who was somewhere in the sea of Slow Rollers). Straddling our bikes as we watched everyone roll by, he told me how much he loves everyone who comes out to Slow Roll and that everyone was his favorite. I met many people that night. Though I remember faces and conversations, sadly I either forgot or didn’t get everyone’s name. I mention this because the Code of Conduct also asks people to make friends. How can you not love a bike gathering that puts making friends at the top of their priorities? Pretty frickin’ cool.

Slow Roll DetroitThis gentleman initially caught my eye because of his cute dog in the trailer. As I got closer, I had an even better reason to be impressed. Just get on your bicycle and ride, no excuses.

Slow Roll Detroit Slow Roll DetroitAs dusk began to fall, the bikes began to twinkle with custom lights. And yes, that is one of Detroit’s bike lanes in the photos.

Slow Roll Detroit

Stopped at a red light, I spotted the most precious Slow Roll participant of the evening.

Detroit Slow Roll
Who I hadn’t noticed earlier since I was so enamored of her slightly older sister, who calmly and diligently pedaled along the entire ten mile route.

Detroit Slow RollThroughout the city, people cheered us on. They stood on their front porches waving and smiling as we went by. Car drivers honked and pumped their fists in the air in encouragement. Others were curious and riders rallied them to join ‘next time’. At one point we even encountered a Detroit fire truck who tooted his horn in solidarity with our bells. Slow Roll is infectious, even when you’re not riding a bicycle.

Detroit Slow RollI was a bit slow to notice people detouring ‘off the route’ and wondered what they were doing. Then I realized we were at the Heidelberg Project which was started by Tyree Guyton in 1986 as a reaction to the deteriorating conditions of his neighborhood. The last two times I had been in Detroit, I had wanted to visit but things didn’t work out. The Heidelberg project has been the target of arsonist attacks over the past year, destroying 6 out of the 10 buildings. Sincerely hoping the remaining buildings survive for future generations. This very pleasant surprise was made even more special by a little homage to NYC.

Detroit Slow Roll Eventually, the clouds let loose and the ride started circling back towards our meet-up point in Greektown.  Despite the rain, the mood remained ebullient and smiles abounded.
Detroit Slow Roll
Detroit Slow Roll
Slow Roll Detroit Finally; I found my friend, soaked and grinning from ear to ear.

Slow Roll Detroit 10 seconds later, I spotted my cousin and his wife.

Detroit Slow Roll Detroit Slow Roll
Slow Roll Detroit Slow Roll Detroit
Slow Roll Detroit 280

Back in Greektown, I reconnected with the last of my family who rode (and those who didn’t). Jason and Mike made sure people stayed respectful and invited them to join for the after party at Old Shillelagh.  Some people headed home, while others stuck around to show off their bikes (yes, those are the bikes of GMOB, East Side Riders, Southwest Riders and more), introduce themselves to other riders or to just try to keep the glow of the evening alive.

In the end, was Slow Roll everything I expected? Yes, and so much more. This isn’t Critical Mass- no politics involved. The only agenda is getting people to fall in love with Detroit again. It’s free and there’s no need to register- just show up (but please make sure the bicycle you plan to ride is in working order). Yes it’s a huge mass of people on bikes but it’s more than that- it’s about community and pride. Slow Roll is the coolest family reunion you never knew you really wanted to attend.

I want everyone to visit Detroit. But do me a favor, please don’t go for the ruin porn or street cred. To explain how Detroit got to the place it’s in today is so complex, it would take volumes to tell the story. And frankly, it’s in a much better place than when I moved to NYC 25 years ago. Go to see the city I love so much, that even though I moved away continues to define the person I am today.

Explore the city’s neighborhoods. If you’re not familiar with Detroit, do reach out to locals for advice on which areas to visit and those you should avoid. Visit our local treasures such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Eastern Market, Mexican Village and more. Eat in one of the many fantastic restaurants. Support the local shops. Check out the local music scene (if you’re not familiar with Detroit Gospel, you don’t know what you’re missing).

But most of all, go to meet the people of Detroit. There’s a special kind of pride in Detroit- it’s humble, generous, down to earth and full of love. The people who’ve stayed in Detroit or moved back are the heart and soul of this city. It’s their hope and determination that are reinventing this city one dream at a time. Give them a chance to share that with you.

Make sure to include a Monday night in your stay, because you really don’t want to miss Slow Roll. Detroit: it’s better by bicycle, and why not make a few thousand new friends while you’re at it?

Detroit, I love you.

~~I took close to 290 photos at the Slow Roll and managed to edit them down to 167. If you want to explore the full album click here. Some may seem a bit repetitive at first glance, but each one captures a slightly different perspective of either the Slow Roll community or the landscape of Detroit. Enjoy.

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Detroit and the Slow Roll (Part 1)

I love Detroit. It’s my hometown. Sort of. I grew up in an east side suburb of Detroit. Moved to NYC 25 years ago but Detroit has never left my heart.

The city has been through some hard knocks for a long time. Detroit isn’t all bankruptcy and crime. There’s a lot of good happening in Detroit. You just don’t hear about it in the media (as much), but it’s there.

I was back home recently for a family reunion and in planning my visit, I made sure to include a Monday night. I wanted to Slow Roll.

Slow Roll is a weekly family friendly social ride that takes place every Monday night in Detroit (and occasionally Thursday and Saturday nights). It was started about two or three years ago by two people who also love Detroit- Jason Hall and Mike MacKool.

In the beginning, maybe ten or maybe forty people would show up. Over time, it slowly began to build. Then last summer it exploded, attracting around 1500 riders some weeks. It was no longer just a bike ride- it was a movement.

The day of Slow Roll was the only day I could grab to actually ride around Detroit, so I made sure to set out an hour earlier than needed to get to the meet up point so I could meander and explore on my own. Pedaling through the Grosse Pointes, the most exciting thing I came across was this guy.

Dog Walking. Grosse Pointe

As I took his picture, he apologized for ‘breaking all the rules” because he was riding with his dog alongside on a leash. I just laughed and told him to keep doing what he was doing. Yes, it’d be better if he were in the street and in a bike lane- but there isn’t a bike lane yet on Kercheval and there are hardly any pedestrians on the sidewalk, ever. I’ll give this guy a pass.

Continuing downtown, I rode Jefferson for a stretch. It’s the simplest route from GP to Downtown Detroit. Not exactly an inviting route or exciting in terms of seeing people on bicycles the Monday I rode it (though it will take you past several Detroit landmarks such as Belle Isle and Pewabic Pottery). If alternative transportation advocates succeed, the first protected bike lane implemented in Detroit will be on Jefferson Avenue.

Detroit

The photo above of Jefferson Avenue is from my 2011 visit to Detroit. Though the urban landscape does shift as you travel along Jefferson, the nature of the road doesn’t. It’s an extremely wide boulevard and even when I rode at the onset of the evening rush hour this summer- motor vehicle traffic is deeply under capacity. Hoping next time I visit it will have undergone a significant road diet. As for my journey this year, I was more interested in the tiny moments of artistic expression on building storefronts…

Detroit Jazz All-Stars.

… and avoiding the never ending detritus of broken glass and other tire puncturing litter that seems to be the bane of Jefferson Ave. So when I came across a sign indicating that I was near Indian Village, I detoured inward.

Indian Village is a unique historic district of Detroit. It’s an enclave of beautiful homes (many are mansions) that exists like an island amidst one of the most poverty stricken areas of Detroit. You could be on one side of the street on the edges of Indian Village and standing next to a majestic english tudor while across the street is a burnt out house/crack den next to an urban field.

Indian VillageI encountered very few people as I rode along. When I spotted this gentleman on a bicycle headed in the direction of downtown, I asked if he was headed to Slow Roll (hoping to meet new people and gather some company for my journey). “Nah” he replied, “I’m too old. I’m tired”. “You’re never too old. Join us next time” I responded, and wished him a lovely ride home.

Urban Farm. East Detroit

A little deeper in, Indian Village became East Detroit and I came across this lovely urban farm.

I mostly had the streets to myself, occasionally encountering other people. Preference given to those on two wheels.

East Detroit
East Detroit

 I made a point of finding Earthworks Urban Farm, which helps support the Capuchin Soup Kitchen and Gleaners Food Bank. This was a personal nod to the memory of Charity Hicks, a Detroit activist who fought for food justice (among other things). In May, Charity was struck by an automobile in NYC while waiting on the sidewalk for a bus. The day I landed in Detroit, she died of her injuries. I am a member and organizer with of Right of Way, a direct action street justice group. We had wanted to try to organize something in honor of Charity’s life while I was in Detroit, but sadly even with the help of local area friends- time was too short and a quiet, private remembrance was the extent of what we could accomplish.

Earthworks Urban Farm. Detroit.Continuing downtown, I passed over my favorite piece of Detroit’s cycling/walk infrastructure, the Dequindre Cut.

Dequindre Cut

 The photo above doesn’t do justice to the fantastic job Detroit area planners did in designing the route (which connects from the Eastern Market to the Riverwalk) so here are two more photos from my 2011 visit.

Detroit

Nice wide travel lanes and beautiful landscaping.

Detroit

And a collection of some of the best graffiti art in Detroit. The art was intentionally left in place when the Dequindre Cut was built. The city even encourages new works to be installed as long as they are not obscene or offensive and “as long as they pick up their aerosol cans after themselves.

Lafeyette Park. Mies Van De Rohe Designed Continuing on, I passed another Detroit gem: the Mies Van Der Rohe designed apartments of Lafayette Park.

Campus Martius Beach

Arriving downtown, I came across the fabulous public beach of Campus Martius Park.

Zagster Bike Share

Spotted a Zagster bike share station.

Bicycle ParkingNoticed some nicely filled bicycle parking racks.

Play and Place
Contemplation

Observed residents at play in public spaces designed to encourage interaction.

New Tires. Kept the Old Set

This gentleman was on his way home from the Hub of Detroit bicycle store. He had just gotten a new set of tires but kept his old set because he didn’t want them to go to waste. We ended up having a nice chat about Detroit, touching on the myriad of positive developments and even how the city could be doing a better job on some things.

Detroit Coney Island

At an intersection across the street from one more Detroit icon -American Coney Island, I noticed a group of riders with some cool custom bikes. I had a hunch we were headed to the same place. So I took that as my cue to head on over to the Old Shillelagh and finally meet Slow Roll in person.

To be continued…

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Relaxed Attitudes

Noticing a lot more relaxed and upright cycling in NYC this summer. A nice trend. Keep up the good work.

Zen

Summer Casual | Central Park

Unflappable

Zen and Bliss

Doubling. NYC Style.

Insouciant

Well, Hello.

Upright and Relaxed

Upright and Relaxed

Upright and Relaxed

Upright and Relaxed

Madison Avenue

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Detroit on My Mind

For the second month in a row, Saks Fifth Avenue is featuring bicycles in their window displays. Last month was a tip of the hat to Father’s Day. This month, it’s an homage to summer travel.

Shinola Bicycles | Saks Fifth Avenue

This month’s windows feature Shinola bicycles. I grew up in a Detroit suburb and like many Detroit area expats, have a strong sense of pride and love for my ‘hometown’. By pure chance, I also happen to be headed to Detroit today for a long overdue visit.

Shinola Bicycles | Saks Fifth Avenue

For many Americans, there is a long held romantic notion of the summer car trip. I love that these window displays shift that idea towards the idea of a summer bicycle trip. No special bicycle clothes or gear- just normal (though expensive) clothing and bags to bring along whatever you need. But that’s how advertising works. It’s aspirational.

These windows are one of those subtle indications I love to notice: that bicycles are mainstreaming back into the daily fabric of our lives. As far as ‘trends’ go, street style and high fashion both feed off one another. I think it’s pretty great that one of  NYC’s most famous luxury department stores can visualize and promote bicycles as a normal form of transportation.

Shinola isn’t the only bicycle manufacturer based in Detroit. Three other companies have set up shop in the D- Detroit Bikes, Detroit Bicycle Company and Freighty Cat (though Freighty Cat has yet to start production).

Wouldn’t it be cool if some future day, when someone mentions Detroit and the Big Three- that bicycles would come to mind instead of automobiles?

Looking forward to seeing you soon, my dear Detroit. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

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Independence Day

Let freedom ring. Pass along the love and teach someone you know how to ride a bicycle.

About to Set Free

Gently nudge them on as they find their independence.When You Give Kids Safe Space to Cycle, They Own It.

When you give kids safe space to ride, they own it.

Kids. Free. Should be like this everywhere. And why are cars still allowed in Central Park?

All our public spaces should be safe enough so that anyone can ride from age 8…

When we finally get a protected bike lane on 5th Ave, can we name it after Bill?…to 80 and beyond.

Happy Independence Day. Ride on Patriots.

 

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Thanks Dad.

A slightly belated Father’s Day post.

Pass Along the Love. Teach a Kid to Ride.

For all the Dads who taught their kids to ride a bicycle.

I'm Done. Carry Me Home Dad.

Who carried them home when they were to tired to pedal anymore.

All Smiles on the Family SUV

Who knew the best kind of family SUV to get from A to B.

School. Errands. Home.

Who picked you up from school and brought you home.

Papa is My Co-Pilot

Who made sure you got the best seat.

Get Dad A Bicycle for Father's Day

Thanks for all you do. Hope you got a new set of wheels for Father’s Day.

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Signs of Life

A sign that a city’s effort to make cycling accessible to everyone is succeeding? Parents transporting their most precious cargo by bicycle from A to B.

Family Outing

Whether it’s by cargo bike.

Who Knew Hummer Drivers Could Be So Adorable?

A gentle nudge along the way.

Mom, Keeping a Close Watch

Or keeping a close watch.

***

An even better sign that we’re doing something right is when you see kids cycling independently.

Independent | Traffic Flow Because the environment is relatively safe.

They Ride, Despite a Hostile Environment

When despite a hostile environment, kids will still ride bicycles.

Wheels Up, Wheels Down

When bicycles outnumber cars.

Wheels Up Wheels Down

When our children feel comfortable and safe enough to have fun and  ‘pop a wheelie’.

The Innocence of Spring. School Chums.
When they’re at such ease that enjoying a popsicle and some bonding with a school chum, is utterly safe, normal and enjoyable.

There are two things that will get us there. Streets designed for people (not cars) and more people on bikes.

There’s a fun easy way to get more people on bikes this weekend. Make Brooklyn Safer is having a Kid’s Bike Swap/Bike Rodeo Saturday April 14 from 11:00-1:00pm.

Whether you have children or not, you should go. Who knows how many children you will inspire to find the freedom and joy of getting from A to B by bicycle. That child you might inspire? They might be the voice of the next generation who will keep our message going forward and gaining strength.

Power to the people. Peace y’all.

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