me crazy (you won't be the first)
but I rode my bicycle for an entire year while living in Detroit.
By choice. As the story goes, I planned to move here from Los Angeles
(call me crazy again) and rather than risk blowing up my red four-door
Geo Metro somewhere in the Rockies, I opted to sell the car and
take a plane. Probably a wise choice but it landed me in the Motor
City without wheels.
I told myself, "No problem, I'm a public transportation
there's something really freeing about not having
a car, and I can take the bus to my new job right down Jefferson!"
Obvious answer to an obvious question: The REASON I didn't
immediately buy another car is because I didn't have the cash. How
much do you think one can get for an '89 Geo Metro?
Again I assured myself, "No problem, I'll take public transportation
until I save enough dough to start looking for a car. Meanwhile
I'll keep fit walking and biking!"
All I can say is, thank the gods for my great friend Steven who
loaned me his Raleigh Technium "The Chill" mountain bike
and even put super tough new tires on it for me.
Since this is an article about bicycling as urban transportation
and not about public transportation, I will refrain from pontificating
about Detroit's sorry state of public-trans, except to advise against
depending on Dot or Smart buses to have bike racks. The driver will
likely give you a look like you're from another planet and close
the doors in your face, with the admonishment:
"No bikes on the bus!"
The cool thing - one of the cool things - about Detroit is that
you can get around on a bicycle. This is not true about Los
Angeles. Another cool thing is that the traffic is not as congested
here by any stretch of the imagination.
That isn't to say there aren't hazards. Just like in autos, potholes
make for extremely unhappy moments in a bike-rider's day
Lost my Werther's
oh, there it is, on the left pantleg. Shit."
there's the issue of Detroit's drivers, who rival Italian drivers
for independent thinking. Red lights apparently mean stop-and-then-go
don't-stop-at-all. This means for bicyclists that, if you're
pedaling down Grand River for example, and you approach an intersection
with a green light in your direction, SLOW WAY DOWN AND LOOK ALL
WAYS! DON'T ASSUME THAT THE DARK BLUE MARQUIS CRUISING TOWARD YOU
ON WARREN IS GOING TO STOP JUST BECAUSE OF A RED LIGHT!!
If you're a bicyclist, here's an important mantra to keep running
through your brain: "cars are bigger than
me; they can hurt me." It's easy to feel macho while
riding - your adrenaline is pumping, your heart is beating, you're
feeling strong. I've screamed at many an irresponsible, rude and
downright stupid driver from my two-wheel perch, but I don't make
the mistake of playing chicken with a Motor Vehicle (remember
To survive with just a bike for your ride in the D, one needs a
good helmet (see images for head-gear options), a really good lock,
a sturdy backpack (for provisions), lights (if you're planning on
night-time riding), a job that doesn't require wearing a perfectly
pressed suit or a mini-skirt, a steely nerve, and strong legs. With
these items intact, one can function considerably well without a
car in the D.
That isn't to say there aren't drawbacks to the two-wheeling, non-motorized
mode of transport. Riding in the winter is tough, particularly when
it's windy. Hauling groceries is a balancing act in the best of
weather - carrying bags of heavy groceries while bicycling in slushy
snow sucks. This is when you walk,
take the bus, rent a car, or call a friend. My Detroit friends never
seemed to mind picking me up when we had social plans, or stopping
at a market on the way home. A few would even lend me their cars
while they were out of town, and then I would feel like a teenager
who's parents split for the weekend leaving the car keys. "Whoo-hoo!
Crank the tunes! I'm cool
I'm DRIVING! "
But even if you do have a car, there's no reason not to
enjoy a pedaling cruise through the city, especially on a lovely
spring day when the trees are blossoming and there's a light, warm
breeze. In fact, I highly recommend biking for taking in the sights
and energy of the city. It's surprising what you can observe from
the vantage point of a bicycle that you completely miss in an auto.
you ever really looked at the Mies van der Rohe townhouses
near Lafayette Park? Have you ever wandered down the curving sidewalks
throughout Lafayette Park itself and contemplated the splendor of
an inner-city park? What about cruising s-l-o-w-l-y through the
Boston Edison area and viewing the beautifully crafted houses? Or
cruising to the Dally in the Alley and not having to worry about
One of the most spectacular areas I just happened to come upon
while riding is historic Elmwood Cemetery - an absolute must
for bike-touring in the autumn, with meandering trails, surprisingly
beautiful landscape and some crazy tombstones and statuary. Perfect
for October pre-Halloween jaunts.
And of course, there's the lovely Belle Isle, designed by Frederic
Law Olmstead (who also designed New York's Central Park in case
you didn't know). I've enjoyed riding by the Conservatory's elegant
outdoor gardens in the summer, riding over the Belle Isle Bridge
as the sun sets over the Detroit River, riding by the old brick
Police Station while the guys are in the front yard doing calisthenics
You can do all these things in a car of course, but it's the pace
of bicycling that makes it special.
Detroiters generally responded favorably to my bicycling endeavors
- probably because bike-riding in the city is still not terribly
popular. One fella encouraged me to "Ride that thing, baby!"
Lots of folks would wave to me from their front porches or front
yards. Several people rushed over to me to make sure I was okay
after a nasty spill (avoiding a car). On the other hand, a teenage
girl walking with a friend called out, "You're a joke!"
as I pedaled by (I almost circled around to get specifics, but thought
better of it.)
So that's my story. Now you try it.