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MapA map of Detroit, Michigan.
By Todd Scott
Illustration by dougscottillustration.com
Photos by Vanessa Miller
It’s been said that bicycling in Detroit is not often pretty, but it’s always pretty interesting. There’s always something new to discover.
If you want something a little fast-paced, you’ll want to ride with the Beat the Train group. This ride starts at Historic Fort Wayne on the Detroit River every Saturday and loops throughout the downtown Detroit area.
For those who want to explore, there are many landmarks and neighborhoods worth considering.
Belle Isle: At nearly 1,000 acres (404.7 hectares), this is the largest city park island in the US and a very popular spot for bicyclists since the 1880s. The park was designed by Frederick Olmsted and includes a six-mile bike lane route around its perimeter. Make sure you check out the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, the nation’s oldest.
RiverWalk: Extending along the Detroit River, this trail will eventually stretch 5.5 miles (8.9 kilometers) from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle. With the recent expansion of the Milliken State Park, the completed RiverWalk is now over 2.5 miles in length. A trip to the RiverWalk isn’t complete without a ride on the custom-built carousel at the Rivard Plaza. Continuing inland from the river is the 1.2 mile (1.9 kilometer) Dequindre Cut. This trail is surrounded by green space and world class urban graffiti and provides a connection to Eastern Market, America’s largest historic public market district.
Heidelberg Project: This is an “only in Detroit” effort that has turned neighborhood blight into outdoor art that simply defies description. Stretched across a couple city blocks, the Heidelberg Project is best seen by bicycle.
Hamtramck: This small city within Detroit boasts a very diverse population and many great stops for food and drink. Its strong Polish heritage is well-represented with restaurants, bakeries and bars. One must-see attraction is the Hamtramck Disneyland, Dmytro Szylak’s folk art masterpiece built on his two garages and hidden in an alley. Your best bet for directions is to stop by Café 1923 on Holbrook. The Café offers enclosed bike parking and outdoor seating in the back.
Corktown: This is Detroit’s oldest surviving neighborhood and is just west of downtown. It is home to the now-demolished Tiger Stadium as well as the iconic yet abandoned train station. Construction plans have been completed to add 16 miles (25.7 kilometers) of bike lanes and routes to Corktown in 2010. This will solidify its unofficial title as Detroit’s most bike-friendly neighborhood. It also helps that they have great restaurants and bars that cater to cyclists, including Le Petit Zinc, Mudgie’s Deli and Slows BBQ. Just west of Corktown is Mexicantown, home to many great bakeries and restaurants as well. Ste Anne de Detroit is located here, the second oldest continuously operating Roman Catholic parish in the US.
Midtown/Cass Corridor: Like Corktown, this part of Detroit will be getting even more bike-friendly in 2010. The city is adding north-south bike lanes to connect this area to New Center, Wayne State University and Downtown. Construction has also begun on the Midtown Loop, a two-mile biking and walking trail that will connect the many cultural museums, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, Center for Creative Studies and MOCAD. Don’t miss the Detroit Historical Museum, home to the Huber & Metzger bike shop – originally opened on Grand River in 1891. Midtown also boasts one of Detroit’s best bakeries, Avalon, which also hosts Saturday bike rides throughout the summer. Similarly, Honest John’s offers fine food and beer, as well as weekly rides.
Downtown: With its density and lightly-trafficked streets, Detroit’s central business district is ideal for bicyclists. You’ll want to include a stop at the Guardian Building, a highlight of Detroit’s strong art deco architectural heritage. During the day, Campus Martius offers a great public space for parking the bike and grabbing a bite to eat while relaxing near the dancing water fountains. Good Girls Go To Paris is also close by offering crepes to go. At night, the Café D’Mongos Speakeasy is a popular cyclist hangout, but it’s typically only open Fridays.
Auto History: Detroit automotive history is well-documented, but many cyclists might be intrigued to learn of its connection to Detroit’s earlier cyclists. After all, Henry Ford was a cyclist and his first car – the Quadricycle – was largely built from bicycle parts. His nearby Greenfield Village Museum is home to the Wright Brother’s original Dayton bike shop. The T-Plex, Ford’s first factory and birthplace of the Model T, is well worth a visit. Not far away, Mother Nature is slowly reclaiming the huge Packard plant.
Music Heritage: Blues, Motown, P-funk, Iggy, Seger, Nugent, techno, the White Stripes, Eminem. Detroit’s musical history is strong and diverse. Bicycling is a great way to travel between the various historic hotspots, including Motown, United Sound Studios and the abandoned Grande Ballroom. A bit further away, and just below Detroit’s infamous northern border at Eight Mile, is Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, the world’s oldest operating jazz club.
Underground Railroad: Detroit was a major gateway for those escaping slavery. Thousands passed through Detroit’s Second Baptist Church near Greektown. Adventure Cycling is amending their Underground Railroad Bicycle Route and adding a spur through Detroit in the near future.
Windsor: Just to the south of Detroit lies Windsor, Ontario. (Yes, Canada is south of Detroit!) You’ll need a passport and car to get across to Canada as you cannot bike across the Ambassador Bridge or through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Still, Windsor has an excellent bike trail along its Detroit River shore that is well worth visiting. The city also has enough greenways and bike routes to fill a day.
Detroit Bicycle Events
Bike the Bridge – Your only chance to ride the Ambassador Bridge. June 13, 2010
Detroit Agricultural Network Tour – Guided bike tours that highlight Detroit’s urban agriculture, August 4, 2010
Tour de Troit – One of the largest bicycle tours in Michigan. Over 2,000 cyclists participated in 2009. September 25, 2010
Beat the Train – Meets at 6 a.m. every Saturday – April through October – at Historic Fort Wayne
Critical Mass – Meets on the last Friday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in Grand Circus Park
Detroit Synergy – Organizes various tours throughout the year
Wheelhouse Detroit – Offers bike tours throughout the spring, summer and fall
Greening of Detroit – Farm-to-Fork bike tours
Mad Anthony Cyclocross Race – Held in the fall at Historic Fort Wayne