Join the club and make bike-riding part of your daily routine
By Jeanine Matlow
If you haven’t hopped on a bicycle since you were a kid, now’s the time to get back in the saddle. Even avid riders will have a hard time keeping up with the activities for cyclists in Metro Detroit and beyond. As the interest in this refreshingly old-fashioned pastime continues to climb, the number of trails, clubs and events are not far behind. Here’s a look at what’s happening in the enticing world of two-wheelers.
GET UP AND GO
As a manager of KLM Bike & Fitness in Birmingham, MI, Ricardo Benavides knows a thing or two about bikes. In fact, he encourages others to get out and ride regardless of skill level. “There’s always somebody at the same pace,” he says. “People are just having more fun now and riding for fun.”
They’re also riding more often. It might be something as simple as a neighborhood event that gets everyone going. “It’s not always competitive,” says Benavides.
Even sponsored bike rides can be casual with many being more social in nature than competitive, like the weekly Slow Roll in Downtown Detroit that attracts a few thousand participants.
Pedaling for a purpose is all the rage.
“Almost all of us know somebody who’s going or has gone on group rides,” says Benavides. Some join special clubs like Clinton River Riders in Mt. Clemens or The Wolverines Sports Club in Royal Oak. Though many attract intermediate level and up, most do not discourage novice riders.
People even design their own riding routes to work based on safety, traveling through quieter neighborhoods versus busy streets whenever feasible.
“It may not be the faster route, but it can be a lot safer,” says Benavides who often rides his bike to work.
Because rules can vary by city, it’s important to check for any special regulations before you head out.
“People are definitely riding more,” Benavides says. “The local trails are well maintained and there are a lot more people out riding them.”
WHAT AND WHERE WILL YOU RIDE?
Though bike styles are as varied as the territories they cover, with options ranging from racing bikes to road bikes, nothing fancy is required for recreational trails. Some of the popular options, says Benavides, include the Clinton River Trail in Oakland County, Paint Creek Trail in Rochester, the West Bloomfield Trail and Island Lake Recreation Area in Brighton. The network of trails in the area even features Iron Belle Trail, which goes from Belle Isle in Detroit all the way up to Mackinaw. Other desirable spots to try are Pontiac Lake Highland Recreation Bike Trail in White Lake and Maybury State Park in Northville.
According to Benavides, new products are always in the works, like safer helmets and the vintage-style bikes that are hot right now. For those who simply want to do an average bike ride around the block, hybrid styles can go everywhere that’s walkable, he says. Others who are after a specific niche can get anything from a rail bike to a super-fast mountain bike, capable of dodging tree roots and rocks. Competitive bikes, cruiser bikes and classic beach bikes are among the many options.
Whatever you choose, fit is crucial when selecting the right bike.
“It really depends what you want to do,” says Benavides.
KLM, which has a second location in Rochester Hills, has a fit studio where a certified professional fitter does a consultation to best determine your goals and needs.
“Many people put more miles on their bikes than they do on their cars,” he says, which explains the variety of aftermarket accessories such as bags. “When it’s 90 degrees, a backpack gets heavy and hot and you can get really uncomfortable. The bags take the weight off you and put it onto your bike.” klmfitness.com
Detroit may be known as the Motor City, but there’s a shift with the invasion of bikes and trails. Todd Scott, executive director for Detroit Greenways Coalition, a non-profit organization that builds biking and walking trails that will connect the entire city, says they started with around 13 miles of trails, bike lanes and bike routes, and they’re currently closer to 200 miles and counting.
Scott says the most popular place to bike in Detroit is the Dequindre Cut, which was converted from former railroad tracks. As he points out, the reasons for riding include recreational and practical motives, from enjoying the sights, fresh air and exercise, to making a grocery run. The trail conveniently connects to places like Eastern Market and Whole Foods in Midtown.
Events like the Slow Roll are another big draw.
“It started a few years ago with just a few folks and it’s now the second largest weekly bike ride in the U.S.,” Scott says of the seasonal ride held on Mondays. “Seeing the diversity of people there and the diversity of bicycles is part of the fun. Detroit is very vibrant in the do-it-yourself bike scene with people decorating their bikes with lights, and music and more people are building their own custom bikes.”
Now, the organization is working on the Inner Circle Greenway with the city and others to create a 26-mile biking and walking trail around Detroit, Highland Park, Hamtramck and Dearborn, bringing a 26-mile non-motorized pathway to life by turning former railroad tracks into trails and managing them for future use. Based on current trends, it is expected to attract many users.
“It’s amazing to see how many people are out biking every day,” Scott says. detroitgreenways.org
PEDALING FOR A GOOD CAUSE
Some like to take their cycling to a different level by participating in various charity rides that can be found throughout the state. Bike MS is one such ride. Tammy Willis, vice president of special events for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, says the organization sponsors several two-day rides in Michigan that include such destinations as Holland in June, Lansing in July and Frankenmuth in September, all to raise money for the fight against multiple sclerosis.
“When we first started the MS 150-mile, riders were at a high skill level,” says Willis. “We realized that many people cared about MS and wanted to participate, so we changed some rides to 30, 50, 75 and 100 miles.”
These rides attract novice cyclists all the way up to advanced riders, and a large percentage come from Metro Detroit.
Though there are other reputable sponsored rides in the state, many use the MS event as a training ride.
“We have a minimum of $250 that you need to raise to participate, which is a pretty low start. People realize how easy it can be to raise money with the tools we offer and the multiple events,” says Willis.
Participants must be at least 12 years old and, because safety is a top priority, rural routes are chosen whenever possible. Willis says the League of Michigan Bicyclists is a great source for safety information (lmb.org).
Because Willis works at the regional events, she and her husband travel the country to participate in other MS rides. Though they typically drive to their destinations, bikes can be shipped or easily disassembled and packed in a suitcase. So far, they’ve been to events in Indiana, Florida, Tennessee, Connecticut and Virginia.
“It’s really great. What sets us apart is the level of support riders have with rest stops, mechanical support, medical support that includes volunteer EMTs and nurses and Support and Gear (SAG) vehicle support if you break down or get tired,” Willis says.
Lastly, Willis says Bike MS is the largest organized fundraising event in the country. “For anybody who’s interested in cycling, we’ve got something to offer.” nationalmssociety.org
MILES OF TRAILS
According to Nancy Krupiarz, executive director for Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance in Lansing, Michigan has more miles of multiuse trails than any other state in the nation (our closest competition comes from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) due to the number of converted railroads. She says we once had 10,000 miles of railroad tracks and close to 2,400 have since become trails.
As she explains, the multifaceted organization provides technical assistance to communities that want to build multiuse trails for biking and walking; some can accommodate equestrian activities and winter sports. The Alliance also serves as the statewide voice for all non-motorized trails in Michigan and helps the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
Held at the end of September, the group’s Trail Towns Tour (also known as Triple T) lets people get their feet wet with a day ride that covers approximately 35 miles between South Lyon, Wixom and Milford. “The event demonstrates an interconnected trail system,” says Krupiarz. “The trails not only link across the state, but try to get communities to link up on a regional or local level.”
“There is a big population in Southeast Michigan and these trails go through wonderful parks and small towns. People can just have a blast riding their bikes,” she adds.
A $35 entry fee covers the fundraiser for the organization and includes cider and doughnuts and a small after-party.
“It’s a loop. They can go as far as they want. It’s very family friendly and we have a starting point with a parking lot and rest stops all along the way,” Krupiarz says.
This year will mark the 25th anniversary of the Michigander Bicycle Tour in July, Bikes, Brews & Beaches, which takes place in West Michigan. There are a number of scenic routes and tours from which to choose, but the experience is what counts.
“It’s all about just slowing down — not your body, but your mind — and being close to the lake. It’s very carefree,” says Krupiarz. michigantrails.org
THE BENEFITS OF BIKE RIDING
“There are so many destinations within a two-mile radius of where you live that can absolutely be carried out on a bike,” says Nancy Krupiarz, executive director for Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance. “It gets you in touch with your community; you can see things on a bike that you can’t see in your car because you have full vision and you’re moving at a slower pace.”
Cycling shows people how to savor each day. “You definitely smell the roses. You can stop at a moment’s notice and feel the elements like the sun and the breeze, and you can look at the sights,” she says.
Biking is also great for the heart and gentle on your joints, says Krupiarz, “It just puts you in great shape and you become close to your community because you know every inch of it.”
Cost efficiency is another bonus.
“You don’t have to pay parking fees. You just have your bike to take care of and you can learn how to do a lot of repairs yourself,” she says. “If you work in town, realistically you might be able to see yourself giving up your car.”
It does take some planning and practice to bike to work, says Krupiarz, who rides to work as much as possible.
“The first few times you might forget things, but you just have to get your routines figured out,” she says. “Slowly but surely, you’ll find the best way to do that.”