June 30, 2013 at 1:00 am

Donna's Detroit

The Motor City, now 'built for bikes'

Monday night Slow Roll attracts hundreds, one of many bicycle group rides in Detroit

Bike Town
Bike Town: Detroit has perfect conditions to be a major bicycling city according to biking advocates/entrpreneurs Jason Hall and Mike MacKool.

"Everybody rides a bike. Who doesn't ride a bike? Why wouldn't you ride a bike?" asked Mike MacKool. "If you don't ride a bike I feel like you're missing a major part of what's fun in Detroit right now."

The cycling entrepreneur and advocate of all things bike in Detroit states what's obvious to the growing numbers of bicycle riders in the city. Bike riding is (mac)cool.

MacKool says Detroit is a perfect storm of conditions for an expanding bike riding culture. The population loss that's a negative for the city in so many ways is a big plus for cyclists. The infrastructure of wide, flat boulevards meant for over twice the traffic we have now makes cycling safer and more enjoyable than it is in the car-choked streets of a New York or Chicago.

"We're the Motor City; the streets are huge. It's hard to find something that doesn't have four lanes in the city of Detroit," he said. "It makes for a really bike-able city.

"This city was built for cars," MacKool said. "Now that there aren't as many cars, we feel it's built for bikes."

Detroit Bike City

That realization convinced MacKool, 29, and his business partner Jason Hall, 39, both Detroit residents, that there was a community to be created around cycling in the city.

Bearded, dreadlocked, bespectacled Hall and tatted up MacKool thought Detroit needed a major bicycling event. They called their collective consciousness Bikes and Murder. It's a catchy moniker, and oh so Detroit. Well, at least the Detroit of the days when we wore T-shirts that said "Detroit, where the weak are killed and eaten."

But, hip as it was, the name put some people on edge. Hall says he had an epiphany when his mom wanted to give the project a donation but couldn't bring herself to write "Bikes and Murder" on the check. So he and MacKool toned it down before seeking funding to start an annual bike swap and exposition think auto show with spokes at Cobo Center. They christened it Detroit Bike City.

This year, its second, Detroit Bike City attracted 90 vendors and about 2,000 attendees. They showcased custom bike builders, bike clubs and collectors, did some educating and held a bike swap. They doubled the number of vendors from 2012 and gained 500 more bike enthusiasts, but neither is quitting his side job any time soon.

Summer Slow Roll

Detroit Bike City is their big event, but all summer long the two friends support Detroit's bike culture by leading a free Monday night group ride called the Slow Roll. There are other rides that focus on distance and speed. But the Slow Roll is just that a little pokey so people can really experience the neighborhoods they roll through.

"Detroit has this reputation of being uninhabitable," Hall said. He and MacKool are out to change that perception on their rides. They choose a new area to bike through each week to spotlight neighborhoods that have beautiful homes and tightly knit communities.

"We try to show people it's a valid place to live," Hall said. Rides this year have rolled through Boston-Edison, Southwest Detroit and the Berry Subdivision. An art ride hit the Heidelberg Project and Lincoln Street Art Park. "We want people from the suburbs to understand our environment so they're not afraid to come here."

That said, a huge number of their riders live in the city. "We had a guy last week who's lived here his whole life who sees things on our rides that he's never seen before," MacKool said.

"And there's this influx of people moving here," said Hall. Suburbanites and new residents alike are curious about what these 139 square miles have to offer. "I think there's a way that you can see that on a bike that you can't connect to in a car," said Hall.

The first year, Hall and MacKool had about five to 10 regular Monday night riders. The second year that number reached 175. Now, two months into year three, the ride has grown to 300-450 Slow Rollers.

"Any time you see a crowd of people on bikes, and you're on a bike, join that crowd, 'cuz they want you," said Hall. "That's our culture. We look out for each other; we ride together."

Other Detroit bike rides

Phat Kid Ride meets at the Bronx Bar (Second and Prentis) at 7 p.m. Organizer Kendra Colbert says "the premise is to ride hard, eat lots, ride hard again." The route changes each week but the goal is about 15-20 miles roundtrip, traveling at about 12-15 mph.
The Hub of Detroit has a fast-pace ride and a medium-pace ride. Both leave the Hub, 3611 Cass Ave., at 6 p.m. and return at about 8 p.m.
Palmer Park Ride meets at the Palmer Park pool at 6:30 p.m.
Beat the Train meets at 6 a.m. at Historic Fort Wayne, April through October.
Fender Bender Detroit, an organization for and by women, transgender and queer people, sponsors a Full Moon Ride each month, leaving around sunset from Cass Corridor Commons, 4605 Cass Ave. See their Facebook page for each month's date.
Detroit Critical Mass meets the last Friday of every month at the corner of Trumbull and Warren at 6:30 p.m.
Saturdays: Back Alley Bikes, the non-profit arm of The Hub, has a ride for kids aged 10-17 every Saturday through the end of August. Meet at 3611 Cass Ave. in time to leave at 3 p.m. Ride returns at 5:30 p.m. Parent or guardian must sign a permission form. For more information, call Program Director Jason Fiedler at 313-879-5072.

The Slow Roll bike ride has grown from a handful of friends to more than ... (Donna Terek/The Detroit News)
Slow Roll co-founder Mike MacKool, 28, leads the group through Midtown. ... (Donna Terek/The Detroit News)
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