Ride to the beat: Wheelhouse bike tour cruises the history of Detroit techno
Dancing in Hart Plaza isn't the only way to get a workout while soaking up Detroit techno this weekend.
While the annual Movement Electronic Music Festival rages in Hart Plaza, the downtown bicycle shop Wheelhouse Detroit will offer its "Techno in the 313" bike tour on Monday. The 16-mile route includes stops at numerous locations crucial to the history of Detroit's legendary techno music scene. Registration is required and the tour caps out at 15 riders, although groups may book their own additional tours.
Wheelhouse owner and tour leader Kelli Kavanaugh has offered the tour annually since 2010. She says the tour was inspired by her own years as a raver in the '90s, but she's done plenty of reading on the historical context of each stop on the route.
"It's one thing to experience it but another to be able to talk factually about it," Kavanaugh says. "I'm actually a history buff so it's right up my alley to do some research before I take people out."
The tour starts at Wheelhouse's location in Rivertown, passing several homes where raves were frequently held in the '90s. From there it progresses to Eastern Market's "Techno Boulevard," home to techno record labels Metroplex and Transmat. The tour then heads north to pass the Packard Automotive Plant. Kavanaugh says she dislikes the Detroit "ruin porn" the plant so often is featured in, but it's worth a stop for its fascinating history both as a manufacturing hub and as the site of many "infamous" techno parties.
"It's just a fun place to ride your bike, on top of everything else," she says.
The next stop on the tour is the Submerge Recordings building, headquarters of the heavily political musicians' collective known as the Underground Resistance. The building also houses a techno music museum called Exhibit 3000, which cyclists will stop to tour. Kavanaugh says the stop is her favorite on the route.
"I just have so much respect for them as a company, as a label, as people, and I think that they were always ahead of the curve in terms of politics," she says. "Sometimes I think people can't understand how music without words can be political, but everything that they've ever done was political and I just really admire them."
The tour will then move back south through several former prominent techno venues in Midtown and downtown, from the Majestic Theatre and the Red Door to 1515 Broadway. "Techno in the 313" is just one of many similar guided tours Wheelhouse offers on a regular basis. In addition to its popular architecture tours, Wheelhouse will debut new tours this summer focusing on Detroit coffee culture and the city's history as a major cigar manufacturing center in the late 1800s.
But the techno tour, and Movement weekend in general, are special for Kavanaugh. In addition to the bike tour, Wheelhouse will also offer bike rental discounts for any Movement festival goers, and the shop will provide bike parking this year at the festival itself.
"Movement Festival is, for my business, a fantastic weekend because so many people that come from out of town are so excited to be in Detroit," Kavanaugh says. "It's very special to them and they're just really excited to experience the city."
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
Techno in the 313 bike tour
12-3 p.m. Monday
1340 E. Atwater, Detroit
Tickets $40; $50 with bike rental