Bicycling, once relegated as a kid’s method of transportation, has become a boon for cities such as Flint and Detroit, both working hard to attract young residents and families as well as develop efforts to build a growing local economy, health and wellness initiatives as well as community development, riders and bike experts agree.
Riding a bike and developing businesses that offer everything from bicycle rentals to tours to events not only brings tourism to both cities, it is helping to diversify commuting options, improving city infrastructure, enhancing neighborhoods and entrepreneurship as well as many other benefits, according to bicycling organizations such as the League of American Bicyclists and the Alliance for Biking & Walking.
In Detroit, historic avenues such as Jefferson are getting devoted bike lanes. Businesses such as Wheelhouse Detroit are thriving, and newcomers including MoGo, the bike-sharing company, are seeing record growth. Social events that highlight societal connection including Slow Roll and RiDetroit are bringing thousands of city residents and suburban cyclists into the downtown as well as the neighborhoods to see and experience Detroit’s renaissance.
Flint is enjoying a similar bicycling boom. Bicycle clubs like the ones Angela Stamps of Angie’s Bikes have founded are bringing neighbors together and helping young people find new routes around the city. Social Cycling Flint created weekly Thursday night rides to show how fun riding together as a group can be. Friends of the Flint River Trail is doing weekend rides along the waterways.
New this year is the Flint Cycle Fest, described as a celebration of Flint’s growing biking community, with proceeds supporting street and public improvements for cyclists in Flint and Genesee County. The June 9 event has three distance options, making it ideal for beginners to experienced cyclists.
Theresa Roach, Active Communities Manager for the Crim Fitness Foundation, says the Flint Cycle Fest hopes to create not only conversations around transportation but a focus on making Flint a safe space for riding bikes, enjoying family trips to school and connecting community on two wheels.
Roach says it is important to have a bicycle culture in a city. The average household cost to own and operate one car in the United States is $9,000 per year, according to America Walks. Walkable/bicycle friendly neighborhoods allow families to own fewer cars and save money — that is because transportation is the second largest expense in a household, Roach notes.
“Bicycling and simply designing our communities to be more accessible to people who walk, bicycle or use wheelchairs, has a great impact on the economy,” Roach says. “Individuals save on car expenses and have a more disposable income as a result. Businesses see more foot traffic because individuals are out of their cars and getting to know their communities up close.”
Similarly, Flint City Bike Tours through resident and entrepreneur Emily Doerr are starting in June as she looks to jump start the city’s tourism by bike business.
“I’m always riding around Flint anyway, so this is a great way to get some people to do it with me,” Doerr jokes. “Could I put people in my car and show them Flint? Sure. But biking is healthier and you see more when you’re moving at a bicycle’s speed.”
Area businesses like Recycle Bike Shop & Mobile Bike Repair regularly set up shop at local gathering spots like the Good Beans Cafe and Flint Farmers’ Market to help make bike repairs more accessible to the public.
The shops co-owner Kassy Mason sees bicycling as a part of Flint’s growing economic structure.
According to a Michigan Department of Transportation report, bicycling “provides an estimated $668 million per year in economic benefit to Michigan’s economy, including employment, retail revenue, tourism expenditure, improved health, and increased productivity.”
The Community and Economic Benefits of Bicycling in Michigan report highlighted two Detroit neighborhoods in particular: Connor Creek and Southwest Detroit. It said the economic benefits of a bicycle culture in these neighborhoods was approximately $20.7 million annually, split between household spending on bicycle-related items ($3.5 million); avoided healthcare costs ($6.5 million); reduced absenteeism ($3.9 million) and event and tourism spending ($1.6 million).
Bicycle activists in both Detroit and Flint say their cities are benefiting from a growing bicycle culture, media attention on bike lanes and unique destinations like the LexusVelodrome as well as investments in new trails that highlight bicycling as a sport and activity for all ages.
Adding new businesses, focusing on bike lanes and education to increase bicyclist safety and boosting the tourism aspect through rides, events and tours holds promise for making Detroit and Flint bicycling destinations.
Flint City Bike Tours offers six different tours, each with a two- or four-hour option. They highlight many of Flint’s greatest assets, including its labor and automotive history, its parks and trails as well as its art and murals. Doerr even added a Bike Bar Crawl to appeal to people who want to ride and try out some of the unique beverage offerings popping up around the city.
Doerr, 34, has logged thousands of miles in Detroit, where she founded a hostel, as well as Flint, where she went to high school and now lives in the Eastside College Cultural neighborhood. Right now, Flint City Bike Tours is a one-woman show, but she hopes it will grow over this summer and the years to come and she can hire other guides to help her expand her tour offerings.
Her favorite ride? “The Flint River Trail up to Stepping Stone Falls and the Genesee Valley Trail – with a stop for ice cream at Banana Boat – including the new travel through Chevy Commons,” Doerr said.
Jason Hall wished his co-founders at Slow Roll, the massive weekly bicycle ride through Detroit, farewell last spring. Now, he is the founder of RiDetroit, a tour company and bicycle-culture supporter. This July, Hall will bring back what he calls “Detroit’s bicycle weekend,” highlighting bike shops, clubs and bike-friendly restaurants and bars through a weekend devoted to seeing Detroit all via bicycle.
Hall also is holding a variety of other events around Detroit to get people out on their bikes. He takes people on tours of Eastern Market. He organized a Father’s Day Bike Scavenger Hunt. He even took celebrity chef Rachel Ray on a bike tour around Detroit when she visited the city with her crew in May.
Hall called Ray “easily one of the most amazing, kind people I’ve ever met. What makes her even cooler is that she chose to come (to Detroit) for vacation not work.” Having that kind of pull makes Detroit must for any bike rider, celebrity or not.
Residents around Detroit, including those who live and work in its suburbs, say the city has become a bicycling landmark. Julie Anna says she loves the Dequindre Cut, Cass Avenue and the Riverfront. Riding around Detroit has given Anna Kohn a new view of the city where she works. Kohn is the Chief Impact Officer for RecoveryPark, a nonprofit that revitalizes Detroit through an urban garden and its efforts to create jobs for returning citizens and people recovering from addiction.
“There are so many good trails on Belle Isle from the Riverwalk to the bridge to the path behind the little petting zoo. You’d never know you were in the city,” Kohn said.
Stephen Johnson brought bicycling as a business to Detroit with his Motor City Brew Tours, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary as a company. He has taken thousands of tourists around Detroit; he added bike tours in 2011. His “Bike & Brew Tours” are small group bike tours that highlight the many craft breweries and new eateries.
“We call all of the tour experiences, part education and part social hour,” Johnson said. “We only work with Michigan Breweries, meaderies and cideries. We have over 50 partners. Since June 2009, we have taken more than 25,000 people on tours.”
His favorite tours span the geography of Metro Detroit. “If in downtown Detroit, I like biking around Belle Isle, along the Riverwalk and on the DQ Cut Greenway! In the Burbs, I like the Paint Creek Rail-trail or Clinton River Rail-trail or the Macomb Orchard Trail.
Thomas E. Page, a longtime Detroit bike booster and urban-bicycling promoter, said Detroit has so many good routes it is hard to decide where to go when he and his friends set out for a ride. He’s been riding in pretty much every event Detroit offers from Tour de Troit to Bike the Ambassador Bridge to the Parducci Ride, which sees many of the great sculptor’s works around the city.
“But I think my favorite is the Detroit Institute of Arts Inside-Out Bike ride in September. It takes place the day after the massive Tour de Troit. It’s a free ride that starts at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The route varies each year depending on where the DIA has placed their art reproductions. This ride usually stays in the greater downtown area,” Page said. “Art, exercise, the City, and good friends, on a leisurely trek through our City? It doesn’t get better than that!”
Grosse Pointe resident Paula Grechhas gotten a huge amount of use out of the bike lanes that now span the Grosse Pointe border into Detroit to explore the city as well.
“I go from Grosse Pointe down Jefferson to Rivertown and then pick up the Riverwalk. You burn about 1,500 calories round trip. Then you can eat what you want at Clementina, including the charcoal ice cream and the frozen sangrias,” the foodie said.
Arthur Mitchell, who co-founded Tour De Hood, a website devoted to exploring Detroit’s neighborhoods, said he and co-founder and cousin Paul Rentenbach have been riding all over Detroit for the past five years.
“He and I were always exploring the city – he’d decide the route – and I thought it would be a good idea to document it” with the Tour De Hood website. “We stopped it when I moved to India. We should start it up again.”
Lead photo courtesy of Good Life Detroit blogger Jennifer Hamra. To learn more about Good Life, visit Jennifer’s website.
Check out the Michigan Fitness Foundation calendar for more great events.
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