Cycling in Detroit's Suburbs and Beyond: Rides, Races and Routes in Southeast Michigan

With all the bicycle-related activities going down in Detroit right now, it's hard to resist just spinning our wheels about what’s happening in Motown. Doing that, however, means ignoring all the fun possibilities happening outside the city—and there's quite a lot going on. Southeast Michigan has a wealth of trails, races and other activities for riders who take the time to discover them.

The Farmada Freeride

Alyssa Goch knows all about this. In 2013, she and a few friends founded the Farmada Freeridea weekly ride in the rural Macomb County community of Armada.

The group got its start on the Macomb Orchard trail, a 23.5 mile multi-use path built on an old rail line that passes through Armada.

“All we were doing was riding the trail back and forth, just having a blast!” she says. They had so much fun that it seemed natural for them to invite others on the ride.

From six friends the ride has grown to a contingent of about 20 people from all over the region. The Freeriders gradually began expanding their territory too, going on excursions to places like the Paint Creek and Clinton River Trails in Oakland County and the Wadhams to Avoca rail train in St. Clair county. They've now settled on a routine of taking Armada-based trips one week and visiting other locales on alternating weeks, with the rides starting Sundays at 5 p.m. Sometimes they’ll even buddy up with another group like the Clinton River Mountain Bikers and the Rochester Mills bike club.

Over the last few years Goch has seen the community become more embracing of bicycle commuting and culture.

“[Armada locals aren’t just] looking at it as: ‘Oh, that person got a DUI, and that’s why they’re riding a bike,’” she says. “People are riding now, not just for recreation, but just because they can.”

Slow Spokes and the Local Bike Club Scene

Her group’s passion for cycling certainly isn’t a fluke. There’s a host of other regional clubs, including Adrian’s Maple Wheelers, Eastpointe’s Easy Riders, Clarkston’s Flying Rhinos, Rochester’s Stony Creek Cycling Club  and the Slow Spokes Bicycle Club in Sterling Heights.

Slow Spokes, in particular, sports some impressive numbers, boasting approximately 150 members, mostly from the eastern part of metropolitan Detroit.

“We have regular scheduled rides with five or 10 riders four nights a week, which average, say, 25 miles or so at a comfortable pace of 12-15 mph,” the club’s president Carol Ritchey tells Mode Shift. “On the weekends it's not unusual for 10 or 15 riders to join an 'impromptu' ride of 40 miles down to the Riverwalk, or to Royal Oak for a bagel and coffee, or some such worthy goal.”

Like the Freeriders, they also enjoy traveling on the Macomb Orchard and Paint Creek trails and like to visit Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township.

The Slow Spokes also put together a once-a-year day-long ride called the Peach of Ride. Held the last Sunday in August, it starts in Memphis, Mich. and winds around through the rural countryside of St. Clair and Macomb Counties. Riders can select from several scenic routes, which span from 22 to 100 miles in length.

Racing, Gravel Grinding, Charity Rides and More

While riding with a club is a surefire recipe for a good time, it’s only one of many options available to area cyclists. Just ask Scott Dedenbach, creator of the Bike Shop Show podcast and a mechanic at Adrian’s Reve Cycles.

“The bike scene out here is awesome!” he tells Mode Shift.

Dedenbach runs the Cyclocross Networkan online resource center for a special type of bike racing that involves repeat laps over a multi-faceted obstacle-laden track, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s a racing enthusiast.

According to him, most local racers stick to the schedule of events posted by the Michigan Bicycle Racing Association. Southeast Michigan locales are definitely part of this action. Ann Arbor, Birmingham, Clarkston, Dearborn, New Boston and Rochester all have various races and racing skill clinics scheduled this year.

Charity rides are also popular. July’s Make-A-Wish Bike Tour, which runs all the way from Traverse City to the Michigan International Speedway in the Irish Hills is one of Dedenbach’s favorites. It wraps up with riders taking a three-quarters of a lap run on the speedway race track.

Other area charity rides include Michigan Tour de Cure Ann Arbor in July and the Bike MS Great Lakes Fall Breakaway happening in Brighton this September.

Dedenbach also recommends checking out the OHR, or One Helluva Ride, sponsored by the Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society, which will mark its 39th year this July.

“It goes through Hell, Michigan, and that’s always a big, big event,” he says. “It's just gorgeous….Always a really fun route.”

All routes start and finish in Chelsea, Michigan. Participants can choose from six different paved routes that cover everything from a 15-mile jaunt to a 100-mile century.

Along with these formal events, bicyclists are just having fun too.

Dedenbach’s Adrian shop, Reve Cycles, is connected to a community bike center called Re-Bicycle Lenawee, so he rubs shoulders with a lot of local cyclists. He says the scene is picking up in Lenawee, especially folks who like spending their wheel time away from pavement .

He attributes this increase to the surging popularity of fat tire bikes, which makes it easier to ride all year round. Gravel-grinding, riding cyclocross or souped-up mountain bikes on unpaved back-country roads, is also big in Lenawee County.

“They go out on the dirt roads, sometimes it’ll be sort of a grand fondo, where they time it, and it’s almost a race,” he says. “Gravel grinding out here is huge! Fat tire biking out here is huge!”

So there you have it. Whether you want to roll through the suburbs, speed through a race track, raise some money for charity or just hit the trails with a group of friends, Southeast Michigan has something wonderful to offer the bicycle lover in you.

Now, get on your bikes and ride!

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