DETROIT—Last night started with lying on the floor in the living room paying bills. Of course I got bored and started poking around on Facebook and I realized Slow Roll was about to start. I considered the winter bulge that had crept up over my low rise pants.” Yep, I’m getting my butt on that bike,” I thought.
I notified the significant other (we’ll call him Brain) and reminded him that we had yet to join in, even though we are both friends with the organizers and have bikes; my ploy to get him to ride, too.
I feel guilty every Monday I don’t go, but rationalize why it’s OK (too cold, it might rain, I don’t think I can ride that far, blah, blah, blah). This ride was taking off and returning from one block away. “I am a real tool if I don’t make at least this one,” I told myself.
Sometimes I get nervous around large groups of people and I wasn’t sure how I’d fare in a large crowd. I ride alone so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have an annoyingly overactive imagination that tells me my naturally clumsy self might lose control and wipe out half the herd (I wasn’t going to let my silly brain talk me out of this one).
We wrangled our gear (bike lights, water bottles, etc.) and made our way over to the Majestic Theater. As we approached, I was amused by the cars pulling up with stacks of bikes strapped to the back, and packs of riders coming up and down Woodward Ave. to join the group. It was like a swarm of bees joining the hive there were so many people. There were many familiar faces, but so many more that were unfamiliar.
After folks made their last ditch efforts to fill their tires with air and down their last gulps of beer, Mike Mackool, co-founder of Slow Roll and Detroit Bike City, grabbed the bullhorn and started to explain the rules of the ride.
My understanding was approximately 50 percent of the total number of directives, since I could only hear him when he had the bullhorn pointed towards me. Something about “… callback …,” and “… side of the road …,” “… to the right …,” “… slow roll pace …,” and “… we’re going this way,” as he pointed north on Woodward.
I really didn’t know what the heck he was talking about but I understood I was supposed to obey some basic rules of the road (check) and respond to calls as appropriate (OK, I will just figure it out as we go), and that we wouldn’t be riding a race.
So, bouncing my bike off the curb and off to a wobbly start I went. Our goal was to visit a landmark of the music scene in Detroit.
There were sweepers (kind of like shepherds) along the ride who'd yell forward when cars were coming and generally make sure we were being as respectful to the drivers as we hoped they’d be to us. They'd also block traffic to let the whole group through intersections, but often, they’d chit chat with the drivers whose path we were impeding, too.
“Smart move, guys,” I thought. “You can simultaneously promote the ride while distracting them from being pissed off we're holding them up!”
As everyone started to settle into the pace, I started up a conversation with a fellow who rides in the Slow Roll every week and comes from downriver. He was all geared up in a racing jersey, and chatted about his concrete business. Sadly, I can’t take notes or remember names, but he said it was like a weekly meditation for him.
As we rode north on Cass and turned left onto Grand Boulevard, a GMOB (Grown Men on Bikes) member in a slick royal blue and chrome bike rode up along my left. His laid back ride (literally, like a recumbent bike) was a total custom job with chrome spokes, hard case panniers, Detroit Lions decals and a powerful set of speakers. His selection of 25,000 songs on his Android phone kept riders entertained, playing funk, jive, Motown, rap and hip-hop the whole way, and even a few slow jams.
As we headed west towards Grand River and into the neighborhoods, riders started ringing their bells and horns more frequently, both for safety reasons at intersections, but apparently to also grab attention. Drivers and pedestrians honked and hollered, laughed and waved, and took photos and video as we rode by.
I looked around me at the group – people of all ethnicities and ages, styles and sizes. “I just love this,” I thought to myself. And I do. I cannot think of a more interesting and diverse group to have joined since I moved to Detroit last year.
Part of the Slow Roll is that when you meet at the destination, everyone stops, you get a history lesson about the location, and then whichever photographers are there take photos of the group. If you have a bike that’s light enough, it’s standard practice to hold it high into the air for the photo. “Maybe when I buy a $3,000 racing bike,” I told myself. “This will never happen.”
Our destination happened to be the Grande Ballroom, home of Detroit’s Rock n’ Roll scene of the ‘60s. It’s a sad site today, but worth taking in as another symbol of the city’s rich culture that deserves to be saved.
As we headed down Grand River, Pinky, the 1987 Cannondale owned by Brain, got a flat. We pulled off and I hollered at my pal, Henry Ford II, who is an avid rider and who I assumed might be able to help.
We learned a good lesson, which is that even though we came prepared with bike lights, and some of our gear, it’s probably (no, it IS) a good idea to make sure you have a tube with you, too.
My spare inner tube was too big for Pinky, and luckily, Jason Hall, co-founder of Slow Roll and Detroit Bike City, was bringing up the rear as a sweeper with the necessary supplies to fix it. He was able to switch out the bad tube for a new one to get Pinky back on the road and it only took about 5 minutes.
“All I ask is that you bring a tube with you next time, and help out the next person who needs it,” Hall told me when I asked if we could pay him back or replace the tube.
Done and done.
Apparently, that last stretch of road near the Grande was tough because we met up with another biker with a flat, and passed one more before we were able to meet up with the pack. The sweepers were there, happily helping along the way.
Despite the group's safety calls alerting riders to holes, glass, and in this ride's case, dumpsters, parked cars, boards and whatever other refuse was laying in the roadway, flats were bound to happen.
As Henry, Brain and I raced ahead to catch up with the pack, I noticed a huge billow of smoke in the air as we crossed over I-94 to the east. It’s one of those things that illicits jokes from everyone, but it’s a sad, common truth about Detroit. “I wonder if that’s the Packard Plant on fire again,” I said.
We caught up with the group and swung a hard left onto Temple, slowing down to recollect.
We wound our way down Cass, through downtown, and back up to the Majestic, listening to music, laughing, talking, and for me, marveling at this wonderful group of people who just love to ride.
In all, we rode just over 13 miles in two hours. The pace was good for riders of all abilities.
I can’t imagine missing another chance to ride in the future. It is a great time to ride a bike in Detroit.
To see more great photos from the ride, check out this set on Facebook.
For invitations to upcoming Slow Rolls, like the Bikes & Murder Facebook page.