“Does your mother know you are riding around Detroit after dark,” I asked Mallory Dapprich, a freshman from Brighton attending the University of Detroit Mercy’s 27th annual Midnight Bike Ride.
“No, my mother went here,” Mallory says.
Her family often cycles Kensington Metro Park in Milford, and she plans to do more cycling in Detroit now that she’s immersed herself in the city’s nighttime culture. She says her buddies were eager to see the city from a two-wheeled perspective.
At least 300 riders, half students, half community folks who love to cycle, came together for the bike ride on a full moon on the night of an eclipse. We had police from Detroit Mercy and the City of Detroit blaring their electronic sirens and shining lights. They cleared the streets so we could pass without harm.
And so we did.
Pedestrians scuttled to and fro on the Detroit Mercy campus, burning the midnight oil at the library or catching up with friends on this lovely campus at McNichols and Livernois.
We took off promptly at 8 p.m. and headed out on a warm evening to greet the night.
“I love the biking community of Detroit,” says Ron Marko, a retired developer for the city of Detroit and avid Slow Roll cyclist on Mondays. “Everybody is happy. I can be a kid, like these freshmen, for a moment.”
I’ve done the Midnight Ride numerous times and loved every minute of the experience, whether it was greeting a cop on horseback, cycling by the Detroit Highwaymen’s lair or reveling in the beautiful, well-lit houses on Boston Boulevard. When I was Mallory’s age my mother forbad me to go into the city fearing the worst might happen. Once I got there, I met the best people and enjoyed the best adventures south of Eight Mile Road.
Yet there’s so much to see.
What surprised and delighted me this year was the incredible work done by Lisa Johanon, CEO of the Christian Development Corporation north of Boston Boulevard. Here a coalition of volunteers and staff has launched Peaches and Greens, a health food store; Farm and Fishery, a tilapia farm, and Fit and Fold, a laundromat we passed on Second Avenue.
Nema Kebbeh of Oak Park says she never did anything like a Midnight ride before. Kyri Nigra asks why students would not take the chance to hang with other students and neighbors on a warm evening when it happened only once a year. The college provided rental bikes to make it easier.
(Quick suggestion – next year it would be good to provide rental lights and helmets.)
The path was made smoother because the city has installed streetlights on every street leading to and from Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island where we stopped to refuel with Coney dogs and soda pop. A few people ducked into a bar with ear-splitting techno music. Nearly everyone reveled at Lafayette Gardens, the project of Greening of Detroit to turn a demolished office building into a space of green in the center of downtown.
We cycled all around the Renaissance Center where Andiamo restaurant diners on its sidewalk cafe waved as we passed. The Detroit River looked glorious in the light of the moon.
Then we passed a bunch of downtown buildings where construction continues at a ceaseless pace. The new $450 million Red Wings stadium is looming large with the possibility of opening in 2017.
I rolled up to Rico Hands, a fellow City Roller from the early 1990s, who recalled when Detroit was desolate, when 200 inline skaters could wind through the streets with little traffic or road construction. Today, we sure celebrate the spiffed up town and influx of young residents.
Suburbanites find the tour fascinating. Dave McAree of Novi came with his daughter Julia, a sophomore at Detroit Mercy. They had so much fun last year they came back. “Lafayette Coney is the highlight of our trip,” he says.
We passed the setup on Michigan Avenue for the next day’s big Tour de Troit, one of the biggest cycling events in Detroit all year. Michigan Avenue is loaded with party goers hitting the stops from Two Jakes Distillery and Mercury Bar to PJ’s Lager House. Nearly every abandoned storefront is revitalized, including Metropolis, a bike store that draws a cheer from the cyclists.
The ride home is quiet as people slog the miles and wish the college would loom up sooner. We all were hoping we soon reach a day when we don’t need the ear-blasting police sirens throughout the ride because motorists would make room for a large bevy of bikes.
Thomas Page, a double alumnus from Detroit Mercy, comes back each year to support his alma mater and get some exercise. He sells t-shirts that read, “I live on the fun side of 8 Mile.”
“Great fun,” he says as he pushed off with avid riders Branis Pesich of Dearborn and Dave Taperek of Roseville. “We’ll be cycling all weekend.”
Until the harsh winds blow, many more people will join them. Bike culture in Detroit is here to stay.