Metro Detroit’s bicycle culture is shifting into high gear.
While places like Hines Drive, Stony Creek Metropark and Belle Isle have drawn cyclists for years, a wave of new businesses and bike-friendly initiatives are helping make the Motor City more mobile than ever.
Wayne State University is exploring a citywide bike-sharing program, and Detroit plans to add 100 miles of bike routes this year. There’s even talk of adding bike lanes to the entire 27-mile length of Woodward Avenue from Detroit to Pontiac.
And now, bike manufacturers are even setting up shop here. At least four bike makers have launched businesses in Detroit and a northern suburb since 2011, and at least two more are on the way.
“We have a lot of talented, creative folks in Michigan,” said John Lindenmayer, advocacy and policy director for the Lansing-based League of Michigan Bicyclists. “People are making things other than cars.”
Helping drive the growth, observers say, is an explosion in the popularity of getting around on two wheels — for exercise, recreation and commuting — even in the city that put the world on four.
“Cyclists were pigeonholed as having expensive road bikes and wearing spandex,” said Kelli Kavanaugh, co-owner of Wheelhouse Detroit, a bike rental, service and retail shop along the Detroit RiverWalk. “(Now) you’re seeing more people turn to bikes. People are seeing it more as a form of commuting.”
The League of American Bicyclists, a Washington, D.C.-based group that promotes cycling through education and advocacy efforts, recently upgraded Michigan’s bike-friendly ranking, moving it up to the 12th most bike-friendly state from its 19th spot a year ago. The organization cited the state’s efforts to add bike lanes and encourage cycling.
“We’ve seen a steady arc of interest in bicycling in lots of different kinds of communities,” Bill Nesper, the League’s vice president of programs, said. “We’re impressed by where Detroit is going.”
Detroit has 45 miles of bike paths and bike lanes, and there are plans to add 100 more miles by the end of the year, said Todd Scott, coordinator for the Michigan Trails and Greenway Alliance.
“A lot of the work was done many years ago,” said Scott, who last summer was recognized by Google for using GoogleMaps to map bike routes in the city. “We’re finally starting to see the fruits of our efforts.”
The Woodward Avenue Action Association, a development organization, has plans to turn the entire 27-mile stretch of Woodward into a “complete street”— which, among other things, means bike lanes.
“It’s a natural fit right now for where Detroit is,” Lindenmayer said. “More people are riding, and there’s a growing number of bike-related businesses. It’s an emerging niche market.”
The explosion in bicycling’s popularity has inspired entrepreneurs to start making bikes in and around Detroit.
Sean Simpson’s Autobike in Troy uses a small circuit board — the bike’s “brain” — to calculate how fast you’re going at all times and automatically switches gears to ensure a smooth ride.
The burgeoning bike industry doesn’t surprise Autobike co-founder Kevin Smith.
“When you look at Michigan and what its legacy is, you have manufacturing, engineering and product development,” Smith said. “It only makes sense that Michigan could be a hotbed for the rebirth of the bike, a derivative of a car, another form of transportation.”