The Cass Corridor is cold, snowy and largely deserted outside of The Hub
in Midtown Detroit this time of year. That’s not the case inside the new bike shop just north of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Bicycling enthusiasts of all ages, colors and creeds rub tires inside a space littered with custom wheels and vintage bikes.
There is a constant stream of people coming and going from the shop in the dead of January, and they all got there on two wheels. Cold or no cold, these year-round commuters brave the freezing temperature, ice and snow to keep on pedaling. The destinations for these die-hards are their jobs, local businesses, friends and families.
"The winter time weeds out all of the wussies," says Jordan Bentley, the mechanic manager at The Hub.
This is the fifth year the 23-year-old has been riding year-round, and he is far from alone. The steady stream of half-a-dozen people in The Hub in the dead of January are all year-round commuters. The type of people who watch the Weather Channel to pump themselves up for another day of biking in a winter wonderland.
"I cheer myself up by looking at the weather in Barrow
, Alaska," says John Orland, a 21-year-old College of Creative Studies
student who lives in Woodbridge. "That’s the coldest place in the U.S."Hot for cold rides
Most of us look out the window at the snow drifts, icicles and blowing wind and say to ourselves, "No way I’m going out in that." The people at The Hub and numerous other bike shops across Metro Detroit do the same and say, "I can't wait to go out and have fun in that!"
That means everything from pleasure rides to daily commutes. Of course such insane behavior requires a careful 10-minute ritual of dressing layer after layer of shirts, long johns, sweaters and fleeces, making sure no cotton touches the skin to keep dry. Plastic bags and wool socks go over the feet and heavy ski gloves on the hands with a hand warmer or two thrown in to keep everything toasty. Face masks and snowboard helmets top it off to keep riders warm but not overheated.
This has been a tradition for most of Rick Teranes' life. The 40-year-old Grosse Pointe resident bikes everywhere, rain or shine, heat wave or deep freeze. He started with a paper route as a kid and never stopped pedaling. So much so that what you and I consider normal driving is gridlock to him.
"What a pain," Teranes says. "The people don’t realize how much of a pain it is to find a parking spot. If I were on my bike I would be done with the errand already."
Most of those errands get done on his two wheels. He races friends to see who can first hit 2,000 miles biked between November and March on older bikes that hide the wear, tear and corrosion of winter riding.
"That really got us out there doing 16 miles a day no matter what the weather was like," Teranes says. "I don't know if it's just me but I look at it as a challenge."
It's a challenge he customizes his bike and life around. Teranes once put screws in his tire to give it more traction and figured out that snowboard helmets offer just as much protection as bike helmets without letting your head freeze. He also tries to dress respectably on his bike so he doesn’t look like he's racing the Tour de France
or an alcoholic who just lost his drivers license.
"You have got to represent a good image if you want to energize other people to do it," Teranes says. "I always try to have a sense of style."Equal road rules
Style is nice but most Metro Detroit bicyclists would be happier if motorists noticed them at all. For the ones that do, a little more respect would be nice.
"When it comes to people in cars you might have one out of 100 that will give you any sort of consideration," says Reese Matrice, a resident of Detroit’s Northend neighborhood.
"Most drivers feel like you don’t belong on the road."
The 49-year-old has been riding year-round for four years. He says its the best way to consistently exercise and be in better touch with his surroundings. It provides a sense of freedom where he can conveniently stop and do anything or visit anybody whenever he feels like it. It's a feeling he says most motorists don’t experience because they're wrapped in their personal automotive bubble while driving.
That bubble casts some sort of self-righteous spell on its drivers. The kind that yells at bicyclists to get off the road or even worse, ignores their safety all together. Those are the kind that scare Matrice the most because even if they don't purposely wish harm on cyclists a late stop or errant turn can have fatal consequences.
Dearborn resident Mike Aderhold can definitely identify with that fear. It's compounded in the winter because roads are often plowed just enough for cars or not enough at all. More snow too often means less road for motorists and bicyclists to share.
If the 37-year-old salesman could wish for one thing to improve bicycling conditions in Metro Detroit, it would be an attitude change for motorists so they realize bicyclists have equal rights and responsibilities.
"It would take a whole mentality change for motorists," Aderhold says. "Bike lanes would be nice but it's going to take more than that."Lifestyle
Countless Metro Detroiters pedal on despite the dangers and weather. It’s a lifestyle choice they not only embrace but revel in.
Alex Aranda beams when he talks about biking through his first winter. The L.A. transplant now lives in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood where he and his girlfriend share one car. To them it doesn't make sense to pay for two cars and double the insurance payments, even in the Motor City. In fact he thinks biking is easier here.
"There are no cars here compared to L.A.," says Aranda, a 33-year-old graphic designer.
Matrice agrees that bicycling is much more cost effective and rewarding than driving or taking the bus. The only thing that stops him is heavy rain or snow. Otherwise he’s outside not only taking in the world but taking it on.
"I know I am ready for it," Matrice says. "I know it's not going to be too much for me."
Jon Zemke is the News Editor for Metromode, Concentrate and Model D. He also thinks the year-round bicyclists that pass by his Detroit home every day are both a bit braver and crazier than he is, but he still yields for them.