If you are anything like me, you remember American television in the 1980s and the phrase “I'm not only the president, I'm also a client.” Sy Sperling's fifteen minutes may be over, but his words resonate when considering my identity and the bicycle culture within the city of Detroit. My employment as a bike messenger has enriched my view of our fine city.
Taking a trip down memory lane, I tend to think in terms of various rites of passage. I grew up in Roseville, an eastside suburb. I can remember the first time I learned to ride a bike, as well as the bicycles I rode prior to age sixteen. My first was a sparkling purple Schwinn with a banana seat that I wish still had. I had other bikes as I progressed into early adolescence, but the closer I got to age sixteen, the more my interest in cycling waned. I wanted my driver's license and the freedom of an automobile. Once that happened, my bike was put in the garage and forgotten.
Fast forward six years and thousands of dollars spent on gasoline, insurance, and auto repairs. I was moving to Philadelphia and for the first time in my adult life an automobile would not be my primary mode of transportation. I quickly tired of walking and the shortcomings of the subway and bus services in Philly. Like the prodigal son, I returned to the bicycle and it changed my life. Riding a bike is one of life's simple pleasures, and I was reacquainted with my youth. Now, I am back in Detroit after seven years on the east coast. I do own a car now, but it spends the majority of time in my garage while my bicycles get the majority of my attention.
To me, Detroit is a new city now that I view it daily through the eyes of a cyclist. Downtown's gems sparkle more when one is not confined to the sterile and reclusive boundaries of an automobile. How many times have you heard people complain about parking downtown? This isn't a problem I have. Traffic? I go around it. I can see a burgeoning bicycle culture in downtown Detroit.
The weather is changing both literally and figuratively. As spring comes in like a lion and exits like a lamb, cyclists are coming out of the woodwork. Head over to the Urban Bean Company at Grand River and Griswold where more times that not one can find a bike locked up outside or at least inside one of the doors. Check in with the fine folks at Foran's Irish Pub at Congress and Woodward and notice a few bicycles located not far from their front door. Parking is nearly impossible at either of these spots, unless one is on a bike. Grab a bike and head down to the RiverWalk stretching from Belle Isle to Joe Louis Arena. It's a safe alternative for those who aren't necessarily interested in weaving through traffic as I am. Regardless of your intentions or destinations, I guarantee that Detroit on a bicycle will alter your perception.
Yes, I am a bike messenger and my occupation necessitates riding a bicycle. Consider again the Sy Sperling quote. I not only ride a bike because it's my job, I also ride for recreation. My conception of Detroit has improved exponentially since encountering it on two wheels. I'm not claiming to have all the answers, but sometimes when you change your perspective, things tend to look somewhat rosier.