Even the cold winter weather can’t stop this Dearborn cycling group

Even as the founder and ride leader for the cycling advocacy group Bike Dearborn, you might think that Tracy Besek’s bicycle gets a little dusty come winter time. You’d be wrong.

Besek is an avid cyclist. So much so, in fact, that not even the below-freezing temperatures, icy wind, and snow drifts can keep her two wheels off the road. And she’s not alone. Bike Dearborn’s Weekly Winter Wednesdays event gathers the most dedicated of area cyclists each week for a 10- to 12-mile bike ride around Dearborn, meeting at Ford Field’s covered bridge each Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. and often resulting in a visit to Dearborn Brewing following each ride. The rides are free and open to the public.

Recently, Bike Dearborn hosted the 50th annual First Dozen event. Typically free, this year’s special anniversary had the group asking for small donations to help raise funds for a new bike repair station in the city.

“Bike Dearborn operates on two levels. We have a core group of members that meet monthly to discuss the needs of accessible non-motorized transportation in Dearborn.  We’re always looking to grow this group of members. You don’t need to be an active cyclist, but maybe have a skill that would be beneficial,” Besek says.
“[Then there’s] the weekly cycling group. The best way to advocate for safe cycling is to show that there are many cyclists living and visiting the city. We are not only getting healthy, building a community of cyclists, but making a statement to non-cyclists that we are present. What better way than to cycle in a group!”

We asked her all about it.

“The best way to advocate for safe cycling is to show that there are many cyclists living and visiting the city,” says Tracy Besek, founder of Bike Dearborn.Metromode: Can you tell us about your Weekly Winter Wednesdays events?

Tracy Besek: We ride year-round on Wednesday evenings. In the warm months, May through October, we have our Wednesday Walk-n-Roll events where we partner up with the Healthy Dearborn coalition to lead a slow and social bike ride that is accessible to cyclists of most levels and ages.

The end of the 2016 season, I was motivated enough to continue riding every week on Wednesday nights. It culminated with me challenging myself at the end of 2016 to ride every day in 2017. So with that, I was riding every day anyway, and continued through the middle of winter and beyond back to the Walk-n-Roll season. Every Wednesday, I would post a ride and others would show up. The Weekly Winter Wednesday Ride was created! It was really an organic creation. I used this time to ride a little faster on routes that would be a bit longer than the Walk-n-Roll pace/route to attract different type of cyclists. Unlike the Walk-n-Rolls, the Winter Wednesday rides are accessible, but aren’t for everyone. We still conduct the rides as no-drop… meaning we won’t leave you abandoned if you fall behind. 

Metromode: Do you have any tips for riding in the cold weather months?

Tracy: My biggest tip is actually to NOT overdress. Dress for how you’ll feel in the middle of the ride. Start out a little chilly. It’s easy to dress in a ton of layers and get overheated and sweaty. Then, when you stop or take a break, you easily get chilled with wet/sweaty clothing on your skin. When it’s as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit, I usually have a sweat-wicking t-shirt, a sweatshirt hoodie, and a windbreaker on my upper body with wool leggings and wind/waterproof outer pants.

The extremities — ears, hands, feet — are a little different. Cover them up. A balaclava or winter bike helmet work well [for the head]. Heavy gloves (and/or bar mitts) and winter boots. You want to size up on the boots by one or two sizes if you wear thicker wool socks. You don’t want your feet tight and cramped. You want to be able to wiggle your toes freely. If you cut off your circulation in your feet, they go numb and get cold easier. Same with your hands. 

Metromode: How did these winter rides come about?

Tracy: It started quite organically with me challenging myself to ride every single day in 2017. I was also commuting to work throughout the year to help me achieve my goal. I would then post on our regular Wednesdays that I was riding and others would join me. Some participants have challenged themselves to ride in the winter for the first time, and find that they enjoy it.

It has its challenges… the winds are usually harsher, the riding surface has more hazards with possible snow and ice, and the temps can dip well below freezing. If you can ride in the winter, you can ride in most any other conditions. It makes you a stronger rider. Rider participation is higher when the temps dip up above 35, but there is usually at least one other person joining me.

As I mentioned before, it’s important for non-cyclists/motorists to see that there are cyclists year round trying to get to places that they need to get to or riding recreationally. Sometimes there are themes to the ride. Around Halloween, I like to create a route that includes some of the best decorated homes. Same with Christmas-time. It’s a fun way to check out different neighborhoods within the city. It teaches our participants that even though Dearborn’s cycling infrastructure is sorely lacking at this time, that you can get to any corner of the city by bike!

Metromode: Can you tell us about the meet-ups at Dearborn Brewing after the ride?

Tracy: It’s all about comradery. After a hard ride in the winter winds, it’s nice to sit and enjoy each other’s company after a ride and share a beverage, sometimes ordering food from the local restaurants that surround the downtown area. Part of the Bike Dearborn philosophy is supporting local businesses. Dearborn Brewing is one such business that has welcomed us with open arms. They have also graciously extended a 10 percent discount on Wednesday nights after our rides as incentive to stop by. It’s like our very own “Cheers” bar; everyone knows your name!

Metromode: Can you tell us about the 50th annual First Dozen event?

Tracy: The First Dozen was started by the Dearborn Cycling Saddlemen in 1972. It started as a challenge with just a few of their members to ride off their New Year’s Eve hangovers the next day — and getting their first 12 miles ridden for the year. From there, it grew.

I’m not sure what year it peaked, but as their group shrank in size from lack of recruitment and marketing, the participant numbers diminished. I looked forward to the First Dozen every year… I started riding it in 2015. For something that was around for so long, it was the first I ever heard of it. In 2018, we found out that the Cycling Saddlemen had no plans to run the 2019 event, so we asked if they minded if we took it over. We got their blessing and ran with it.

The one major thing we did was change the venue and the price to participate. All our rides are free and accessible to all so we removed the registration fee, and found a local coffee shop that was willing to host us. Again, we always want to support local businesses. We kept the same route.  It’s the same route every year.  We didn’t hold it in person for 2021 due to the pandemic, but released the route and info to encourage cyclists to ride it on their own with their smaller groups of friends since we were not able to have large indoor gatherings. This year we hosted it at Qahwah House in west Dearborn since it was close to the original route.

We had over 60 cyclists visit this business, and some for the very first time. Many ordered teas, lattes, and pastries from the coffee shop and vowed to be back!

Metromode: And this year’s event had a fundraising component?

Tracy: While we wanted to keep the First Dozen event free and accessible to all who wished to participate, we wanted to use this special 50th anniversary milestone to raise funds for our group’s vision of a more bike-friendly city. We raised $713. This will go towards our next public repair station. We currently have seven stations installed with the majority of them located in the west side of the city. We want to shift focus and start installing in the east and south ends of the city. Each station costs about $1500. The next station will likely be installed in the south end… a specific location has not been chosen yet as we work with the city on installation. You can see where the seven existing stations are located on our website.
Metromode: What else do you have planned for the future?

Tracy: We plan to launch a bicycle safety education program… we’ll have different levels of education from children to adults. I am currently enrolled in a program to get my League Cycling Instructor certification through the League of American Bicyclists in the spring. We will release more information as we move forward with this plan.   We are also advocating that the City’s new administration refocus energies on the Multi-Modal Transportation Plan, including better communication and planning with the County to further our goal of City and Regional connectivity through non-motorized infrastructure.

Visit Bike Dearborn on Facebook to learn all about their latest happenings.
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Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.