Bicycle culture growing in Flint and Saginaw

Bicycling may be synonymous with cities like Portland or Minneapolis, but local enthusiasts are working to put Flint and Saginaw on friendlier terms with bicycles with youth and adult classes and trails. 
If you feel like you've been seeing more bikes around town lately, you'd be right: urban cycling is on the rise across the nation. A rare intersection of health, convenience, affordability and the all-important but ineffable "fun quotient" has led to more adults riding their bikes from point A to point B as if it were--gasp--a normal mode of transportation.

While the States still have a long way to go before bike commuting is mainstream--even in cycle-crazy Portland, less than 10 percent of residents are bike commuters--there are factors conspiring to grow those numbers. Bike sharing programs are on the rise; bike lanes and other facilitating infrastructure is growing as a result of the Complete Streets movement; and newer publications like Momentum and Urban Velo have entered the magazine market to satiate the ranks of pedalers.

Here in mid-Michigan, advocates are working to make Flint and Saginaw more bike-friendly on a number of fronts. Second Wave takes a peek at a few of these efforts.

Bikes = Health

Angela Stamps is a Flint native who became a regular rider while she lived in Los Angeles for almost 20 years. When she moved back home, she founded the Berston Bicycle Club Project, a club that teaches kids safe cycling skills while promoting a healthier lifestyle. "The beautiful thing for me about biking; it is an exercise you can do your entire life," says Stamps.

The program is structured with three rides a week that each begin with a short lesson, repeated throughout the week. Participants have to attend two of the three sessions for nine weeks to earn a free bike. The core of the lessons revolves around safe riding, which the kids get to test out on their group rides. "We get a lot of attention on the streets," she says. "It's a serious commitment, but we have a lot of fun."

The program is centered at Berston Field House. Participants are coached in healthy eating as well as biking. "If we're going to make any improvements, we need to start with this particular group--they dictate what their parents bring into the home."

For safety, Stamps stresses single file riding, and she works to route the group along residential streets when possible. By the third week, the children are confidently riding up to ten miles, visiting places of interest around town, eventually even venturing outside the city limits. "I tell them, 'Cycling is popular around the world. We live in a car town, but you may move away from here and, if you ever can't afford a car, biking is cheap and healthy,'" she says. "It's a win-win and, what you see when you are riding is magic."

Stamps acquires the bikes via donation or pawn shop purchases. She has about 20 in her basement that need work and another 25 that are rideable, stored at the Field House. Those probably won't last long. Her goal is for 30 to 35 youths to complete the program this year, meaning most of those will be riding away before too long.

Bikes = Community

Similar to Stamps, Dan Moilanen got bit by the biking bug when he lived elsewhere--in his case, Austin, Texas. He participated in a weekly ride there called Social Cycling Austin that emphasized the friendliness of cycling.

"We'd ride for 20 miles at a real slow, casual pace and we'd socialize and connect and party and hang out," he says. "We'd stop throughout the night at parks and other spaces and I met some of my friends down there through it."

When family circumstances and a job opportunity conspired to move him back home to Michigan, Moilanen found a way to import the concept with Social Cycling Flint. His day jobs at Resource Genesee and Red Ink Flint both revolve around community revitalization and it's not a big leap from there to bikes. "I got really involved with trying to do some more fun things with arts to improve the community and get people engaged," he says. "My primary goal is to get more people on bikes, which builds social connections."

Moilanen also sees cycling as a way for people to get to know Flint. "It's a great, intimate way to see the city and experience the city," he says. "It's got such a negative reputation for being violent, crime-ridden and blighted but, when you're out there on a bike you see subtle details you miss out there in a car. You get people to really see the city differently."

Social Cycling Flint has been around for two years. In this year, its third, Moilanen hopes to increase the number of participants. "The ride has been small, but we're going to keep it going and keep it growing," he says.

Cycling can also be about accessibility, Moilanen and Stamps agree. "Transportation (can be) such a massive barrier to employment," he says. "Cycling offers increased accessibility, a reasonable affordable alternative that can substantially help people. It's for more than just recreational purposes, and that distinction needs to be made to a lot of municipalities."

Bikes = Fun

Interested in getting more into riding? A perfect place to start is on the Flint River Trail, which will keep you separated from traffic most of the time. As Moilanen describes it, "It's peaceful to get out into the woods, but it also includes an urban setting. It's a really fun ride."

The Genesee Wanderers cycling club hosts regular rides on the Flint River Trail, among others. Another strong resource is your local bike shop. The League of Michigan Bicyclists lists member shops by city here.

There are opportunities throughout the year to get involved in biking your community. Spring really is not that far away, so mark your calendar for May 17's HealthPlus Tour de Crim. It's a 10-mile ride on a closed course and proceeds benefit the Crim Fitness Foundation's efforts to support active living in Genesee County. Finally, would-be riders can keep up to date with other local happenings at Social Cycling Flint's Facebook group, where both Stamps and Moilanen are active.
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