Detroit Bike City

A short documentary captures the biking renaissance happening in Detroit–from youth programs, to community rides to making use of all those unused car lanes.
In a city plagued by socioeconomic hardship, a new movement is blooming. Brought together by a shared passion for bicycle riding, many Detroit residents are working to create a biking community that permeates the city streets, promoting alternative transportation and a better quality of life. The short documentary “Detroit Bike City” by Alex Gallegos showcases the Detroit bike movement with artistry.

Like many Americans, residents in Detroit have felt the burden of rising gas prices, prompting some to look for alternatives. “I actually started riding because gas prices got too high, and then I just fell in love with it,” said Stacy Jones, one of the bike riders featured in the film.

The founders of the EastSide Riders Bike Club have taken it upon themselves to promote bike riding as a positive influence for kids facing social or economic hardship. “It’s a safe environment for them,” said Wayne Neeley, president of EastSide Riders. “We do little clinics where we show them how to work on their bikes, and then we do orchestrated rides where we try to ride as safe as we can.”

Young people in the area have taken to the club, and it continues to gain popularity. Mike Neeley, the vice-president of EastSide Riders, explained, “[Kids] saw us riding in the neighborhood, and the next thing we know, they mobbed up and they had a bigger mob than we had.” Their goal is to provide bike riding and workshops as an outlet for the neighborhood. “We want you to go to school, and do the right thing, ride bikes, find something that you’re interested in and do it,” Mike added.

Mike Neeley is a living example of how healthy bike riding can be. He told the documentary crew that he lost over 70 pounds in two years by riding his bike every day. “In 2005, I was 235 pounds. I was shooting insulin, I was on high blood pressure medication, I was just sick…” he said. But after losing weight and making the commitment to bike riding, he says that he stopped needing insulin shots, and his blood pressure fell to manageable levels.

And there are other programs in the city for kids to learn about bikes and safe riding. The Hub of Detroit is a small bike shop that also sponsors organized rides and educational programs including a bike mechanic training program for teenagers.

And Detroit’s decreased population has been a bicycling blessing in disguise. Jordan Bentley of Corktown Cycles said, “I’ve liked riding in the city since we moved here, because we don’t have a lot of developed bike lanes, but we have a lower population than what the city’s built for, so there’s a lot of extra car lanes that just become impromptu bike lanes.”

Critical Mass, an event held in major cities across the U.S. on the last Friday of the month, is gaining momentum in Detroit. In Gallegos’ film, Bentley said, “Probably two years ago when I first started going out [on Critical Mass rides], we’d be lucky if we had 60 people. And now I’ve seen some of them get at least over 200.” Critical Mass, and bike riding in general, have given Detroit a renewed opportunity to build a sense of community—a chance to meet other people.

One participant of Detroit’s Critical Mass said that bike riding is “a better mode of transportation. You can usually get by faster. I can get anywhere about as fast as any vehicle inside the city.”

“I met so many people here, just from riding my bike around,” said another.