Tag Archives: Biking in Detroit

Outspokin’ on Wheelhouse: ‘Riding a Renaissance’

Wheelhouse Detroit bike shop on the Detroit RiverWalk.

Wheelhouse Detroit bike shop on the Detroit RiverWalk.

We are so honored and thrilled that the industry magazine “Outspokin’” recently wrote a wonderful article on Wheelhouse, entitled “Riding a Renaissance.”

Writer Peter Koch eloquently captures what Wheelhouse is about: bikes for everyone, and everyone on bikes in Detroit. We thought we would share a few excerpts from the article here.

On beating the odds:

“We all know the relatively long odds of succeeding in this industry—how 70 percent of new retail shops close within three years and roughly 1,000 shut their doors every single year. But when Wheelhouse Detroit first opened its doors back in June of 2008, the odds seemed stacked even higher. After all, here was a seasonal business setting up shop in an unheated, uninsulated 500-square-foot shed in an Upper Midwest city that also happened to be the poorest in America. To make matters worse, the Detroit economy was in free fall, weighed down by sweeping layoffs in the local auto industry, doubledigit unemployment and one of the nation’s highest home foreclosure rates. But none of that stopped Kelli Kavanaugh and then-business partner Karen Gage (who sold her half of the business to Kavanaugh last winter)—both industry outsiders working in community development—from seeing opportunity. As passionate lifelong cyclists who were intimately familiar with community needs, they were confident of one thing: cycling was on the rise in Detroit, and downtown was in desperate need of a shop.”

On the mission:

But this wouldn’t be a high-end boutique peddling carbon frames and Tour de France dreams. From the start, Wheelhouse Detroit was organized around the singular goal of getting more city people on bikes through sales of reliable workhorse bikes, rentals and—an unusual offering—guided bike tours, then keeping them rolling with top-notch service.

On our future:

Today the shop’s future looks much brighter. Not only is it open year-round and thriving relative to those bleak early days, but a second, larger location is in the works. And out on the streets of Detroit, the number of cyclists is exploding, ushering in a sort of two-wheeled revolution in Motor City.

On the Riverwalk

This is where locals get their fresh air, and where tourists come to see signs of the city’s burgeoning renaissance. And Wheelhouse is ready to facilitate, with its well-maintained rental fleet and, improbably for a bike shop, guided tours.

On the Wheelhouse mission and philosophy:

“I think there’s a little bit of attitude around cycling—‘I’m cool because I cycle, I’m really fit because I cycle, I’m smarter than you because I cycle’—that permeates the industry and cyclists,” she says. She tries to combat that image with the tours, where virtually anybody can get on a bike, ride a dozen miles, learn about Detroit and have fun. “You don’t have to wear spandex, you don’t have to ride a fancy bike. And I think that serves as a gateway drug to becoming a regular cyclist.” In other words, the tours are a great way for newbies to gain confidence and learn the rules of the road in a small group.

“We’re emphatically not about performance here. We’re about making people comfortable, and hopefully turning them from very occasional riders to very regular riders.”

On the city’s growing bike culture:

“It’s funny to see the change that’s happened in Detroit in eight years,” Kavanaugh says. “It’s gone from people saying, ‘You’re insane to ride a bike in Detroit’ to people being really interested in it.” Three bike shops opened in the first half of 2015, and at least a couple more are slated to. “Detroit is this super desirable place to do business right now. It’s super hip.”

On the future of Wheelhouse

Now that growth appears to be snowballing. This summer, Kavanaugh opened a tiny Wheelhouse rental outpost downtown in a converted shipping container. She’s hoping to open another in the autumn near Eastern Market. … By the end of the year, Kavanaugh plans to open a second full-size retail location of Wheelhouse Detroit. “It will focus more on retail and service, and I’ll keep the rentals and tours at our current location.” There will be a small amount of overlap in either direction, though, so customers can rent a bike from the new shop, or get their ride repaired at the old one.

On biking Detroit:

“Whether they’re buying their first bike, upgrading from a beater—inherited or from Wal-Mart—renting or going out on one of our tours, we get people on bikes,” says Kavanaugh. “We’re a portal into cycling in Detroit.”

Thanks again to Peter and “Outspokin’”! You can read the entire article here.

How to (legally) install a bike rack

Since we talked about bike rack design last month, we’ve gotten lots of questions about bike rack installation. So here is a handy-dandy guide to petitioning the city for the legal installation of one on a sidewalk outside your business.

Copy the letter below and and fill it in with your info.

June 26, 2010

Detroit City Council
c/o City Clerk
Coleman A. Young Municipal Center
Room 200
Detroit, MI 48226

RE:   Petition for Right of Way Encroachment Approval to Establish / Install an Outdoor Patio / Bike Rack / Bench / Etc. along the Sidewalk on the east side of Woodward, between Temple and Charlotte submitted by Wheelhouse Detroit, LLC.

Dear Honorable City Council Members:

Wheelhouse Detroit is a bicycle shop offering new bike sales, retail, service, bicycle rentals and tours. It opened in 2008, and is the only full-service new bike shop in Greater Downtown Detroit. Wheelhouse currently operates from March through November in a small space located on the Detroit Riverwalk at Rivard Plaza.

This letter from Wheelhouse Detroit requests a petition number to grant approval for a right of way encroachment to install a bike rack along the sidewalk along the east side of Woodward Avenue, between Temple and Charlotte.

Attached you will find the specification cut sheet for the bike rack to be installed as well as a measured drawing indicating the as built location of the bike rack.  As the petitioner, Wheelhouse Detroit understands if the right of way encroachment is approved, Wheelhouse Detroit must enter into a maintenance agreement with the City of Detroit to accept liability for the encroachment and ensure the proper maintenance of the rack.

Please feel free to contact me at 313.656.2453 should you require any additional information in order to proceed.  Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Wheelhouse Detroit

Attachments: The cut sheet isn’t necessary, but a site plan is — you’ll just need a measured drawing that shows the building, where the fence for the patio or the bike rack will be installed, where the right of way is (sidewalk, street, property line). For this, it doesn’t need to be to scale, but it should indicate the measurements. Maybe throw in some photos of the site.

You submit the package to the City Clerk and in about 2 to 3 weeks you’ll get a petition number and someone from the City will contact you, more than likely the Survey Bureau from the Department of Public Works. They will assist you in processing your request, but they need a petition number to start.

Again, feel free to contact us at info@wheelhousedetroit.com for advice or assistance. We love seeing bike racks sprouting up around town, especially when they are done well!

Bike racks on the brain

As Detroit becomes more bike friendly, more and more businesses and institutions are installing bike racks — which is great, no doubt about it. What is frustrating, though, is to see funds and good intent wasted when, simply put, the bike rack is not functional. This occurs when the rack is poorly designed or poorly placed.

The sad thing is that it is not inherently more expensive to buy a properly designed rack, or even build one. A great example of a do-it-yourself rack is at the Woodbridge Pub. It uses varying lengths of metal pipe and couplers for a functional rack that even has a cool industrial look to it.

There are several standard racks that are great: The post and loop, which you can find at Mudgie’s Deli and the simple inverted-U, which can be seen below.

Landscape Forms, which is a Michigan-based company, makes a couple of very functional racks with pleasant designs. The Pi is a take on the inverted-U and the Bicilinea is based on a design you might see employed in Europe. We really like how the angle makes it easier for many frame sizes to lock up to the rack.
Another great basic design can be seen right here at Rivard Plaza. (Not at all our doing!) There are lots of them, they are well-spaced and well-placed! This rack is a step up from the inverted-U and the post and loop because the angle, like the Bicilinea above, accommodates many different sizes and shapes of frames. They do take up more room though, so if space is limited go for the inverted-U or post and loop, which are both perfectly adequate.

Onto the bad. The wave rack, which can be found everywhere. Why is it bad? Unlike the inverted-U, there is only one possible connection point to the frame of a bike. The frame is the point, people. It’s the most valuable part of a bike.

The worst bike rack of all is the classic “comb” rack, the kind you probably used at elementary school. There’s one of these at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center as well as at the Broadway People Mover Station. There is no place to lock a U-lock to, except at either end, and all the interior spots are great — if all you care about is your front wheel. Say no to comb!

Here are some links that talk about good and bad examples of racks, they really help you get the idea.





One last quick note. Designing your own rack, whether to save money or to add a creative bent to a functional item, is awesome. And totally encouraged. Just make sure to consider the goal of the end object: something to lock a bike to. If that sounds obvious, well, you should see some of the racks out there. They look rad, but if you can’t lock your bike to it, it’s just an ornamental sculpture. A prominent example of artsy racks can be found in NYC, where David Byrne, an avid cyclist, designed nine iconic racks. That, importantly, also work.

If you are thinking about installing a rack – yay! – swing by the shop or shoot an email to info@wheelhousedetroit.com. Kelli and Karen have tons of information on styles, specs and prices.

Detroit Bikes! Cinco de Mayo Ride

On May 1, Detroit Bikes! will host a Cinco de Mayo ride that will take off from Clark Park at 10 a.m.  The 10.5-mile route will take in Fort Wayne, Riverfront Park, and St. Anne’s Church. Registration and free bike helmet raffle begins at 9 a.m.

For more information, visit www.detroitsynergy.org/projects/detroitbikes or email detroitbikes@detroitsynergy.org.

It’s more fun than it looks!

Karen & Kelli are big about talking the FUN aspect of cycling. It’s not all about calories and cadence, spandex and Slipstream. Biking is good for you and for the environment but, as far as we are concerned, it’s a really good time.

We are lucky enough to have a wonderful attorney, Steve Roach, who is with Miller Canfield and is also the Region 1 Rep for the League of Michigan Bicyclists. He is a great guy (with an exceedingly dry sense of humor and a penchant for spandex) who we love. He is a regular Grosse Pointe-to-Downtown bike commuter, and GrossePointeToday.com interviewed him and shot a video of him commuting.


Motorists may pity the cyclists they pass, especially when it’s clear the folks on the bike are not on their way to pick up ice cream. Those who choose to commute by bicycle may strike drivers as masochists, weird fitness freaks or possibly suicidal.

It probably never occurs to the people behind the wheel that the people straddling the wheels are having a good time.

A really good time: “If you get any sort of aerobic exercise, you get enough endorphins you get like a buzz,” said Steven Roach, two-wheeled commuter.

Check out the full story here and, in the accompanying video, watch him talk about his helmet and components before getting down to the good stuff: riding!

Weekend Recap

Wow! What a wonderful weekend for cycling in Detroit. The Bicycle Film Festival was well-attended and fantastic, we had a blast dancing at the Park Bar at the after-party on Friday, the Alley Cat was good times and we spent all day Sunday biking and beaching Belle Isle.

BI beach

It might have been cloudy, but it was still lovely.

Inspiration from other places

There are a lot of really good people working to make Detroit a more bike-friendly city. With that said, it is frustrating sometimes to see how far behind we are in terms of infrastructure compared to other places that have long realized that cycling is an essential ingredient in a well-balanced urban city.

Here are couple of really sweet biking amenities in places not too far away from us:

The Bike Train connects Toronto residents with cycling destinations in Ontario. They are talking about connecting it to Windsor, which would be wonderful for us here in “North Detroit” — although, we still have the annoying problem of how difficult it is to get bikes across the border (pet peeve!). Cycling Ontario wine country and/or Pelee Island should be on everyone’s list of places to go. Such great times to be had on bikes over the River.

(Amtrak, get a clue. Allow bikes on trains, especially between Detroit and Ann Arbor/Chicago. The Wolverine could blow up.)

Buffalo Blue Bicycle is a low-cost bike rental program targeting resident transportation needs — as opposed to ours, which is more focused on recreation — by creating hubs, so bikes can be picked up from one place and dropped off at another. The website is very informative, with great mapping. A similar system would be so cool here, with hub clusters in Downtown, Eastern Market, Midtown, New Center and Corktown…sigh. Well, it’s never hurt a girl to dream!

CityFest Bike Parking + Tour de Troit Registration Info

Ride to CityFest & Leave the Parking to Wheelhouse!
Wheelhouse is really excited to sponsor free bike parking at CityFest this year! If you’ve ridden there in years past, you’ve certainly noticed the, um, creative places people have had to lock their bikes. Well, this year, you can head to our corral, located at the southeast corner of W. Grand Blvd. and Cass, and we will keep your steed safe — for free! CityFest runs from Wednesday, July 1 to Sunday, July 5. More info and a schedule of performances can be found here.

Tour de Troit Registration Kick-Off Ride
TONIGHT, July 1, Tour de Troit registration kicks off! Meet us at the T-Plex between 5:30 and 7 p.m. to register for this year’s ride, which is set for September 19. For one day only, it will cost just $25 to sign up; when online registration opens on July 2, the price will jump to $30.

After registering, we ride! We’ll do a (free) ten-miler that wraps up at CityFest — just in time to see De La Soul headline!

Read tons more about the TdT and registration here.

Blessing of Bikes

This Sunday, Spirit of Hope Church in N. Corktown is hosting the first annual blessing of the bikes (well, and motorcycles) at their 11 a.m. service. It’s located at 1519 Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd. at the intersection of Grand River and Trumbull.

Ride of Silence Recap

It was a wonderful Ride of Silence last night from Belle Isle to Downtown and back. About 225 cyclists turned out to celebrate cycling, draw attention to “Sharing the Road” and honor cyclists that have been injured or killed by motorists when cycling.

Many thanks to event chair Steve Roach of the League of Michigan Bicyclists and to Macomb Cycle & Fitness for the post-ride bar-b-que.