The best way to show off Detroit to a visitor? On ...

The best way to show off Detroit to a visitor? On bikes.

Taking a DIY bike tour let me share city history and my own memories, while showing off street art, public spaces and the independent businesses that keep Detroit vibrant.

Taking a break during our Detroit bike tour at Wayne State University. Courtesy of the author

When I visit other cities, I make it a priority to get around by bike — it helps me get a lay of the land, stop frequently and sometimes even make new friends. On a trip to Atlanta this summer, I hit the streets by joining a group ride called M+M that takes off from the Georgia Beer Garden in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood every Monday evening. I showed up alone, but as Detroiters often do, almost immediately met the other person in the room with Motown roots, my new friend Cameron. 

As we rode, we talked about his early childhood growing up in Detroit, cycling infrastructure and its inequities and the sustainability of small businesses in rapidly growing cities like Atlanta and Detroit. Needless to say, we had a lot in common and became fast friends. Fast forward a few months and Cameron was en route to Detroit to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with family. So naturally, I convinced him to let me take him on a bike ride, despite a balmy forecast of 40 degrees. 

Thirteen or so miles later, not only was I able to show off (a fraction of) my city, we had the opportunity to make a number of stops along the way and visit some of my favorite business owners. It was inspiring to see the city this way, through the eyes of a visitor, and it reminded me of the benefits of having a vibrant small business community. Our makers, movers and shakers are part of what keeps Detroit, and other cities, interesting and valuable. 

We met up in Corktown and kicked things off with a coffee on Michigan Ave. at James Oliver, the new bagel shop that took up residence in the former Detroit Institute of Bagels space. After our caffeine consumption was complete, we hit the streets. 

First stop, I had to show off the Riverwalk, one of Detroit (and the country’s) most premiere public spaces. It’s always fun to see the reaction when you show a visitor just how close we are to Canada. Continuing east, we hit the strip on Agnes Street in West Village. Grabbing another coffee from Red Hook to warm up, and peering in the windows at the incredible floral displays from Fauno, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by the new activity on the “little street that could.” With the opening of fitness studio Live Cycle Delight in 2017 and now Metropolitan Variety Store, complemented by bright street art, the neighborhood now provides more amenities for those living nearby and is a destination for others. 

After finishing up our second round of caffeine, Cameron and I got back on the saddle for a quick jaunt up the Dequindre Cut and into Eastern Market. As we rode past the bold and eclectic murals, I told Cameron about my 2010 stint in the E&B lofts and the evolution of the district and small businesses in the years since. Although it was not a market day, we were able to pop into Germack to breathe in the sweet and spicy scents and snag ourselves a bag of pistachios for the road. I told him about Pietryzk Pierogi, a pop-up vendor turned brick-and-mortar, turned massive distributor of homemade and hand-pinched pierogi, located in Gratiot Central market. Their frozen dozens are the perfect thing to put in the back of your freezer for a rainy day, and you can support their Pay it Forward Program, which provides pierogi for families in need. 

Scenes from our bike tour. Courtesy of the author

Back on bikes, we cruised through the almost unrecognizable Brush Park to Midtown. Cameron was underprepared for the chill, so we hit up the Carhartt Flagship store for gloves and a proper hat. As we rode through Wayne State University’s campus, I shared a bit of oral history with him. I told him about the infamous Cass Corridor vs. Midtown debate, the stark contrast between WSU’s campus now and when I was a student and about some of the OG businesses that have come and gone (RIP Circa Saloon, I will never forget you). As we approached the shopping hub on Cass and Canfield, I pointed out the Canfield Lofts and 55 West, redeveloped by my dad, Colin Hubbell, in the early 2000s, and recalled just how “crazy” people thought he was and how terribly wrong they were. 

The corner now serves as a special little slice of retail in Detroit: you can find home goods at Nest and Nora, grab a box of chocolates from Bon Bon Bon, pick out the perfect gift for literally anyone at City Bird, browse for books at the newly expanded Source Booksellers or take yourself on a mini brewery crawl and hit up Traffic Jam, Motor City Brewing Works and Jolly Pumpkin in one afternoon. And one block down on Willis, you can find art, clothing and treats at a couple of the neighborhood’s long standing anchors, Flo Boutique and Avalon Bread Co.  

Although there was still soooo much left to see, many more businesses to support and lots of ground to cover, by the time we finished our Midtown crawl, the sun was going down and the chill had reached our bones. The final leg of the “tour” led us back over to Corktown, where we waved to our friends at Brightly Twisted, George Gregory and Mama Coo’s — three female-owned retail stores I adore. 

As we navigated around parked cars in the bike lanes, Cameron and I chatted about the transit and transportation needs of our two cities — although hundreds of miles apart, some of Atlanta and Detroit’s issues are directly mirrored. Poor transit options and lack of safe pedestrian and cycling infrastructure not only make it more difficult for residents to get around and people to access these retail districts for employment, it prevents visitors from coming to spend. We both agree that small businesses, entrepreneurs, independent restaurants and artists are what makes cities special. In order to preserve the uniqueness of our sister cities we must make it a priority to visit, shop and support the places that feel like home.

Our day came to a close over lamb kofta and gin cocktails at Supergeil. We raised our glasses to the connectivity of cycling, our passion for place, and the value of a diverse and unique business community. So get out of your car this holiday season (and forever if you really want to impress me), put on your biking gear or walking shoes and support some of the creative and entrepreneurs that work hard all year long to make and keep Detroit cool.