Changing Gears
11:39 am
Fri April 20, 2012

On Earth Day, turning the Motor City into "Cycle City"

Let’s face it: Detroit’s reputation as the Motor City is unshakeable. But it’s gaining ground as a city for cyclists.

Racing enthusiasts have revived a velodrome, cycle clubs are gaining members, it’s easy to find a bike tour and tourism officials took journalists on a ride around Detroit last year. Grown Men on Bikes, a Detroit cycle club, even has its own theme song.

On Sunday, which is Earth Day, the Detroit Tigers want to take all that a step further.

The team is hosting its first Ride to the Ballpark event, testing its theory that baseball fans and bicyclists are one and the same.

“Detroit has a very cool, strong cyclist culture,” says Eli Bayless, the Tigers’ director of promotions and in-game operations.

The Tigers are offering a $14 package that includes an upper deck ticket to the game, and a ticket for a bicycle valet. Cyclists will pull up to Columbia Plaza in front of Comerica Park’s Gate A entrance, and check their bikes.

Tickets must be purchased by midnight tonight: there will be no same-day Ride to the Ballpark sales.

As of Thursday, more than 100 people had already bought their tickets, said Bayless, and the team hopes to attract a total of about 250 cyclists/fans.That’s how many people attended a similar event put on by the Houston Astros last year, which was the inspiration for the Tigers’ cycling promotion.

The idea of a Detroit ride drew enthusiastic support from within the Tigers’ organization, which has a number of cyclists who ride to work.

Mike Smith, the team’s director of baseball operations, cycles over every day from his apartment on Detroit’s riverfront, stashing his bike in his office.

On non-game days, he can be found zipping his way over to Belle Isle park for soccer games, and riding on the city’s bike paths and in the greenway.

Although many Detroit streets and neighborhoods are empty, that’s great for cycling, Smith says. “The trade off is that you won’t get hit by a car.”

Unlike places such as Chicago, which enforce regulations on cyclists, “you get a little spoiled here because you don’t have to obey traffic laws,” he jokes.

Bayless says the Tigers are hoping Sunday’s ride will become an annual event — and that cyclists will come out to games on a regular basis. He says the team is looking at hosting future rides with the city’s bike clubs and is counting on them for feedback.

In turn, cycling fans’ interest could spur the team to do more in the way of bike racks and other accommodations for cyclists.

Detroit cyclists: are you planning to attend Sunday’s game? What are your impressions of cycling in the Motor City?