Out on the stoop

I bicycled up to Bozek’s for some cheese and milk just before the Presidential debate. Usually I take a can of pepper spray with me but admittedly, I’ve been lazy about it this summer.
When I returned a gang of six or seven boys were walking on my sidewalk shouting insults at me, making comments to each-other about taking my bike. I stopped in front of my door and they stopped too.
As I went to unlock the door, the one of them went for the bike. I pulled the bike away from him and he took a swing at me. The kid must not have much of a right hand because I managed to instantly grab him by the shirt, which tore as he fought to get away from me. By now the some of the neighbors had come outside and called the police.
The kids fled. HPD showed up promptly.
I had to go back up to the store for more milk because the container had ruptured during the melee.
The scanner audio is here, about a minute in:

Bicycling advice

Originally published on 08/14/08.
Many people seem to be digging their bikes out of the garage these days as bicycling advice is one of the things we’re e-mailed about most frequently. The following are some general bicycling tips for Detroit and Hamtramck that I’ve been sending in response to those inquiries. What else should be added to this list?

  • Seriously consider getting Kevlar tires and decent rims. We’ve had a number of flats from broken glass and potholes.
  • Never trust that a manhole cover, storm sewer grate, or other metal object will be there.
  • Consider getting a canister of FOX 5.3 personal defense spray from Metropolitan Uniform in Detroit and a bike mount for it. Maybe this is an East side problem, but we’ve been chased by dogs a few times.
  • People are generally very nice, and as long as you keep moving, there isn’t really time for harassment.
  • SMART buses have bike racks; last I heard, DDOT buses do not.
  • Bridges and viaducts crossing expressways and railroad tracks are the keys to planning routes.
  • Residential streets are my favorite roads, mostly because the intersections with major streets are the simplest to navigate. (Helen Street between Hamtramck and Belle Isle, for example.)
  • Roads that are wide and underutilized, one way streets, and boulevards are my next favorites. Industrial areas are also good places to look.
  • Sometimes it makes sense to use crosswalks at large or confusing intersections.
  • A strap to hold your pant leg out of the chain might be a good idea. Wearing a helmet would probably be smart too, though I have to admit that I don’t. Long rides require a comfortable seat. Sunscreen is something else to consider. (The backs of hands get far more sunlight than the ends of fingers, which can be sort of odd looking.)
  • The wind always seems to be coming from the Detroit River.
  • Our average speed on vintage bikes is about 10MPH. My husband rides a mountain bike to work slightly faster while wearing a 5 lb backpack. I have read that other types of bicycles can reach speeds of 20 to 25 MPH.
  • In Hamtramck, the alleys are often the best way to get through the neighborhoods.
  • Register your bike with the Hamtramck city clerk’s office so that the serial number is on record. (You’ll need the serial number, make, model, a decription of the bike, and $1 to complete the registration.)
  • Baskets are great for grocery shopping and can be ordered from The Hub on Cass.

The Hub bicycle shop

[lightbox http://defcode.com/wiki/images/thumb/c/cd/Dscf2208.jpg/800px-Dscf2208.jpg][/lightbox] The Hub, 3611 Cass Avenue, 10-6 Mon-Sat, 12-6 Sunday.
In their words:

The Hub is a non-profit, full-service, retail bike shop specializing in used bike sales and repairs to provide financial support for the free youth program, Back Alley Bikes.

For me, it’s a dream come true.
Saturday, I took a garage-sale 3-speed Schwinn down to The Hub for a rear wheel, sprocket, tire, 5-speed derailer, and a shifter. I wasn’t sure they could do the work, but figured I’d give it a try since I had to take the last one out to Ypsilanti.
Sure enough, they can do everything with used parts, which I find extremely satisfying. In addition, the bikes they have for sale are almost entirely made of re-used parts, and they’re building bikes to order. It was pointed out that one just finished was built for a Wayne State professor.
My bike should be ready in about a week. By then, the baskets and Kevlar® tires should be in. Bicycle City here I come.
[lightbox http://defcode.com/wiki/images/thumb/3/3b/Dscf2210.jpg/800px-Dscf2210.jpg][/lightbox] [lightbox http://defcode.com/wiki/images/thumb/7/73/Dscf2232.jpg/800px-Dscf2232.jpg][/lightbox]
[lightbox http://defcode.com/wiki/images/thumb/9/9e/Dscf2212.jpg/800px-Dscf2212.jpg][/lightbox] [lightbox http://defcode.com/wiki/images/thumb/8/81/Dscf2215.jpg/800px-Dscf2215.jpg][/lightbox]
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More photos >> http://defcode.com/wiki/index.php/2008/03/29

Miller and Chandler Park Drive

Distance: 21.0 Miles
Max Speed: 23.0 mph
Moving Avg: 8.8 mph

On Sunday, we headed out for St. Paul Cemetery in Grosse Pointe Woods, thinking we would probably make it as far as Chandler Park.
The Hamtramck end of Miller is a fairly nice area. There are even a few stores on Miller near Dwyer. East of Mt. Elliott, Miller is characterized by mounds of rubble. We heard that it used to be a good place to find abandoned strawberry patches, leftover from the days of tightly packed homes. There are a few rose bushes left, but not much else.
There are several open businesses on Harper, including Shantinique and Rado Lounge. We crossed the expressway on the closed McClellan Street bridge and turned onto Shoemaker, a mostly abandoned industrial street.
It’s an easy ride through Chandler Park Golf Course and Chandler Park, past the “family aquatic center”, baseball diamonds, and picnic areas. We decided to continue through the Chandler Park neighborhood and East English Village, well maintained Detroit neighborhoods. Most of the houses for sale are along Chandler Park Drive where it is also Outer Drive, a 4-lane road divided by a wide median. Neither neighborhood has stores.
We knew we were in Grosse Pointe Woods when we arrived at St. John Hospital. We pedaled on to the cemetery on Moross, final resting place of some of Detroit’s earliest families. (More on that later)
By the time we passed through Chandler Park on the way home, the ride was not so easy. We decided to look for a hamburger and a chicken sandwich at Kelly’s, but they were closed. We ended up at Three Star BBQ instead.
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Bicycling around City Airport and Village of Norris

Distance: 9.01 Miles
Max Speed: 20.1 mph
Moving Avg: 8.0 mph

This past weekend we decided to re-visit the Village of Norris. We plotted a circuit that would take us there, via City Airport and Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
This time we took Conant South to Harold, and a couple of jogs later, we were pedaling over the Mt. Elliott overpass. After the crazy u-turn onto Lynch it was smooth sailing all the way to the airport.
We found countless burn-out patches on French Rd, the West side of the airport. It appears to be a popular place for drag racing. A souped-up Caprice roared down the other end of the road as we made our way North to Van Dyke.
We rode West on Nevada straight into the Village of Norris where we took some photos and doubled back South on Mt. Elliott. Before heading home, we stopped by Sikora Metals, where a good portion of Hamtramck’s stolen metal is sold.
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Dequindre Cut by bicycle

Distance: 14.7 Miles
Max Speed: 27.0 mph
Moving Avg: 6.6 mph

We’ve heard all sorts of mythology regarding the Dequindre Cut, so on Sunday, we decided to get on our bikes and find out what’s happening down there.
The Dequindre Cut served as a commuter rail line until the early eighties, and then was abandoned. In November 2006, Model D Media reported:

“By the end of the year, groundbreaking for a non-motorized trail, to include separate biking and walking paths, is expected to take place.”

Though we found some of the Southern-most rail has been removed, there was no evidence of recent construction.
We took Hamtramck Drive to St. Aubin, then cut over to the tracks on Farnsworth. Heading South on Dequindre to Mack, we followed the tracks down into the cut on our bicycles. Despite contrary reports, we found the cut almost entirely navigable by bicycle. Only in a couple of spots did we have to walk because of mud and debris.
About a third of the way in we came upon a friendly guy rolling cigarettes outside of a small shanty. We exchanged hellos briefly and continued on our way. Not too long after, we met some young hikers coming North. They stopped frequently to look closely at some of the graffiti.
In many places the trestles bridging the Cut are gone leaving only concrete walls, also covered in graffiti. Those that remain are littered with garbage and debris underneath. Along with the surprisingly lush vegetation, loose rail road spikes, rail timber, a broken piece of construction equipment, junk thrown off the trestles, and castoffs from the indigenous population lines much of the trail.
Before exiting the cut onto Woodbridge, we encountered a rather large group of uncomfortable photographers with big expensive cameras shooting equally uncomfortable models in skirts and makeup. It looked like a photography class field trip but we didn’t stop to ask.
We encountered no apparent danger in the Cut on Sunday. There were no dogs, scary vagrants, or crack heads. As far as people are concerned, I’ve seen scarier state parks. There are however, lots of open manholes, sharp rusty metal, glass, empty paint cans, dripping sludge, human waste, and other indistinguishable bits of garbage.

Fredrick at Dequindre

Entering the Cut

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Bicycle ride to Hart Plaza

Distance: 16.6 Miles
Max Speed: 24.7 mph
Moving Avg: 8.2 mph

To avoid parked cars and traffic, we headed South on the alley to Caniff where we jogged over to Conant. We turned East on Strong then took Sherwood to Concord which we took South all the way down to E. Layfayette.
Other than crossing Gratiot, Concord is a mostly tree-lined residential street with some blocks faring better than others. Turning West on Lafayette we pedaled through what once was Hamtramck Township.
Sparse traffic downtown allowed us to easily work our way around Greektown construction and through Cadillac Square. Finding ourselves back on Layfayette, we looped up to 3rd before heading down to Hart Plaza.
On the way home we took Larned to Chene then cut up through the neighborhood to Joseph Campau on the South side of Hamtramck Assembly. We made our way back over to Concord which is slightly easier to bike than Mt. Elliott. We used the Strong cut-through and took Conant back to Hamtrmack.
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The Tortilla Trail

Since moving to Hamtramck we’ve talked about making a trip to Mexicantown for fresh, local tortillas. Saturday we found ourselves with some free time so we examined a street map and plotted our course.
Hillary spotted Euclid, a residential street, which picks up on the other side of I-75, goes under the Lodge, then intersects with 14th Street on the West Side. We figured we could avoid any traffic downtown and skip the uphill ride coming back to Hamtramck on the East side.
On the trip there, indicated by the blue line on the map, we took Commor West out of Hamtramck, connecting up with Caniff then jogged South along I-75 until we picked up Euclid. As we traveled west through the neighborhoods, we passed people outside enjoying the day, working in their yards, and a couple of barbecues. People in cars seemed comfortable with bicycle traffic and would often wave us through intersections.
We didn’t know what to expect from the one-way 14th but as we turned South on 14th from Euclid we discovered a bicyclist’s dream. No less than three lanes going south with a very wide, totally empty, parking lane. Who needs bike lanes with streets like this? There was ample room for bicycles and few lights, so we made good time. Since this is a part of the city we don’t usually see, we enjoyed different angles of the skyline as we approached Michigan Ave. at Corktown.
South, we rode by Michigan Central Station and under the viaduct which spills out into Mexicantown. We locked up the bikes, found a seat in a restaurant and soon enough, were drinking horchata and diet pop. We ate, and then stopped by the bakery, which was the primary purpose of our trip.
Left the bakery with stacks of tortillas and a sample churro, then loaded up the bike baskets. Couldn’t find room for the churro so we ate it. We departed, moving a bit more slowly on account of our being full of Mexican food.
Since 14th is a one-way, we cut over to Rosa Parks/12th, which is one-way going back North. Rosa Parks/12th is just about indistinguishable from 14th, just a couple of blocks away. This isn’t a very lively part of the City on a Saturday in June.
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