Slow Rolling In the Motor City: PHOTO ESSAY

On a recent visit to my home state of Michigan, I was lucky enough to be able to check out Detroit’s ‘Slow Roll‘ mass ride. Started five years ago by two friends, Slow Roll has turned into a thousands-strong spectacle that takes over Motown streets for 30 weeks out of the year, with the city’s blessing.

Apparently this year organizers were asking folks to fork over ten dollars for an annual membership, though it was made clear nobody would be turned away for lack of funds. Speculation was that the opening day ride would draw around 2,000 riders, though top end estimates were likely between three and four thousand, the procession stretched for at least a mile.

No corkers were used, as Detroit police did the job of controlling major intersections. Riders thanked the officers as they rolled by, slowly, of course.

A dedicated ‘Squad’ of yellow-shirted volunteers did their best to keep the ride as far to the right of whatever multilane surface streets they occupied. I don’t think anyone felt like arguing with them that all traffic lanes are open to bicycles by state law.

I was curious how necessary this Squad was in the first place, as they seemed to have a collective concern that this mass of riders was at risk without them. At one point several cop cars came racing up the left lane alongside the riders, and there were no yellow-shirted volunteers present. Without the Squad around, the riders themselves shouted obligatory cries of “Car back!” and everyone seemed to know exactly what that meant.

The only real hazard was the condition of the roads themselves. There was an almost constant chorus of “Hole!” accompanying fingers pointing out the infinite street craters Michigan is known for. Even as it grew dark everyone seemed to feel safe. I saw nobody crash into a single pothole, or each other for that matter. It’s also worth nothing that not one driver honked at us in anger, only light honks and waves came from patiently waiting motorists.

It was entirely enjoyable and satisfying to participate to see firsthand how Michigan bike culture has progressed over the last decade.

Check out my photos below, and leave a comment if you’ve ever experienced Slow Roll in Detroit or any other Midwest metropolis. Click on any image for higher res.

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All images copyright Hart Noecker and Rebel Metropolis.
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3 comments

  1. Nice report and great pics Hart. It truly was a great event w/ very few if any problems other than those dog-gone potholes you mentioned. People I was riding with took to yelling “Michigan road ahead!” instead of “Pothole!”. The Slow Roll organizers and volunteers did a fantastic job as did the police who were there to get the thousands thru intersections, etc.

    1. Agreed on all fronts, and yes the Squad did a great job. You gotta have ride ambassadors scattered throughout for a group of thousands like that. Glad you could make it out.

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