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Spring Rides: Grosse Isle.
By Tom Demerly.


Road cycling is dangerous. Cycling in close proximity to traffic is dangerous.
This information depicts the ride activities of the author.
They are not intended, nor should they be used, as a guide.

The Island Ride takes us from our store in Dearborn south toward the Detroit River and the downriver area. We ride to the island community of Grosse Isle. The ride is between 31 and 40 miles depending on the loop we do on the island itself.

This is our typical morning ride, and one of our all time favorites. It is a flat ride in mostly urban and suburban surroundings on good roads. Here Sarah and Kelly ride out of Dearborn through Greenfield Village.

After leaving Greenfield Village and the Ford Proving Ground on Village Road we turn right or south on the Southfield Service Drive. The pavement here is excellent and traffic generally light.

To the right is the former location of the Ford North American Automotive Operations Building. The building was removed when the operations moved to a new location. We continue up the Service Drive to Outer Drive as we head down river.

We turn left off the Southfield Service Drive and onto southbound Outer Drive. Pavement is fair to mostly excellent with only a few bad spots. Generally traffic is light to moderate and very courteous of cycling groups.

There are several major intersections to cross while headed to the river on Outer Drive and the intervals between these intersections make for a good place to do hard efforts for a good workout. Normally our pace going out on the ride is easy though, about 17-19 m.p.h.

The pavement is at its worst under the freeway bridges where water and ice have damaged the asphalt and concrete. You have to pick your line through these sections and be aware of the traffic around you. On rough pavement you keep pedaling, pick the smoothest line in advance and watch where you are going with a relaxed grip to soak up the bumps.

In years of riding to the island we've never damaged a wheel or even flatted on these sections.

Dix Road is one of the intersections we cross on Outer Drive as we head south toward the Detroit River. As you can see traffic is courteous to us if we are courteous to them. We stay in a tight group, wear bright colors and always give the vehicles enough room and time to react to us sharing the road with them.

This is an example of one of the chuck holes along Outer Drive. It is filled with nails and other sharp objects that can flat a road tire. Our best defense against flats is to be mindful of the road conditions and avoid holes like these. We also each carry a flat kit to repair a flat tire quickly onthe road.

We do the Island Ride several times a week and usually only have a couple flat tires a year among our group.

At Allen Road we cross under a railroad bridge where friendly train engineers will blow their whistle if you signal to them.

We stay in a tight group at the intersections to take up less space and be more visible. Usually we ride with two to eight riders, a manageable size. Groups much larger than this become an imposition on traffic. We break into smaller "A" and "B" groups if we have more than eight riders along.

The last section of the ride before we reach the river on Outer Drive takes us through pleasant neighborhoods and near schools. The kids ask us if we're Lance Armstrong and have gotten used to seeing our groups pass in the morning.

We always start group rides as a group and finish as a group. Generally no one one from our ride group is left behind.

The last few bridges before the river go through a busy area where its important to have excellent situational awareness. Cars are entering and exiting both I-94 and I-75 freeways. These drivers do not expect to see cyclists so we take responsibility for seeing them before they see us.

As you can see here, traffic is usually light in the morning.

Outer Drives becomes divided and most sections are recently paved. The surface is excellent here and makes for fast riding with little effort. There is often a tail wind here.

This is less than a mile from the Detroit River and Sarah goes to the front for a strong pull as the pace picks up to well over 20 m.p.h. once we get warmed up.

If you have a moment to look around on Outer Drive just before the river you see the remnants of some very old farms along Outer Drive. The barn in the background dates back to the '20's and was there before the subdivision was built around it.

Traffic volume here is always light and the road wide and smooth making for excellent conditions.

The right turn off south bound Outer Drive and onto Jefferson toward Wyandotte.

This is a busy intersection with heavy traffic and lots of large trucks from the local industrial areas. We exercise caution around this corner. There is a convenience store here to stop for drinks

Traffic picks up on Jefferson so we ride single file. There is the first of several railroad crossings here and the tracks are moderately rough.

Up Jefferson in light traffic we can take it easy and ride double file if the roads are clear enough.

Jefferson eventually turns into Biddle as you get into the city of Wyandotte past the BASF Chemical plant along the river.

This the section where we get our first glimpses of the river and sometimes see steam from molten steel being poured at the US Steel Plant along Jefferson.

Past Southfield Road on Jefferson the view of the river opens up and you can see fishermen out in boats and along the river railings. Mornings are calm and pleasant.

This is a restful part of the ride before we enter Wyandotte where it becomes a little faster and a little tighter with more traffic and narrower road sections.

It's not unusual to see huge ore freighters passing down river here.

We continue up Jefferson, through Wyandotte where there are a few traffic lights and on to where Jefferson becomes Biddle.

Turning right on Bridge Road, the first road onto Grosse Ile from Biddle coming from the north, we reach the Pay Bridge owned by the Grosse Ile Bridge Company.

The toll for cyclists is .25 cents each. We put one rider in charge of paying for the group on and off the island.

The Grosse Ile Bridge is a unique rotating draw bridge that is occasionally retracted for passing boat traffic. The larger ocean-going freighters pass to the south channel of the island because of their deeper drafts. The Grosse Ile Bridge was recently refurbished and provides an excellent riding surface.

Bridge staff are accustomed to seeing cyclists coming and going.

The surface of the bridge is mostly concrete except for the sections over the rotating part which are made of steel grating. We're careful not to fall here- it would be like falling on a cheese grater.

We take a relaxed grip and pedal evenly over the grating. It is easy to ride on if you stay relaxed. Traffic generally gives us a wide berth on the bridge on the rare occasion we do cross with cars.

Traction is fine on the grating until it gets wet. In rain or morning dew the grating is extremely slippery and very dangerous.

It can be a little unnerving to look through the grating to the river about twenty feet below- you see the water down there in this photo.

If it is wet out we simply have to slow down and be cautious on the metal sections of the bridge.

Coming off the bridge we get a spectacular view of the abandoned steel mill and the beautiful water coming up the river.

There is a marsh area coming off the bridge onto the island where we often see large marsh birds, cranes and turtles.

We generally pay bridge toll for the group for both ways going onto the island. This saves us a stop on the way back.

Once on the island we take Bridge Road south to Parke Lane. We turn right or west on Parke Lane and ride by exclusive mansions worth seven figures. Parke Lane takes us to Horsemill where we turn left and curve around to the right along the river (in this photo) on East River Road.

This is one of the most scenic road rides in Southeastern Michigan. The water is beautiful and we ride along the freighter channel with a view of Ontario, Canada just across the water.

The houses along this section are a delight to see. There can be a stiff headwind here and the road gains elevation slightly toward our turn off. Pavement going up the road can be rough in patches but is perfect in the opposite direction.

The varied architechture of the houses along East River reflects the different times they were built. A few small bungalows from the '20's and '30's remain but most have been replaced with opulent houses featuring large expanses of glass to enjoy the river view.

It is common to see other cyclists and runners enjoying the view along East River.

We're riding up East River toward our rest stop at the half way point of the ride where we'll refuel and take a break.

This last section features some very gentle gradients on pavement that goes from fine to rough.

Sarah climbs the last hill up to the turn on Macomb Road with Stony Island coming up off to her left.

The Grosse Ile Bakery is a gathering place in the morning for Island residents and they are used to seeing us.

Our most frequent summer destination on the island is Bishop's Bed and Breakfast, about a block before the bakery. Bishop's was closed during this ride.

The bakery has everything we need to boot up for the ride back including excellent coffee and pastries.

The bakery case is filled with cakes, cookies, brownies and other pasteries allong with breakfast muffins and coffee. They also have a fountain service and indoor seating.

All of our rides seem to take us to a bakery. It makes a perfect turn around point to break the rides up into manageable sections and enables us to stay fueled up for the ride back.

Sarah and Kelly rehydrate for the return trip.

This is usually a two hour ride or less depending ont he pace. The ride can be expanded to 40 miles by continuing past Macomb Road to the opposite end of the island where the old Naval Air Station, blimp hangers and civil airport is located.

We go out easy and come back at a more business-like pace.

Leaving early in the morning means lower temperatures so dressing in layers is important.

Here Kelly and Sarah fill water bottles and make clothing adjustments before leaving the bakery for the fast ride back.

In early spring arm wamers, leg warmers and lightweight, windproof vests are worn on the outbound leg and then stored in jersey pockets as the day warms up for the return trip.

Mario tucks into the draft on the return trip up East River on the smooth side of the road.

On clear days you have a nice view up the Detroit River to the Renaissance Center in Downtown Detroit.

This section usually has a powerful tailwind and is very fast.

A pretty concrete bridge crosses the inter-island channel next to one of the opulent mansions along Parke Lane on the return trip. We also continue north on Macomb from the bakery to Meridian sometimes to ride back to the bridge.

We genrally select our routes based on the weather with the wind being the deciding factor. From here we retrace our route back to Dearborn for another great ride.

 

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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