Detroit is a bike town. With its flat, often lightly traveled streets, it’s bike riding weather all year round. People embrace their bikes, bringing their own flavor and style to them. Detroit bike riders are passionate about riding, not just to get where they need to go, but for the experience of the ride itself. Come summer, bikers are out on their cruisers with the fresh wheel lights on and the speakers bumping. There are obvious places to ride like the Riverwalk, Belle Isle, or the Dequindre Cut, but there are also bike clubs and opportunities to ride in every part of the city. Detroit has a strong and growing bike culture, meeting needs for cheaper transportation and providing joyful alternatives to unpredictable buses or expensive cars.
Back Alley Bikes (BAB) has long contributed to the development of biking in Detroit. It has operated as a community-based bicycle workshop space and parts warehouse in the Cass Corridor for over 20 years. Working in partnership with organizations across the city, BAB’s core mission is to provide cycling education and services with a focus on youth development, sustainable practices, and community access. In recent years BAB programs have donated hundreds of bikes, mostly to children, to the Detroit community. Volunteers and staff prepare used bikes for inexpensive “garage sales” throughout the year, and offer a variety of classes for people of all ages and skill levels to learn more about bike maintenance and repair.
BAB was founded in 2000 by Detroit Summer (a program aimed at re-spiriting, redefining, and re-imagining Detroit from the ground up) as a way to provide transportation to youth participants. Bicycles were used for everything from hauling garden tools to transporting muralists. Through an initial partnership with the Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corporation (CCNDC), from the beginning, the shop has had a community focus and opened the doors to neighbors so they could fix their bikes or even earn a new one when they completed a basic bike safety and maintenance program. By the summer of 2003, the shop had outgrown its small room in the Detroit Summer youth center. The shop moved to the back alley of the same building, and thus, Back Alley Bikes earned its name. The organization has remained in this location ever since.
BAB gave birth to The Hub, an affiliated full service bike shop. The Hub opened in 2008 in response to community demand and is currently one of only a few shops serving the Cass Corridor neighborhood. As a for-profit business, the Hub is able to help support BAB community programs. The shop mechanics refurbish bikes that have been donated to Back Alley Bikes for sale, and also offer complete repair and retail services. The Hub also serves as a source for information about what is happening in the bike community in Detroit.
Over the years, BAB has adapted to meet the needs of a changing neighborhood, most recently working through the many challenges involved in keeping operations ongoing during the COVID pandemic, especially as more people found biking to be a good alternative to avoid crowds (and crowded public transportation) and to move around the city in general.
BAB currently hosts a weekly DIY Open Shop, where community members can utilize BAB’s space and equipment to maintain their own bikes. During “Open Shop” the workshop is filled with people from around the city working on personal bike projects and helping one another learn to repair their bikes. With a wide variety of inexpensive used parts and a dedicated group of knowledgeable volunteers, the DIY Open Shop is an invaluable resource for any Detroit bike rider.
This February, BAB organized the 11th Annual Bike the Blizzard fundraising event. Bike the Blizzard takes place over a weekend when people can participate by riding solo or in small groups to raise money for the co-op. It’s a great way to support BAB programming. Riders join organized activities throughout the day and participate in a scavenger hun, and join themed rides. 2022 was the biggest year yet for Bike the Blizzard with 80 riders and over $22,000 raised!
Whether it’s vintage Schwinns, summertime-ready beach cruisers, trick bikes, or commuter hybrids, BAB helps keep the city rolling. You can get involved with BAB by volunteering, participating in classes, offering financial support through tax-deductible contributions, or even by donating bikes or bike parts for reuse. Getting involved at Back Alley Bikes – as students, teachers, customers, donors, participants, or volunteers – gives cyclists so many ways to contribute to the mission of promoting and developing bicycling here in the Motor City.
The Hub Bike Shop is located at 3611 Cass Ave.
Back Alley Bikes is located around the corner from The Hub, north of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, in the alley behind the shop
More information about Bike the Blizzard (including registration information) can be found at www.bikereg.com/bike-the-blizzard
Information about all of Back Alley Bikes’ programs and special events and about the Hub’s services and hours can be found at backalleybikes.org