We were barreling down a dirt road when it began pouring. The backs of our jerseys got splattered, and then striped, with taupe-colored Michigan clay. In Michigan, I suppose you don’t get skunk striped, but rather wolverine striped. I could taste the salt from my head sweat dripping down into the corners of my mouth. It was wet, but warm, and we were headed from Ann Arbor to someplace called Dexter or thereabouts. I was a guest, with no clue about where we were going. It was my first day in Michigan, I marveled at the towering maples and oaks around us, the wide Huron river, and the fun of rolling through moist air. Just a few hours off the plane, a long evening bike ride seemed to be the best possible remedy for jet lag, and general air travel suckiness.
Occasionally, my life seems ridiculously fortunate, and even romantic, in the sense of that word that means picturesque and idyllic. This is part luck, and part planning. Over the last few years, whenever I get the privilege of traveling for work, I try to build in an extra day or two for outdoorsy, and usually bicycle-related adventures. It keeps me happy without drugs.
This explains why I flew into Detroit for a writing assignment in Ann Arbor a day early. After a 3:00am start to the day, we landed, I retrieved my rental car, and drove directly to Sic Transit Cycles in Ann Arbor to get there early enough for a quick tour of the shop before joining their Thursday night group ride.
Sic Transit operates out of a wonderful old two-story brick mercantile building across the street from the Huron River in the Lower Town section of Ann Arbor. It is the kind of place with creaky wood floors, a mix of modern and vintage bikes, parts, and accessories. The shop has an Anglophile flair—think Bromptons and Raleighs, Jack Taylors and a wall full of Brooks saddles. The merchandizing is expert with little shadow boxes of memorabilia near the checkout counter and upstairs in the office, where co-owner Michael Firn keeps a clutch of vintage saddles, and displays a mint 1970s black Schwinn Paramount, among other treasures, on the wall.
On arriving, I was greeted by Jessica Bratus, who as part of the Sic Transit team runs her own bike fitting studio, Fitmi!, upstairs. She helped me get set up with a bike for the ride, and directed me down to Zingerman’s Deli for a pre-ride sandwich #1, corned beef and chopped liver, a treat which I devoured after surviving on airline crackers and ginger ale for most of the day. Jessica claimed that this Zingerman’s liver sandwiches were great for shoving in a jersey pocket for a mid-race nosh. “Ann Arbor power bars,” I thought.
When I returned to the shop, co-owner, Joe Bollinger, helped me get my pedals switched out and let me change upstairs. With temps in the low 90s and no air conditioning, it was sticky in the shop. “Close,” as the Irish say. But the closed sign got turned, and some regulars began to trickle in. A handsome little collection of bicycles began to build outside the front door, including a lovely pink Mercier, a two-tone green vintage French Cycles Kapp built by Alain Michel, belonging to Kevin Sanchez, Sic Transit Mechanic, Joe Bollinger’s gleaming titanium Seven, and Jessica’s celeste green Gunnar.
Thanks to Joe Bollinger’s imaginative route planning, the ride was varied and spirited. The ride included: a dirt section, a couple of dashes over grassy patches, a quick turn through a nearly hidden gap in a fence, a boardwalk section over water and wetlands, and a few short hills. On the way back, on one of the longer hills, Joe, Kevin and I mixed it up at the front trying to out-sprint each other. Kevin, rail-thin, proved a formidable climber.
After completing the ride near the shop, basking in endorphins, we decided to retire to a nearby bar with outdoor dining. Still in our mud-splattered kits, Joe introduced me to Gulo Gulo, which is both the Latin name for the wolverine, and a “fiercely hoppy” American double imperial pilsner brewed in Michigan. A bit later, we were joined by Jae, a young woman with a snappy pedal stroke who had been on the ride with us and who looked to be about my daughter Zoe’s age. I was the oldest person at the table. I thought about how great it is to hang out with young people whose lives seem so full of possibility and optimism. We went through a pile of fries, traded stories, and generally had too much fun for a Thursday night.
Chip DuMontJuly 13, 2016 at 5:06 pm
Thanks for a wonderful description of a place and an experience that I would have never considered. Of course your wonderful writing style makes it very adventurous and even romantic.
The Beautiful BicycleJuly 14, 2016 at 6:08 am
Thanks for reading Chip. I appreciate the positive feedback.
bobJuly 19, 2016 at 5:48 pm
wow,cool story;sounds like good fun for all ! perhaps a few more pix of the bikes on these adventures,please…….
The Beautiful BicycleJuly 20, 2016 at 10:14 am
Thanks for the note Bob. I’ll be posting a gallery with more images soon. Regrettably, I don’t think I took enough photos of the bikes on the group ride.