Detroit Gran Fondo, Woodward Bike Ride, Moves Ahead Despite Push Back From Royal Oak Officials

Think Detroit's Gran Fondo bicycle ride has been derailed? Not so fast!

True, the original sponsor of the 54-mile Woodward Avenue bicycle event, the Woodward Avenue Action Association (WA3), may have pulled out due to resistance from the city of Royal Oak. But a Ferndale bike shop owner is ready to pick up where it left off.

Jon Hughes, owner of the Downtown Ferndale Bike Shop, plans to keep the ride alive on June 30, even if city leaders don't give the event their blessing.

Gran fondo means "big ride" in Italian; it's an umbrella term covering a variety of large-scale biking events, which have been common in Italy for years but are just starting to catch on in the United States. According to Bicycling magazine, almost every large U.S. city now sponsors a gran fondo event.

As originally planned, Detroit's Gran Fondo would have featured a professional bike race stretching from Detroit to Pontiac and back, followed up by a large community ride. WA3, a public-private nonprofit, decided to sponsor the event as a way to raise money for improvements along the Woodward Corridor. It got the idea from Dale Hughes, Jon's father and a long-time bike race organizer and track designer, who approached the organization for logistical support.

Heather Carmona, WA3's executive director, said the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) had endorsed the Gran Fondo and her organization was expecting a smooth approval process. Unfortunately, it ran into some heavy push back from the city of Royal Oak.

"We didn't anticipate some of the resistance philosophically from the safety angle -- just the push back we were receiving," Carmona told The Huffington Post. "We started to get resistance from a few communities, and we decided it would not be in our best interests to push this event and jeopardize the relationships we have with them."

In a memo to commissioners, Royal Oak City Manager Don Johnson raised safety objections, characterizing the ride as "a very high-risk/low-reward event.” The city's police chief, Corrigan O’Donohue, told Royal Oak Patch he wasn't concerned about the race portion of the event, but was concerned about elderly drivers getting to church on Sunday morning and whether city police officers would have to work during the event.

Although WA3 bowed out of this June's Gran Fondo, Carmona said it would like to sponsor a race in the future with municipal support. In the meantime, Dale and Jon Hughes have vowed to keep the ride's momentum going.

Jon Hughes told The Huffington Post the race portion has been canceled, but the community ride will go on as planned. He pointed out that a support crew will be on hand, equipped with a van to pick up overtired riders. "It's not going to be as organized as much as other big cities are," he said. "Nothing's set in stone right now, because we can't do it with WA3. It's going to be more of an underground ride."

As for the resistance from Royal Oak, he said city leaders have a bike bias, citing a recently revised ordinance that fines cyclists $50 to $100 if they are caught riding on sidewalks downtown.

But Hughes notes that the community ride is legal and hopes Royal Oak will eventually warm up to the event. For now, though, he seems to be getting a kick out of the fact that it's become "underground."

"It was super uptight: 'Fill out all these forms. You gotta wear the right shirt to be in the race,'" Hughes said. "They make up all these crazy rules, you don't really need. I think that scares off people -- a lot of the gritty, grimy racers from showing up -- a lot of those guys get scared off."



Detroit Biking History