There's an optimistic and interesting little opinion piece in the New York Times today suggesting that Detroit, its motor-based economy in a shambles, could become the next great bike town. Detroit's "miles and miles of streets lie open and empty, beckoning," according to the author Toby Barlow, and ridership is growing. It's a startlingly positive take on a city that is often considered to be among the least bike-friendly in North America. Usually it goes the other way, articles in newspapers extolling the danger and difficulty of riding in places that bicyclists actually find relatively tame. This is a welcome twist.

My favorite aspect of Barlow's little article is that it mentions some of the significant bonuses associated with bicycling which aren't well understood by non-bicyclists and which don't often find their way into the mainstream press.

Biking in the D is the transportation equivalent of the Slow Foods movement, offering a perspective that's completely lost to those zooming in on the Lodge Freeway and I-75 ... A bike gives you the chance to soak up what's left, hidden neighborhoods like Indian Village with its dappled lanes and old eclectic mansions. Out near the fabled Eight Mile Road you can cruise past an almost forgotten but now happily restored Frank Lloyd Wright house. Downtown, you can circle the ruins of the old Michigan Central Depot.

Riding a bike in a city, whether for transportation or recreation, is a fantastic thing if you enjoy exploring your world, observing it, listening to it, smelling it. You can learn a lot out there, just riding around. And the entertainment value is not too shabby either. Driving the car, you're stuck in the box, observing, more than anything, the slim shaft of road ahead and the inside of the car. The molded vinyl contours of the dashboard and the soda-sticky, crumb-infested center console. The butt of the car in front of you in stop-and-go traffic. Brake lights, stop lights. There is little to learn about in this situation other than the poor driving habits of the typical American. The convenience and occasional speed of driving in the city comes at significant cost in Interesting Things.

At the end of his article Barlow mentions the episode in 1896 when Henry Ford went to observe Charles King's motorized carriage in action in Detroit. Along with several others there that day, Ford was observing and learning about King's vehicle from the seat of a bicycle. I wrote a little about King's invention and Ford's rolling surveilance of it in The Cyclist's Manifesto, pp. 19-20.