Bike Ypsi celebrates another year of kicking ass with its big Spring Ride on May 6

This summer, just a few months after their big, annual Spring Ride, our friends at Bike Ypsi will be celebrating their sixth anniversary of pedal-powered awesomeness. In light of that accomplishment, I thought that I should reach out to Natalie Holbrook and Kristen Cuhran, who were instrumental in wrangling together this highly-motivated pack of bicycle activists, and ask them a few questions about the group’s accomplishments thus far, the state of bike culture in Ypsi, and what the future likely holds… Here’s our interview… [note: Bob Krzewinski, the father of the Border to Border Trail, also stops by to answer one of the questions toward the end.]

MARK: So, Bike Ypsi is getting ready to celebrate a big anniversary, right?

NATALIE: Yep. This year we will celebrate our fifth Spring Ride, and this August is our sixth year of being together as an oddball group of people dedicated to populating the streets with people on bicycles.

MARK: And what do you have planned to mark the occasion?

NATALIE: We are calling our Spring Ride our Fifth Anniversary Spectacular. We have two different rides planned for the morning of May 6th. One ride is around 15 miles and the other is a little more than 30 miles. Registration for rides and free tune ups begin at 9:00 AM, and the rides roll out at 10:00. For folks who are not interested in riding either of those distances, we will have a BBQ, a bike photo booth, bicycle decorating, and Bike Polo starting at 11:30. And, then, at 1:00, we will gather up all of the people with bicycles and parade around the neighborhood. We want to get as many people as humanly possible out on bicycles for this spectacular day. We’ve actually started a “causes” petition online – a kind of challenge to the community to get out of their homes and onto a bicycle seat, if even for just a half hour.

MARK: Is Ypsi more bike friendly now than it was 5 years ago?

NATALIE: I’d say so. When I think of “bike friendly,” I think of more and more people using their bicycles for transportation and fun, and being respected by motorists while riding. And, I have definitely seen an increase in bicycle traffic. New folks come out to various Bike Ypsi events quite regularly, and, when you have 1, 2 or 3 new people at multiple events, the overall numbers of riders on the streets around town start to really add up. Plus, we always get 30 to 40 new people at our big events every year.

MARK: What do the next five years hold for Bike Ypsi? Are there local changes in traffic enforcement that you’d like to see made, for instance? Are there new educational initiatives that you’d like to roll out?

KRISTEN: Dreaming big… I’d like to see Bike Ypsi become a co-op, or some sort of hybrid business model. I think it would be neat to be able to hire a part-time person to coordinate some of our efforts. I would love to see us get more involved with bigger initiatives, like bike shares, or (remember, I’m dreaming big here!) a community repair/education space like the Plan B bike shop in New Orleans. In a different direction, I’d like to see us step up our “tour” aspect. We do awesome tours – the Taco Tour, the Heavy Metal Tour, the Cider and Doughnut Tour, to name a few – but I think it would be cool to also have some sightseeing tours (with written-up blurbs about places). Haunted houses in Ypsilanti; Historic tours (where was the underwear factory? The Black Diamond Brewery? The Springs?); Ypsilanti bars – who knows – I just like tours. Community groups could even hire us to take them out on tours.

I’d also like to see Bike Ypsi playing a larger role in educating people about cycling- the rules (laws), the benefits (to your community, the environment, your body), etc. Maybe that just means working further with the LMB (League of Michigan Bicyclists) or WBWC (Washtenaw Biking and Walking Coalition) or GetDowntown. I just think it’s so important to educate everyone about things like “invisible cyclists” (those folks you might see riding the wrong way down Washtenaw Ave- who often don’t have lights or helmets). There’s also education that can be done with folks just getting out of prison (actually, Natalie, through her work at the American Friends Service Committee’s Michigan Criminal Justice Program, developed a really neat and succinct pamphlet that she sends to people in prison who she knows will be getting out soon). And there are cyclists who might have “the gear” but don’t know road rules. We could do K-12 youth education, contribute to drivers ed classes, and launch billboard and bus campaigns educating motorists as to what the laws are.

NATALIE I see more and more people riding bicycles and less and less people driving vehicles that consume fossil fuel.

MARK: I’m assuming you’ve done everything thus far on next to no budget. Is that the case, or do you have grants? And, assuming you don’t have grants, are there grants out there that you could go after? And, if so, I’m curious as to what you’d like to do if you had the money. What would Bike Ypsi look like with a budget? Have you given it any thought?

NATALIE: Good questions. Bike Ypsi is not a non-profit (does that equal a double negative?). We are a community-based group solely run on the sweat, tears, and laughter of volunteers. We have a small budget that we have accumulated from t-shirt sales, donations for food and supplies at events, and other sales (like our table at the Shadow Art Fair – all proceeds from which went to Bike Ypsi, except our costs for the creation of the items that we sold). So, initially, some of us invested our money into t-shirts and stickers, and then Bike Ypsi made the cash back with a little extra. We function with a budget of $800-1000… which is awesome, because we need that money to print posters, buy food for our BBQ (to fill in the holes where we don’t get donations), buy a new supply of Bike Ypsi t-shirts to then sell (so that we can keep our coffers full), and pay for other things, like the $65 Rec Park pavilion rental, and the $500 security deposit.

We do not have grants. If we could have a little more cash to work with, it would be great to be able to buy helmets to give out at all of our events. We’ve had big helmet donations in the past, but the same sources do not have a permanent supply for us to distribute. If I could dream big, I would love to see a community bicycle shop and advocacy organization (with some pieces of it similar to the Hub of Detroit ) here in Ypsi. I think it would be awesome if we could impact a lot of children in Ypsi, and have some kind of crazy goal, like having 200 Ypsilanti kids able to change their own bicycle tubes by the age 10 or 11.

MARK: What’s the worst stretch of pavement for bikes in Ypsilanti, and what can we, as a community, do about it?

NATALIE: I personally think Cross Street between Mansfield and Washtenaw is the ultimate death trap for a person on a bicycle. (I think the West Cross Street section is slated for a rebuild.) North Huron from Forest to Hewitt is also a rough, rough street.

Some ways to get involved and have a voice: As a community member, you could attend a Washtenaw County Road Commission meeting to see what they’re all about, and what their agenda is year to year. Many meetings have time for public comment.

Ypsilanti also has a Non-Motorized Advisory Committee that meets regularly. So, citizens can get involved and impact change that way. The next NMAC meeting is April 19th.

MARK: How’s the Border to Border Trail coming along?

BOB: From Cornell Street all the way into Ann Arbor, the Trail is off-road (except for street crossings) and completed. Through Ypsilanti itself, the Trail is currently on-road with directional signs posted. Maps for the eastern Washtenaw County segment of the B to B are available at Ypsilanti Cycle and City Hall.
On the Trail crossing from Riverside Park south into the Water Street development area, the State Of Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation both indicated that there were serious environmental problems with a non-motorized bridge going between the two properties. With this in mind, the City of Ypsilanti and the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission are working together on an alternative route that would build a non-motorized bridge from the south end of Riverside Park across the Huron River to meet up with the east end of the Michigan Avenue bridge, and then cross Michigan Avenue at the street level. To aid people crossing Michigan Avenue, a  High-Intensity Activated crossWalK beacon (HAWK) is being reviewed for installation, which would stop traffic for non-motorized users. Funds for this bridge crossing would be from a State of Michigan Land Trust Fund grant as well as funds from the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission and Downtown Development Association.
Also, the City of Ypsilanti has an application in for another Michigan Land Trust Fund grant, with matching funds promised by the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, to complete a permanent paved Border To Border Trail section from Michigan Avenue south along the north shore of the Huron River to Grove Road. This would then tie in to a completed section of the Trail in Ypsilanti Township along Grove Road east to Bridge Road.
While the completion of the Border To Border Trail through Ypsilanti will be a benefit to local residents using the path for recreation and non-motorized transportation, it is also hoped that the Trail will help spur development in the Water Street area. Around the U.S., similar urban trails have a proven track record of being looked upon by developers as a huge asset. It should also be noted that other than City Of Ypsilanti Planning Department staff time on the Trail projects, no City funds are being used in the Trail construction.
For more information on the Border To Border Trail, including newsletters and maps, you can visit the Friends Of The Border To Border Trail website.
MARK: Back to Bike Ypsi, when you look back on the last six years, what are some of the things you’re most proud of?

KRISTEN: The amount that we’ve accomplished in 5 years solely by volunteer effort. Off of the top of my head…. 5 Fall Rides, soon to be 5 Spring Rides and Festivals, weekly Sunday rides (year around), 4 Taco Tours, 2 Heavy Metal Tours, 1 Espresso Tour, 4 years of working on the Ann Arbor May Commuter Week Challenge and coordinating a Bike to Work Day, 2 years of Friday morning rides (year round), 2 summers of Metro Park Rides, 3 summers of Saturday B2B and/or Family Friendly Rides, cycling talks at a local elementary school, RAT rides, we’ve had a Bike Ypsi group presence in at least 4 Ypsilanti parades (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Heritage Fest), “Broom the Bridge” (a guerilla clean up effort by 10 or so Bike Ypsi members), renegade pot hole marking, 2 years at Shadow Art Fair, designing and printing bicycle handouts…. not to mention what we’ve worked with others on- Cranksgiving, the Cider and Doughnut Tours, cycling talks at Ypsi Cycle, 4 years of doing the route planning and bicycle leading for Growing Hope’s Tour De Fresh, planning for and picking the designs for Ypsilanti’s bike hoops, working with the Ypsilanti Police on the “no bicycling” signs, securing volunteers at Heritage Fest bike parking and bike table. I’m sure I’ve forgotten other events and advocacy efforts.

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  1. Natalie Holbrook
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Mark, Thanks so very much for covering the Spring Ride Spectacular. I want to add that Kristen and I did help to start Bike Ypsi, but it was with the support of many other people that Bike Ypsi became Bike Ypsi. Some of those people are still actively involved in organizing the big (and small) events. In addition, new people step up to the plate year after year to offer organizing and leadership. So, a shout out of deep gratitude to all of the amazing folks who make our events happen and to all the people in and around Ypsi who come out to ride in and around Ypsi. We always like to say Bike Ypsi consists of folks who ride their bicycles in Ypsilanti. And, the biggest shout out to two super creative minds, Patti and Andy Claydon, who donate fantastic art year after year for Bike Ypsi’s posters, t-shirts and info zines.

  2. Edward
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    At some point, I wonder, when the metal gets too expensive, and all the factories are gone, if we’ll go back to horses.

  3. akronymn (Adam G)
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this Mark! I’ve been working with BY for a couple years now and am constantly amazed at what an amazing community they’ve built and what great things they do for Ypsilanti and our cyclists. Big thanks to Natalie, Kristen and Bob for all their hard work too. I’m so excited for the future of BY.

    Just a little plug too. We’re currently in the organizing phase of the Spring Ride our Fifth Anniversary Spectacular. Our next organization meeting is 4/16, 7pm at Cafe Ollie. We’ll take all the help we can get and all are welcome to come to any of our meetings. Hope to see you there!

  4. akronymn (Adam G)
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink


    Nah, bamboo is where it’s at!

  5. Eel
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    It does feel like we’re devolving as a nation. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. It’s just weird, watching cars give way to bikes, and having lawns give way to vegetable gardens.

  6. Eel
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    And that’s some crazy Gilligan’s Island kind of shit, Akronymn.

  7. Meta
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    So, you’re the Adam that was interviewed here a while back, who moved to Ypsi, in part, because of Bike Ypsi?

  8. akronymn (Adam G)
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink


    Yes I am that Adam. I chose Ypsi for a number of reasons, and BY was high on that list.


    How in the world do these trends equate to devolution? These are trends towards health and sustainability. That sounds like evolution to me. Either way I do think it’s a good thing.

  9. Eel
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I said, “I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing.” I just think it feels like we’re moving backward, like we’ll have oxen pulling rusted out cars soon, like in Cuba. I was expecting personal airplanes, and jet packs, and instead I get this. I’m not complaining. It is what it is. It’s just weird.

  10. K2
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Ypsi needs a jet pack club!

  11. Watching Laughing.
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Eel, ummm, yah, well, turn off Fox News once in a while. (Shaking Head)

    Bike Ypsi is a good thing as a whole.
    Just a little advice; Helmets should be mandatory by all participants at events, EVERYBODY, regardless of age.
    Take that off the liabilty problems for your group if it would arrise.

    Good group,


  12. Watching Laughing.
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Also, have everybody at your events before the rides, fill out and sign a standard release form.
    Last ride I did with your group. There was no standard release form to sign and helmets weren’t manatory for everyone.

    Just a suggestion,

    Keep up the good work,


  13. Posted April 12, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Why are riding bikes and growing food devolving?

    I really don’t get that at all.

    I would say that Japan and Sweden are way ahead of the US in a lot of ways, but there’s lots of gardening and bike riding going on.

    Personally, if I could get rid of the money pit of having multiple cars in favor of a bike, I would. I could channel my money to things I actually want.

  14. Posted April 15, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Bike Ypsi is just one of many reasons I’m glad that I live here. I want to say that I met Natalie and Kristen before BY… suddenly and slowly, they transformed into super bicyclists! They inspired me to want to do more biking as a sustainable and independent way to get around. But I was pretty nervous that, as a large woman, my efforts would be viewed by them and others as ridiculous. I am so happy to say, nothing could have been further from the truth. They were helpful and positive — motivating, but never pushy. I never felt “less than” for lack of spandex. I love their enthusiasm and how accessible they make it to all. Thanks to all Bike Ypsiers.

  15. Bike Mike
    Posted September 11, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    The Bike Ypsi fall ride is on Sunday, October 14. More details can be found here.

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  1. […] Ypsi. We’ve got all kinds of fun stuff planned. Recently Mark Maynard was kind enough to to put the word out on his blog. If you’re not already tuned into you should go read it. Now. […]

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