On August 19, 2017, I took part in The Baroudeur, in Detroit, MI. If you’ve not heard of it before, the Baroudeur is Wayne State University’s cycling event to raise money for student scholarships. It’s billed as a fun, non-competitive event that gives riders of all abilities an opportunity to explore the Motor City and surrounding area on two wheels while helping economically disadvantaged students pursue higher education.
The ride starts early on the Saturday morning, 7am for the 100 miler, and all riders must be off the route by 2pm (or at least, that’s when all the crew and support wind up, I believe, so I guess you’d be on your own after that). They are open road routes, but things were very quiet on a Saturday morning, especially downtown Detroit.
I had arranged to meet and ride with two other recumbents (one of whom is Wayne State’s President Roy Wilson – he rides a Carbent!) and we formed up with many other riders at the start line shortly before 7am.
I had been briefed a little about ‘how it works’ on this ride, but I still wasn’t entirely prepared for the fun to be had…
So here’s the deal: There’s a lead pack on the 100 mile route. That lead pack, of I’d guess 30-40 riders most of the time it seemed, has a police escort. Usually it was a car in front, a car behind and a motorcycle. As this lead pack flies along, the police vehicles leapfrog back and forth to block the junctions, red lights and stop signs so that the riders don’t have to stop. If you can’t stay with the pack, you’re dropped, the following police car will eventually pull round and then you’re on your own obeying the usual rules of the road. But if you can stay with this lead group, it is so much fun! Both the not stopping and simply having a police escort, it was a blast!
Now, staying with the lead group is no trivial matter. I like to think I’m no slouch on the whole, I can usually group ride flat-to-rolling routes around 30-32km/h average (say, 18-20mph). I’ll set no records, just a solid, keen rider who does well enough considering how little training I usually fit in!
Riding with this lead group was as fast as I’ve ever ridden for any extended period. I never got anywhere near pulling at the front – if there was any kind of rotation going on, I couldn’t see it and it wasn’t formal enough to be still happening at the rear of the pack. But at the one hour mark, my Garmin showed an average of 38.6km/h or just over 24mph! I’m not too proud to admit that I was literally being pulled along for the ride!
There was no way I could keep that up for the whole ride and I was dropped just after the 50km mark, around 31 miles. I backed off to something around a ‘normal’ speed of 32-ish km/h and continued on my way.
At about 67km/42 miles, I passed a rest stop, but I was feeling pretty good, I had water so I just rode by. I do recall seeing some riders stopped but didn’t look properly and didn’t think too much about it.
At pretty much 80km/50 miles, I noticed a police car coming up behind me in my mirror and as it got closer, I noticed there was a group of riders behind that! It turned out that the lead pack and its escort had stopped at that rest stop, at mile 42. They caught me up and so I jumped on once more as they came past.
We continued to ride together (meaning I did what I could to stay with them!) until just over 100km/62 miles, when I was dropped once more. At 112km/70 miles, there was another rest stop so this time I suspected/hoped that they’d stop again – sure enough, they’d all taken a break again, including the cops. I got a short break and off we went again until around 135km/84 miles when they dropped me for the final time and I rode the last stretch on my own. I was a few minutes under five hours for the century, which was awesome!
The event was really well organized, especially so as this was only the third year the event has happened. The campus where the start-finish was set up is a great space. As a rider, lunch is included and even better, lunch includes two beers from New Holland Brewery. The local police, I think a mix of Wayne State police and city police, were fantastic the whole day. The 100 mile route was very flat and took us around both Belle Isle and Grosse Ile, as well as a good amount of Detroit proper.
There were two minor cons, only one of which the event has much control over. The route marking was OK on the whole but could be made a little stronger on some of the junctions (although it doesn’t matter much when you’re in a large group). I managed to miss the third-from-last turn at mile 98 which was a pity and I rode a couple km extra getting back to the finish line at Wayne State.
The only other con was that some of the road surfaces are pretty rough, particularly downtown. But it is what it is.
The event was great, I will definitely be back and will be recommending it, too. The whole pack-riding-with-police-escort was a total blast and not something I’d done before. If you’d like to see how fast you can go for how long, this ride is a pretty good test!