By Paul Janczewski
Some cyclists call it the Tour Detroit, while others give it a French pronunciation, ala Tour de Twa, but no matter how you say it, on Sept. 15, Detroit’s streets will be buzzing with nearly 5,000 bikers peddling through some of the city’s historic neighborhoods and vibrant business districts.
This is the 11th annual Tour de Troit, but since 2007, the law firm of Miller Canfield has been a top-tier sponsor of the event, led by the company’s top-dog cyclist, Steven Roach.
So, really, Steve, what is the proper pronunciation for this event?
“We’ll go with the French pronunciation,” he said during a recent interview. “Actually, it depends on who you’re talking to, but it’s pretty flexible.”
Roach recently read a Facebook post from someone asking whether the Americanized version or the French version is preferred.
“I actually thought the Irish pronunciation would be better,” he joked. “But it’s just a fun play on words.”
In reality, no matter how you say it, the Tour de Troit not only showcases Detroit, but also fits in nicely with Miller Canfield’s desire to promote healthy employees, give back to the city, and market the firm.
According to the official Tour’s website, the inaugural tour, founded by Edward Potas and Mike Kiewicz, began modestly in 2002, starting at Grand Circus Park with stops at St. Albertus, Young’s BBQ and Pure Detroit at the Fisher Building, and ending at Hart Plaza. It was supported with a bike trailer, a cooler, pump and some tools. T-shirt sales helped to cover expenses.
Through the years, the route has changed and expanded, adding more cyclists and sponsors each year, and the 8th annual ride in 2009 drew more than 2,000 riders. This year, organizers are anticipating 5,000 riders at the starting point in Roosevelt Park.
For the first time, the route will be closed to automobile traffic, with some roads being blocked off, eliminating the need for a police escort.
“We are so excited to once again give Tour de Troit participants the one-of-a-kind opportunity to see Detroit when riding along with thousands of fellow cyclists,” co-director Vittoria Katanski said in a news release. “This year, our riders will enjoy a new and exciting course taking them through wonderful neighborhoods and business districts.”
Two routes are being offered — a 30-mile course for recreational riders, and a 62-mile course called the Metric Century, because it covers 100 kilometers. Registration and sign-in begins at 7:30 a.m., with long-course riders departing at 8 a.m. and short-course riders an hour later.
Starting and ending points for both rides will be Roosevelt Park in Corktown at Michigan Avenue and 14th Street. Registration began weeks ago, but some may be able to still register on the day of the event for $65 for the shorter course, with space limited to 5,000 riders. The Metric Century ride was limited to 250 participants and is already filled.
Roach said the rides may seem daunting, but it’s really an activity that families with kids can easily enjoy.
“We basically take over the streets, and it’s an amazing experience,” he said.
About 50 sweepers and six support and gear vehicles with experienced cyclists will be on hand to help riders with minor repairs. Many local companies will pass out freebies, such as yogurt, at the start and a rest stop on Belle Isle.
The event culminates with a party in Roosevelt Park from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. featuring food a drink from local restaurants, and local music. The Tour has raised more than $100,000 to help fund non-motorized infrastructure in Detroit, including the Southwest Detroit Greenlink.
Roach, 51, said he started biking at an early age, like many people.
“I rode all over the place. It was great freedom, just fantastic,” he said.
But when he received his driver’s license, biking took a back seat. After graduating from the University of Michigan Law School, Roach was hired at Miller Canfield, and now specializes in commercial transaction and litigation in restructuring lending relationships and enforcing loan transactions.
Along the way, Roach got married, had children, moved back to Grosse Pointe, and decided to get back into cycling with the family.
“And I remembered how much fun I had,” he said. “All of a sudden, I was a kid again.”
Roach said he got back into biking in his mid-30s, and discovered that is a typical time when people rediscover cycling. And he loved it so much, he got on the advocacy side of cycling, joining the League of Michigan Bicyclists, currently holding the position of Chairman of the Board for Region 1.
He downplays his role as chairman, saying it just means he has a gavel and gets to bang it on the table, “but it sounds cool, right?”
“But it’s a good organization, and one that I support, and it’s a good vehicle to improve our city,” he said.
About a decade ago, Roach said Miller Canfield started an in-house program called MC Fit in response to rising health costs.
“If you encourage healthy behavior, people will have less need for medical services,” he said.
Healthy employees make for a better firm and he said MC Fit “encourages physical activity through incentives and awards.” About 2006, Roach started the firm’s cycling group. Any employee of Miller Canfield can belong, there are no membership fees and non-firm people can become honorary members just by asking to join.
“I have tough entry standards,” he said with a smile.
Roach often commutes from home to work on his bike whenever possible. Driving might take 20 minutes each way, while biking it adds maybe 10 minutes longer, but the extra exercise is worth it, he said. He also bikes on weekends.
When Miller Canfield became a sponsor of the Tour de Troit, Roach fell in love with the idea.
“It provided an opportunity to showcase Detroit as a friendly, hospitable city, and one which is good for biking,” he said. “It’s a positive event for our city and our area.
“And the other thing it did was promote the establishment of greenways and bike paths,” Roach said. “Those are vehicles which improve a community and make it more livable, and brings people out on the streets more.”
He said communities that have bike paths and encourage alternative transportation make them more desirable places to live in. Roach said the law firm is concerned about environmental impacts, and cycling is one effort to reduce the carbon footprint.
“Our primary motivation in supporting cycling is the positive effects it has on a community,“ he said. “We want to improve the overall desirability of Detroit and southeastern Michigan and keep it vibrant.”
From Miller Canfield’s perspective, it tied in nicely with the firm’s strong, longtime relationship with the city, and its on-going efforts to promote Detroit through civic and charitable endeavors.
“And it also fit within our desire to promote health and fitness, so we think its made our firm a better place,” Roach said.
Plus, the advertising the firm receives from its association to the Tour de Troit doesn’t hurt, either. Roach said it allows the company to engage a marketing segment — the cyclists — that maybe other firms don’t tap into.
Cycling appeals to professionals, executives and many other segments of society, and it’s a good chance that many people in that group might need legal counsel at some point in their lives. The Miller Canfield name on Tour T-shirts “gives us an opportunity to have a presence in an area that has good visibility and allow us to develop relationships that are different,” Roach said.
Business deals can be hammered out on a golf course, but cycling is a social activity that presents as many, if not more, opportunities, Roach said.
But the social impact of cycling is an added plus to the health benefits. More and more bike paths are being constructed, bike lanes are being added to certain street construction projects, and it all adds up to making the greater Detroit area a great place to ride a bike, Roach said.
The streets are wide, and riding at non-rush hour times allows you to see the fabulous sights the city has to offer. Roach said the people are friendly and wave and say “Hello” to passing cyclists.
Plus, no matter what your occupation, biking gives a person a time to relax and unwind. If you’re riding in a group, be it businessmen, current or potential clients, or anyone, it gives people the opportunity to learn a little bit more about each other, their families, their thoughts on a wide range of subjects.
“It strengthens relationships, plus it’s a good marketing tool and an opportunity to look at the next generation who a decade from now might have significant standings either in the community or a business,” Roach said.
Gary Glenn, a tax lawyer with Miller Canfield, also is a member of the firm’s bike team, and enjoys the benefits of cycling.
“It’s very nice because cycling gives you an opportunity for solitude and thought you don’t get in the busy world today,” he said.
“There are different ways to exercise, but I find this the most relaxing.”
Full cycle: Tour gives riders chance to peddle around Detroit
By Paul Janczewski