It takes heart to live in Detroit. Locals are quick to acknowledge their city’s challenges, and Jason Hall was no different. “I was feeling a bit beaten down by this city,” he says. But everything changed when a friend suggested he do the simplest thing: take a bike ride to clear his head. “I got out and started to see Detroit in a different way,” he says. “On the ground level, you see the potential that exists. The city’s wide open for new ideas.”
After that eye-opening ride, Hall had an idea of his own. “I wanted to convince other people to see Detroit the way I was seeing it,” he says. “The plan was, let’s start a bike ride and see if people want to go with us.”
It began simply enough. Just 10 friends on a Monday night ride. Soon it was 20. Then 30. In its second year, the ride grew from 130 to 300 cyclists in two weeks. As the numbers increased, Hall turned to his iPad and made it the command centre for all things Slow Roll. “We use it for everything we do, from mapping to communicating to ordering new T-shirts,” he says.
Slow Roll isn’t a race — it’s an easy ride with a different route every week, celebrating Detroit’s rich history and new developments. Each Monday night, rain or shine, thousands of riders wind through the streets swaying to music pumped from speakers attached to their handlebars. Passers-by look on in delight as bicycles of every stripe — from trikes and tandems to custom-built bikes — cruise through their neighbourhoods. It’s a sight to behold, and it’s all managed by Hall and his iPad. He attributes the growth of Slow Roll to the digital flyers he designs and posts to Facebook with the Phoster app. “Within a week of posting, we saw turnout numbers jump,” he says.
Coordinating a massive group bike ride and keeping thousands of cyclists safe is no small feat. So Hall relies on his iPad and a team of 45 volunteers called corkers, who “cork” intersections, guide riders to the right, and ensure that everyone has a good time. The term corker is also a nod to Detroit’s oldest neighbourhood — Corktown.
A lot of planning goes into each weekly ride. So Hall uses Penultimate to jot down ideas and sketch out routes to share with his team. “I like the ability to write stuff down on the screen — to communicate to my corkers and point out trouble spots,” he says. And once the Slow Roll ride is under way, Hall and his squad keep in contact using the Zello Walkie Talkie app on iPhone.
Hall’s community-building message has caught the attention of local schools, where his talks have been a big hit with the students. To capture their interest, Hall uses Prezi on iPad to show off slides and photos wirelessly. “Now my presentations are so much more engaging,” he says. “Kids just love it.”
Inspired by his concept, cyclists around the world — from Cleveland, Ohio, to Älvsjö, Sweden — have initiated their own weekly rides to bring locals together in the spirit of connecting to the place they call home.
For Hall, Slow Roll will always be about Detroit, the city he loves and the community he lives for. “To have 2,000 people ride behind you is like nothing you’ve ever experienced,” he says. “They’re not only behind you on their bikes, but they believe in you. They’re behind you in your ideas and your dreams, and that’s an amazing feeling.”