Being an overnight sensation is fun, but it takes a lot out of a guy. Ask Jason Hall.
The 44-year-old Detroiter had one big idea -- that it’s fun to go for group bike rides in Detroit -- that blew up bigger than he dreamed. First, the Slow Roll he co-founded with Mike MacKool grew almost exponentially, from dozens to hundreds to thousands showing up on Monday nights during warm months to pedal through the city for a couple of hours.
Before long, Hall was helping run a nonprofit, spending hours at city hall pulling permits, booking porta-potties, arranging parking and negotiating with police on which routes that bolus of bikes would take as they slow-pedaled through the city.
Apple used it as the basis of an iPad commercial (video below). Shinola jumped aboard. Soon, Hall was traveling the world, talking about Detroit, talking about cycling, talking about community-building, collecting stamps for his passport.
“I went from this dude figuring out how to make this nonprofit work to people telling me, ‘Man, Apple really struck it rich with you. You’re black, authentic, from Detroit -- you’re the whole package,’” Hall said.
Slow roll, fast life
It was a wild ride for a guy who preferred to do his own riding on a bike. Last summer he informed the board of directors that he was stepping away, that it was time for something different.
This summer, he rolled out RiDetroit, which gets back to the fun part of Slow Roll -- the riding, the sightseeing -- but on a much more manageable scale. RiDetroit, at its simplest level, provides monthly guided tours of Detroit, with Hall at the head of the pack. The first public rides are Saturday at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m.
Outings are strictly limited to 250 people, with most not even that big.
“That’s for corporate entities,” Hall said. “My ideal size is about 50. Fifty is the sweet spot. With a group that size, we can go places I haven’t been able to go for years. With 50 people we can go on the riverfront, we can stop, take a photo. I can talk to everybody. Slow Roll was way too big for that.”
Ironically, the mega-successful Slow Roll got so big that one of its original aims -- to show riders the city -- was lost in those millions of flashing spokes. Interesting detours into neighborhoods or unscheduled stops to investigate a new bar or restaurant were out of the question with thousands in the peloton. RiDetroit aims to get back to Slow Roll’s founding spirit.
Hall also needs to start earning money. Slow Roll, for all its success, didn’t pay much, especially considering the work involved. RiDetroit rates start at $25 for a two-hour ride, and differ from the Slow Roll in other ways. No alcohol or drugs permitted. No amplified music. Helmets required. Be on your best behavior.
(Not that Slow Rolls are druggy bacchanals. But in a crowd of a few thousand, people do bend the rules from time to time.)
A TV presence
Hall is also hosting a new web series for the state’s Pure Michigan campaign. “Urban DNA” finds him touring the state’s cities, in the manner of Anthony Bourdain touring the world. He’s also doing some voiceover work for Pure Michigan, but stresses Tim Allen is still the main voice for the campaign.
It’s a fresh start for Hall, but it’s a start from a much humbler place, too -- 535 Likes on the RiDetroit Facebook page, vs. more than 18,000 for Slow Roll’s. A basic Slow Roll membership is $15 per season; Hall charges $25 per adult each time, or $15 for riders under 15.
After this weekend, the next outings are Sept. 22 and Oct. 27 -- also Saturdays, also with two afternoon rides.
It likely won’t be as popular as Slow Roll, but that’s OK with the leader of the pack.
“I just love being on a bike and talking to people,” he said. “With Slow Roll, the only conversation I had for an hour and a half was, ‘Stay to the right.’”