It is common knowledge that most bicycles are made in Taiwan or China these days. However, the craft of making bikes has seen a rebirth in Detroit. In the last several years, a number of small frame builders have opened their doors in Detroit, including Motorless City Bicycle Co., Detroit Bicycle Company, Shinola, and 313 Bicycle Works. These companies offer something different than the mass produced Taiwanese and Chinese manufacturers – unique, handmade and custom bicycles. However, one Motown based company, Detroit Bikes has decided to compete with the Taiwanese and Chinese at their own game.
In 2012, Zak Pashak founded Detroit Bikes with the goal of mass producing quality commuter bicycles. He invested in a 50,000 square foot plant on the west side of Detroit and the company is now cranking out the perfect bike for those looking for a simple and relatively affordable bike with a little Motown style.
Last Thursday, I took a number of depositions in Dearborn, a suburb that borders Detroit’s western boundary. When the depositions were over, I decided to take a short drive to see for myself if they really were mass producing bicycles in The D.
When I arrived at the address listed for the company, I initially thought I might be in the wrong place. There was little evidence that Detroit Bikes was open for business. Fortunately, when I pulled around the building, I could see there were cars parked in a side lot, but no indication that they were making bikes. Still, I decided to peek inside, half expecting to see a tool and die shop. When I walked in the door, the first thing I saw was a big sign that read, “Detroit Bikes – Finally, A Bike That’s Mass Produced in the US.” This was it! I peered around the corner and a large man with a friendly smile waived me in. He told me his name was Henry and that it was his job to perform the final assembly of the bikes manufactured at the plant.
After a brief introduction, Henry offered to take me on a tour of the Detroit Bikes factory. He walked me through the entire process from the cutting of the steel tubes, to the welding of the frames; painting, wheel building, and final assembly process. Although bicycles were being mass produced, there were clearly skilled craftsmen at work. It was a truly amazing operation. The company currently makes two models – the A-Type, which is a standard commuter bike with a matte black finish and the B-type, which is painted white and has a step-through frame. Both models are made with chromoly steel tubing; come with a Shimano 3-speed internal rear hub, a rear coaster brake, a front hand brake, and a rear rack that sports the Detroit Bikes logo and carries up to 35 lbs.
Just as impressive as the bikes and assembly process, was the enthusiasm displayed by Henry and the other employees at Detroit Bikes. It was clear they understood they were building more than just bicycles – they were building beautiful machines that would make a difference in the lives of people, and maybe a community. They talked with me about their desire to help make Detroit more bicycle friendly and their active involvement in the cycling community including Slow Roll Detroit, a weekly ride that has routinely has thousands of participants!
In short, I had a great time at Detroit Bikes. I will definitely be visiting the factory again to share the experience with friends and family. In keeping with the “n + 1” rule of bicycle ownership, I am also strongly considering adding a Type-A to my stable!