Written by Dana Mcmahon
There’s a new spin on the Motor City—and it’s on two wheels. Long synonymous with American auto manufacturing (and its demise), Detroit is now home now to a scrappy start-up determined to bring handmade American bikes to the world.
Building on the manufacturing prowess of this rebounding city, Detroit Bikes is turning out stylish and utilitarian bicycles from a sprawling, long-abandoned factory on the west side. Hands once tuned to auto-making now craft two commuter bikes: the A-Type, with a matte black frame, and the glossy white step-through B-Type. These are the onlybikes wholly manufactured in Detroit, all within an honest-to-goodness factory where red curtains shield employees from the sparks as the bike frames are hand-welded. Since launching with the prototype, which was constructed near a house where Henry Ford once lived, the plant now builds 30 bikes a day—and can ramp up to 100. Among the final hands to touch the bikes at the plant is an employee named (no joke) Henry Ford.
After the bikes are born on the west side of Detroit, they head for retailers around the world. Cyclists looking to own these modern examples of Detroit workmanship may track down both A- and B-Types in Europe, Asia, and North America; the flagship store, of course, is an intimate boutique downtown, Detroit Bikes 1216. All crown molding, crimson flocked wallpaper, and rich oak paneling in a restored historic building, 1216 is a jewel box rather than a simple bike shop.
est rides are encouraged and it’s on two wheels—especially these two oversized-for-comfort wheels—that’s the best way to take in the changes evident in the neighborhoods of the “D.” Cruise along Dequindre Cut—a former rail line turned greenway—or join Slow Roll, one of the largest bike groups in the country and a weekly community bicycle ride focused around urban exploration. These bikes were designed for city riding, and with three speeds—all you need—and combo hand/pedal brakes (remember those?), they swallow up the blocks.
With $699 price tags, these bicycles are not merely luxury showpieces. Don’t let their elegance fool you; these are workhorses that reflect the capability of the city in which they’re made. You’ll spot book-laden students in Midtown, briefcase-toting workers in the Necklace District, evening exercisers on the paths of Belle Isle, and other Detroiters hauling home a bounty of local goods from Eastern Market on the bikes. It’s evident that two wheels, not only four, are fast becoming a fresh symbol of the new Motor City.