Taking Over Bike-Share Programs
When Zak Pashak’s factory opened in 2013, bicycle manufacturing in the U.S. had all but disappeared.
The Detroit Bikes factory sits on the West Side of the city near scattered abandoned homes and a junkyard full of rusted car parts. Inside, workers are taking test rides through the 50,000-square-foot facility on a fleet of freshly assembled bicycles destined for New York’s Citi Bike bike-share program. On foot, founder Zak Pashak, 36, dodges the riders, navigating a path around the chaotic floor and holding forth on the virtues of American-made chromoly steel—which, in case you’re not a metallurgist, is lighter and stronger than standard steel and is what Pashak uses in his house line. He stops and points to the loading dock, where a tractor-trailer waits to haul the bikes more than 600 miles to Citi Bike headquarters in Brooklyn. “This was my dream when we got the factory—watching semis drive away at the end of the day,” Pashak says.
When his factory opened in 2013, bicycle manufacturing in the U.S. had all but disappeared. The long, downward spiral began in the 1980s, when industry-giant Schwinn shifted work to Asia, a cost-saving move that other manufacturers such as Huffy soon copied. In 2015 only 2.5 percent of the estimated 12.6 million bikes sold in the U.S. (not including those for children) were made here, according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association. “A lot of people thought it was really goofy when I first started this,” says the bearded Pashak, who describes Detroit as “a good spot for urban revitalization to take hold” and is prone to similarly grandiose talk about changing the world. If his technology weren’t 200 years old, he could pass for a startup founder.
It probably was really goofy, based purely on economics. But at a time when we want our kale organic and our beer microbrewed, manufacturing bicycles in the cradle of the U.S. transportation industry turns out to be just rational enough. Shinola, which also sells bikes, might have stolen Pashak’s thunder by becoming the face of Detroit’s rebound. Yet Detroit Bikes’ contract with Motivate, the company that runs bike-sharing programs in 12 metro areas, has helped put Pashak’s company on pace to churn out 10,000 bikes this year. It’s nice that in doing so he’ll employ 50 people in a city with 10 percent unemployment, about double the national rate. It’s perhaps more significant that without this Canadian transplant’s operation, options for how busy urbanites get from point A to point B might literally be fewer and farther between.
Pashak, whose former stepfather was an oilman and co-owner of the Calgary Flames, had millions to spend on risky endeavors when he relocated to Detroit from Calgary five years ago. He was used to riding without training wheels: In 2003 he opened Broken City, which became one of Calgary’s premier live-music venues, without having run a bar before. He ran for City Council in 2010, having never sought public office—and lost. It forced him to figure out what was next. He’d been fascinated with Detroit since childhood, when he watched ’80s action heroes such as Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I., Peter Weller in RoboCop, and Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop, all of whom had ties to the Motor City. “I had this feeling that cool people came from Detroit,” Pashak says. “I felt a gut draw.” He wanted to be part of its economic rebound. Detroit didn’t need another Broken City, he decided, but a factory made sense. “It’s got a history of manufacturing; there are a lot of people who’ve got skills who haven’t been able to use them in a long, long time,” he says.
It was Pashak’s failed City Council bid that gave him a passion for two-wheelers. While running for office, he studied urban-transit public policy and came to see bikes as a solution for big-city ailments—everything from pollution to traffic congestion. “It’s a highly efficient machine, yet people have this complicated relationship with it,” he says. “A lot of people think bikes are for hippies or people who got a DUI, or for people who are poor and can’t afford a car. Or they’re for kids.” Even more complicated: price. High-end bikes with carbon-fiber frames, suspension packages, and multispeed gears are expensive to buy, let alone maintain. So Pashak thought a basic bike, meant for the nation’s urban jungles, might have marketplace potential. And that was it. He was off to Detroit.
When Pashak arrived, he bought an old house in the city’s historic Boston-Edison neighborhood, just blocks from where Henry Ford once lived. Like any good American entrepreneur, he began tinkering in his garage with a prototype inspired by a 2012 trip to Copenhagen, a city famed for its riding culture. It was a process: “Everything that could’ve gone wrong has done so at least once,” he says, explaining that equipment broke and the factory wasn’t laid out efficiently. In 2013 production began on the A-Type model. The $700 A-Type has a utilitarian, matte-black frame, three speeds, and a rear rack with the Detroit Bikes logo. A women’s version, the B-Type, comes in white and mint.
Production was slow in 2014 when Pashak cold-called New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colo. He had a simple question: Did it need a bikemaker? The brewery is best known for its Fat Tire amber ale, with a shiny, vintage, red bicycle on the label. Every year the company bestows bikes on employees to celebrate work anniversaries and other special events, and for years it had turned to manufacturers in Asia. It just so happened that New Belgium’s bike designer had started looking for an American manufacturer around the time Pashak called. “He was having trouble actually finding a company in the U.S. that could scale up and make 2,500 bikes,” says Bryan Simpson, a New Belgium spokesman. Detroit Bikes had capacity to spare; production began in earnest earlier this year. Pashak says: “It was huge—a big leap of faith for them. They made this company possible.” The contract with Motivate this spring made it a business. Currently, Motivate uses Detroit Bikes-assembled bicycles in New York, Boston, and Jersey City.
Back at the factory, Pashak heads to a corner and shows off a machine that makes wheels. “This is how we won the contract for Citi Bike,” he says. Although New Belgium’s bikes are constructed start-to-finish in Detroit, Citi Bikes technically aren’t entirely American-made. The aluminum frames come from Asia, and Pashak’s crew assembles them. Wheels, however, are more cumbersome and expensive to transport. By making those locally, says Jay Walder, Motivate’s chief executive officer, the company has reduced the number of shipping containers coming from Asia by two-thirds. Better yet, being able to say that Motivate bikes are assembled at home gives it a leg up in negotiations with city governments as the company expands. “If you’re a mayor or a transportation commissioner, it’s nice to be talking about the fact that this program, which is a big part of the community, is creating jobs at home,” Walder says.
When Walder’s tenure at Motivate started in October 2014, finding a domestic manufacturer became a priority. But he struggled to find anyone who could handle a 3,000-unit order built to Motivate’s specs. “The industry is not set up to do anything like this,” Walder says. Before Detroit Bikes, “there were no bike-share bicycles that were being made anywhere in the United States.” This year, Motivate plans to add 8,000 bikes, bringing the total to 28,000. Pashak—whose factory has gone from pumping out 20 bikes a day to 80 since signing on to make Citi Bikes—wants as much of that business as possible. He estimates that he, his mother, and an investor named Bernard Sucher, a native son who’s worked for Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, have put as much as $4 million into Detroit Bikes. Pashak is on pace to break even this year, he says.
With the New Belgium and Motivate contracts providing some stability, Pashak is looking to expand his retail business. Earlier this year he hired Scott Montgomery, a 30-year industry veteran whose father co-founded Cannondale, to head national sales. The move signaled to industry watchers that the quirky company is emerging from Shinola’s shadow. “If they expand their lineup, they’ll appeal to a lot more people,” says Pete Kocher, who’s sold a few Detroit Bikes at Ride Brooklyn, with shops in the borough’s cyclist-dense Park Slope and Williamsburg neighborhoods. “They’ve got a load of potential to grow.” Montgomery says he wants Detroit Bikes in 100 more stores by yearend, for a total of 400 retail outlets in 150 U.S. cities. The company plans to start selling a new design, the racing-oriented C-Type, later this summer. The A-Type and B-Type will soon get more gears and colors.
After walking through the factory, Pashak looks for a quiet moment away from the banging of metal and lingering smell of welded steel. Outside, the street is calm and empty. “Having a factory that impacts the community directly is very cool,” he says. Some of his workers even walk to work: “As an urbanist, idealist kind of guy, that’s the coolest thing.”
Detroit Bikes to build thousands of bikes for nation’s largest bike share operator
Detroit, MI – May 4, 2016 –Detroit Bikes, North America's only large-scale bicycle manufacturer, and Motivate, the nation’s leading bike-share operator, announced that Motivate’s bikes will now be assembled in the United States.
Detroit Bikes will assemble 3,000 Motivate bikes in its 50,000 square-foot factory in Detroit.
The manufacturer will also build wheels and oversee local partners to paint frames and forks.
As a result of the increased workload, Detroit Bikes has added ten workers and a built a new assembly line.
“This contract makes a huge statement about what Detroit is capable of” said Zak Pashak, Founder and President of Detroit Bikes. “It is fitting that American bike-share bikes will be assembled here in America and we’re proud to work with Motivate to make it happen,” he said. “Detroit Bikes is looking forward to working with even more cities and systems as we hone our capabilities.”
“It’s terrific that Motivate, a growing national business has selected a Detroit company for this manufacturing work,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, “It’s another good sign of the strength of Detroit business. This initiative will create jobs in a Detroit neighborhood and help power an innovative new form of transportation.”
Motivate operates the largest bike share systems in the country and nearly 70% of the entire bike-share fleet in the U.S. Moving the assembly of its bikes to the U.S. allows Motivate to ensure quality control and fulfill orders for new bikes more quickly.
“I can’t think of a better place to have our bike assembly operations than Detroit,” said Jay Walder, President & CEO of Motivate. “With Detroit Bikes’ help, Motivate will be able to meet the growing demand for bike-share operations in cities all across the country, getting more bikes to more people more quickly.”
Carrying forward with this success in bike-share partnerships, Detroit Bikes is thrilled to announce a subsequent partnership with CycleHop, the nation’s fastest growing bike-share provider, to bid on the recently announced City of Detroit bike-share RFP, operated by the City of Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the Downtown Detroit Partnership (DDP).
“If we’re going to making thousands of bikes for some of the biggest bike share programs in the country, it only makes sense that the city of Detroit would also look to a local manufacturer when sourcing bikes for their new program” said Zak Pashak. “We would love to be able to contribute to the city’s program and have partnered with some of the most well respected names in bike-share to put together a rock solid proposal”. The City of Detroit bike-share RFP was announced in November of 2015.
Motivate is a global leader in bike share. A full-service bike share operator and technology innovator, Motivate works to re-envision how people experience and move around cities. Motivate currently manages all of the largest bike share systems in the United States and many of the largest systems in the world, including Bay Area Bike Share (California Bay Area), Citi Bike (New York and Jersey City), Divvy (Chicago), CoGo Bike Share (Columbus, Ohio), Capital Bike Share (Washington, D.C.; Arlington and Alexandria, Va.; and Montgomery County, Md.), Hubway (Boston, Somerville, Cambridge and Brookline, Mass.), Pronto (Seattle), Bike Chattanooga (Tenn.), Bike Share Toronto, and Melbourne Bike Share in Australia. Motivate will add thousands of bikes to its current systems and launch the new BIKETOWN bike share system in Portland, Oregon in July 2016.
Scott Montgomery to lead Detroit Bikes Sales Team
Detroit, MI – March 15, 2016 – Detroit Bikes, the American bike manufacturer, has hired Scott Montgomery, as National Sales Director.
Montgomery brings more than 30 years of experience in the bicycle industry to Detroit Bikes.
His career includes a long tenure with Cannondale and returning Scott Sports to North America.
He will split his time between Nutcase helmets as CEO, and Detroit bikes.
In his role at Detroit Bikes, Montgomery will guide national retailer sales and marketing.
“Detroit Bikes has made a lot of progress within the bike industry in a short time," Montgomery said. “They’re appealing to a broad audience of urban, commuter, hybrid and casual cyclist’s with a high quality American made bicycle.”
Detroit Bikes is continuing to expand its retailer initiatives. The rapidly growing manufacturer builds its signature bikes in a 50,000 square foot factory on the city’s west side of Detroit. Its distinctive, quality bicycles can be seen everywhere from cities and corporate campuses to bike trails and parks.
“Scott’s expertise is a very welcome addition,” said Detroit Bikes Founder and President, Zak Pashak. “We’re growing quickly and his experience working with companies like ours will be a big advantage.“
Detroit Bikes now available at Nordstrom stores
Detroit Bikes and Nordstrom, Inc. announced an agreement that will bring the bike manufacturer’s distinctive A-Type bicycles to Nordstrom “Pop-In” stores across North America.
The Detroit Bikes A-Type will be part of the retailer’s Heartbreakers II Pop-In theme. Each Nordstrom Pop-In functions as a store-within a store and features specifically curated merchandise.
This recurring series of shops showcases unique collections of merchandise that the department store is not usually known for.
"I’m super excited about Pop-In@Nordstrom Heartbreakers II," said Olivia Kim, Norstrom's director of creative projects. "It’s part two of a shop we launched two years ago and was timed along with Valentine’s day. Our take was on the guy, who dressed well and was uber stylish - a heartbreaker a la James Dean or Steve McQueen. Iconic men who had that je ne sais quoi. We were excited to bring it back and introduce new brands for men."
"This is a great partnership for Detroit Bikes,” said Detroit Bikes founder and President Zak Pashak. “Nordstrom Pop-Ins will introduce Detroit Bikes to a broader market and will position bikes manufactured in Detroit alongside other high quality products."
The elegant but durable Detroit Bikes A-Type is a stylish city and commuter bike. Already available at more than 130 bicycle retailers around the world, the A-type will be featured in Nordstrom’s top locations including Dallas, San Francisco, Vancouver, Seattle, Chicago, and on Norstrom.com.About Detroit Bikes:
Founded in 2011, Detroit Bikes manufactures accessible, quality bicycles in Detroit. Leveraging a rich tradition of skilled manufacturing and innovative design, the company operates a 50,000 square-foot factory on Detroit’s west side with a capacity to produce 100 bicycles a day. Detroit Bikes signature production bikes include the A-Type city commuter and the B-Type step through. Detroit Bikes’ new C-Type single speed, successfully funded through a 2015 Kickstarter campaign, will begin production in spring 2016. For more information visit: http://www.detroitbikes.com About Nordstrom:
Nordstrom, Inc. is a leading fashion specialty retailer based in the U.S. Founded in 1901 as a shoe store in Seattle, today Nordstrom operates 323 stores in 39 states, including 121 full-line stores in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico; 194 Nordstrom Rack stores; two Jeffrey boutiques; and one clearance store. Additionally, customers are served online through Nordstrom.com, Nordstromrack.com and HauteLook. The company also owns Trunk Club, a personalized clothing service serving customers online at TrunkClub.com and its five clubhouses. Nordstrom, Inc.'s common stock is publicly traded on the NYSE under the symbol JWN.
Detroit Bikes debuts new models
Sacramento, CA – February 9, 2016 – Detroit Bikes will debut its New Belgium Brewing Fat Tire bike at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS), the world’s largest consumer show for custom-built bicycles.
Joining hundreds of bike makers from across the United States, Detroit Bikes will also display its growing line of production bicycles as well as offering new products and services to fellow bike builders.
The Fat Tire bike, manufactured exclusively for New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, CO, is part of a multi-year contract to produce thousands of bikes to promote the beer maker’s Fat Tire Amber Ale.
In addition to contract manufacturing, Detroit Bikes has begun working as a key supply chain partner for a major US bike share provider. This agreement includes wheel building, powder coating, assembly, and shipping for more than 3,000 bikes.
Detroit Bikes’ capabilities have grown to also provide new services and products to others. The company offers painted or raw frames, frame kits, and specialty items like bottom bracket shells to bike builders.
“We’re excited to show the hand built community everything Detroit Bikes can do,” Said Founder and President, Zak Pashak. “Through a traditional assembly line approach, we’re able to manufacture a high volume of quality, hand built frames and components available to everyone.”
Detroit Bikes Hires New COO to Direct Major Production Increase
Detroit, MI – January 20, 2016 – Detroit Bikes has hired Chris Kiesling as Chief Operating Officer. Kiesling will focus on strengthening and expanding Detroit Bikes’ manufacturing operations to meet growing customer demand.
In addition to manufacturing its own signature bicycles in 2016, Detroit Bikes will also manufacture thousands of bikes for New Belgium Brewery, in concert with other custom manufacturing contracts.
Detroit Bikes also recently entered into an agreement to act as a key supply chain partner for a major US bike share provider. This agreement involves various aspects of production for several thousand bikes annually.
Kiesling joins Detroit Bikes from DTE Energy where he served as a plant manager. In his new role, Kiesling will greatly improve employee engagement and manufacturing efficiencies for Detroit Bikes. Drawing on more than ten years of experience leading safety and process engineering efforts at DTE, Kiesling will guide Detroit Bikes through its growth.
“This is a critical time,” he said. “Now we transition from a company that produced a thousand bikes a year into one that can produce thousands each month. ” “The Detroit Bikes factory is configured in a way that is well-suited to an increase of this scale,” said Kiesling. “We need to analyze throughput and effectively use the tools we have at our disposal to ensure successful growth. “
To handle the Increased workload, Detroit Bikes is adding additional positions including welders, wheel builders, powder-coaters, and bike assemblers.
“Things are moving very fast for Detroit Bikes,” explained Detroit Bikes Founder and President, Zak Pashak. “Bringing Chris aboard strengthens our management team at a crucial time. His leadership, and process engineering skill are what we need to continue to grow.”
Kiesling graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in chemical engineering before earning his masters of business administration from the University of Michigan. Prior to joining DTE, Kiesling worked for National Industrial Maintenance and the National Steel Corporation.
Detroit Bikes Crowd Funds Latest Bike on Kickstarter
Detroit’s only Bike Factory Will Manufacture Limited Edition Bikes in the Motor City
Detroit, Mich. – November 4, 2015 – Stimulating the local economy and advancing the made-in-America movement, Detroit Bikes has launched a Kickstarter campaign to crowd fund its newest bicycle, the C-Type.
The fan-funded campaign aims to raise $100,000 by November 30. Visit the campaign HERE. After opening its retail flagship in the heart of downtown Detroit earlier this year, America’s fastest growing bike manufacturer has set its sights on expanding its global reach.
“Kickstarter is a great way for us to launch a new model,” explained, Detroit Bikes founder and president, Zak Pashak. “Our supporters get first access to limited edition bikes or unique Detroit Bikes items and experiences. At the same time, funding this campaign enables Detroit Bikes to configure our factory for increased production and hire new staff.”
The C-Type is the latest addition to Detroit Bikes’ line of high-quality and affordable bicycles. Retailing for $599, it’s a simple and solid single-speed road bike. Without derailleurs or other gearing systems, it has fewer parts that require maintenance, making it ideal for city commuting or recreational riding in all weather.
The C-Type is the latest edition to the company’s line of American-made bicycles. Joining the A-Type and B-Type, all three models are manufactured in Detroit Bikes’ 50,000 square-foot factory in Detroit. Available to Kickstarter supporters only, funders can grab limited edition, numbered collectors editions of the C-Type in six unique colors - hunter green, fluorescent yellow, flat black, royal blue, mint green or chrome.
To find out more, go to https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1202301321/the-detroit-bikes-c-type-the-american-single-speed
Cycling and Cider
Detroit Bikes to Manufacture 1,000 Cycling-Inspired Tap Handles for Virtue Cider
Detroit, Mich. – October 20, 2015 – Detroit Bikes has announced an agreement with Virtue Cider to produce 1,000 tap handles for use in bars and restaurants across the United States.
Detroit Bikes, North America's fastest growing bicycle manufacturer, will make the tap handles in its 50,000 square-foot factory in Detroit.
Designed by the Virtue Cider team, the Tap Handles will be constructed from the same American-made steel tubing that Detroit Bikes uses in its bikes.
“This deal is very exciting for us,” said Detroit Bikes president and founder, Zak Pashak. “Not only do we get to partner with a growing Michigan Cider Brewery in Virtue Cider, it’s also an opportunity for Detroit Bikes to demonstrate another side of our manufacturing capabilities.”
Located in Fennville, on Michigan’s west coast, Virtue Cider makes its distinctive beverages from heritage apples grown on the local orchards that surround Virtue Farm.
“We source all our apples from Michigan and we all ride bikes, so why not have our friends at Detroit Bike make our tap handles right here in Michigan?” Said Gregory Hall, co-founder at Virtue Cider. “It’s a perfect solution. Plus, they are going to be the coolest tap handles out there.”
About Virtue Cider:
Virtue is the hard cider venture launched in June 2011 by Gregory Hall, former brewmaster at Goose Island, and co-founder Stephen Schmakel.
The company’s mission is to make European-style ciders from fresh heirloom apples – never from concentrate – and employ traditional farmhouse production methods that include native and secondary fermentation, use of wild yeasts, and an expansive barrel-aging program.
For more information about Virtue Cider, head to http://virtuecider.com/morsel-info/?morselid=2757
Detroit Bikes to Open Flagship Retail Space in Downtown Detroit
Capitol Park home to the new Detroit Bikes 1216
Detroit, Mich. – April 30, 2015 – Detroit Bikes, North America's fastest growing manufacturer of bicycles, will open its first retail location at 1216 Griswold in Detroit on May 8th.
Kicking off at 11 a.m., the all-day event will showcase the company’s hand-made bicycles manufactured in Detroit. The flagship store, Detroit Bikes 1216, is located on the first floor of the Albert apartment building in the heart of Capitol Park.
The 1,200 square-foot space has been restored to reveal ornate crown moldings and stone columns. New features like oak paneling and antique display cases give Detroit Bikes 1216 a vintage feel. In fact, Metzger’s Bicycle Shop, one of Detroit’s historic stores, which stood at 351 Woodward, inspired the new store’s design.
“We can’t wait for people to see it,” said Detroit Bikes President and Founder Zak Pashak. “Detroit Bikes 1216 is beautiful and evokes the city’s rich cycling history.”
In addition to its décor, Detroit Bikes 1216 probably won’t feel like any other bike shop.
“You won’t be overwhelmed by hundreds of different models and your choices won’t be directed by a salesperson,” explained Detroit Bikes Retail Manager, Bill Sirl. “You’ll be able to take your time and decide what interests you.”
Detroit Bikes 1216 will serve as the showroom for the company’s growing line of signature bicycles manufactured in Detroit. In addition to its own cycles, 1216 will feature American made accessories and products by other local makers like Woodward Throwbacks and Better Life Bags. As the first new retailer to move into Capitol Park, Detroit Bikes will expose audiences to a secluded part of downtown that’s undergoing a transformation.
“It’s great to see people filling up some of the blank spaces,” said Josh Greenwood, Owner of Urban Bean Coffee in Capitol Park. “People are starting to get out and venture past their cubicles and explore more of the city.”
Detroit Bikes Inks Landmark Deal with New Belgium Brewing
More than 2,000 ‘Fat Tire’ Bicycles To Be Manufactured In Detroit
Detroit, Mich. - March 31, 2015 – Detroit Bikes has announced a deal with New Belgium Brewing to produce 2,415 bikes to promote the beer maker’s Fat Tire Amber Ale.
Detroit Bikes, North America's largest manufacturer of bicycles, will produce the custom-designed bikes at its 50,000 square-foot factory in Detroit. The company expects to add about ten workers to meet the increased demand and to begin shipping the Fat Tire bikes early next year. Inspired by the iconic bicycle on New Belgium’s Fat Tire Amber Ale label, the new bike will be awarded to New Belgium employees for their one-year anniversaries and used for fundraisers and other giveaways.
“This order is a win-win,” said Zak Pashak, Detroit Bikes founder and president. “New Belgium Brewing gets a quality product that’s made-in-the-USA, and Detroit Bikes is able to partner with an outstanding company that shares our vision of encouraging cycling.”
"While there are quite a few small, custom bike builders in the US, there are very few options for larger volume, production bicycle manufacturers," said New Belgium Brewing bike designer, Ryan McKee. “New Belgium is responsible for putting more than 2,000 bikes out into the world annually. To double down on such an awesome idea with bicycles made right in Detroit - it's twice as nice.”
“Zak and his team at Detroit Bikes exemplify the cultural renaissance that is currently happening in Detroit,” said McKee. “We appreciate Detroit Bike's love and respect for the bicycle as a sustainable vehicle for change."
About New Belgium Brewing Company:
New Belgium Brewing, makers of Fat Tire Amber Ale and a host of Belgian-inspired beers, is recognized as one of Outside Magazine’s Best Places to work and one of the Wall Street Journal’s Best Small Businesses. The 100% employee-owned brewery is a Platinum-level Bicycle Friendly Business as designated by the League of American Bicyclists, and one of World Blu’s most democratic U.S. businesses, and a Certified B Corp.
In addition to Fat Tire, New Belgium brews ten year-round beers; Ranger IPA, Rampant Imperial IPA, Slow Ride Session IPA, Snapshot Wheat, Shift Pale Lager, Sunshine Wheat, 1554 Black Ale, Blue Paddle Pilsener, Abbey Belgian Ale and Trippel.
Learn more at www.newbelgium.com.
Before there was the Model T, there was the Quadricycle. Henry Ford fashioned his original automobile from four bicycle wheels and a chain at the height of Detroit’s 19th-century bike (yes, bike) manufacturing boom. If Detroit rose and fell on for four wheels, its past—and potentially its future—was built on just two. As the city wends its way through bankruptcy court this fall and its core industry lurches back to solvency, the Motor City is revving up to become a manufacturing hub again, this time for a vehicle that has no motor at all: the bicycle.
Over the past several years, at least seven bicycle makers have set up shop in the Detroit metro area, touting sleek, artisanal models. “Everybody in this town knows somebody who worked for the Big Three,” says Steven Bock, a Ford Motor Co. clay sculptor who is now applying his car skills to bicycles. “It’s kind of in the Detroit DNA to build things.” Bock founded Detroit Bicycle Co. in 2011, where he makes custom handcrafted single-speed and fixed-gear bikes ($4000 to $6000) when he’s not sculpting full-size clay models of cars for Ford.
Joining Bock is Slingshot Bicycle, a 30-year-old Michigan-based company that moved into its new Detroit-area manufacturing facility in June as it repatriates production from Taiwan. Then there’s 313 Bicycle Works, started recently by Detroit firefighter Mike Sheppard and named after the Motor City area code. Not to be left out, Shinola, a manufacturer of trendy watches and other goods, assembles Wisconsin-made bikes at its new Detroit storefront.
The biggest Motor City bike maker, though, is Detroit Bikes. Founder Zak Pashak invested $2.5 million in a 50,000-square-foot factory (staffed by former engineers of General Motors (GM) and other carmakers) that mints about 10 bikes a day and has sold nearly 1,000 so far. Eventually he aims to produce as many as 50,000 a year.
If its plan is successful, Detroit Bikes alone would double the number of two-wheelers manufactured in the U.S. today. The industry largely disappeared a generation ago when Schwinn, Trek, Huffy, and other American brands moved most of their manufacturing offshore in the 1980s and ’90s. A mere 56,000 bicycles were produced in America last year, the National Bicycle Dealers Association estimates. “Hopefully we can see the rebirth of the bicycle manufacturing business in this country,” Pashak says.
Several factors seem to be driving the renaissance of the bike industry in Detroit. Beat-up by the Great Recession, Detroit’s vacant factories and cheap rent have lured young entrepreneurs and artists to set up shop in the city. The vestiges of car manufacturing—leftover machinery, abundant powdercoat shops and of course, skilled auto industry veterans seeking work—have proven a treasure to bike makers and other craftspeople.
Detroit’s mean streets have also grown friendlier. As the population has shrunk, so too has the number of cars on the city’s wide roads, which seldom see traffic jams anymore—making them a haven for cyclists. Since 2006, Detroit has added 150 miles of new bike lanes, including some transformed from old railroads like the Dequindre Cut, says Todd Scott, head of the Detroit Greenways Coalition (and local bike historian).
Meanwhile, deepening poverty and joblessness in Detroit may encourage biking as a more affordable alternative to driving. While the number of Detroit workers commuting by car has fallen by 20% since 2007, those commuting by bike has surged 43%, according to Census data. Detroit has had the biggest increase in bike commuting of any major American city since 1990, reports the League of American Bicyclists.
Now, nascent bicycle makers are hoping to capitalize on continued growth and enthusiasm for biking in Detroit—as well as demand for products that are not only American-made, but homegrown in the Motor City itself. Pashak of Detroit Bikes, for one, is looking to raise $1 million from investors to accelerate the factory’s current output more than tenfold and become a true mass-producer of bicycles. And Bock’s Detroit Bicycle Co., which has a bike on display at the Henry Ford Museum, is also seeking at least $200,000 in investment in order scale up his one-man operation with additional builders and a showroom.
Jay Townley, co-founder of the Gluskin Townley Group who studies the American cycling industry, sees a rekindling of the Ford-era biking boom in Detroit. Between growing ridership and a rebirth of two-wheeled manufacturing, he says, “All of a sudden you’re in what turns out to be the bike city of the country.”
The original version of this article is available here.
An abbreviated version of this story appeared in the October 27, 2014 issue of Fortune.