Zak Pashak, a Canadian musician and venue owner, moved to Detroit in 2009 to start an “interesting business.” Three years later, he launched Detroit Bikes, offering simple, affordable bicycles designed for commuters. Getting more people on bikes on a more regular basis, not just as weekend warriors, became an essential part of the company’s mission, but the bikes are also about Detroit itself.
In 2015, Detroit Bikes opened its first retail shop in downtown Detroit to help build brand awareness and cater to the city’s burgeoning bicycle culture. “Detroit is the fastest growing bike community in U.S. right now,” says Mike Gentile, Detroit Bikes’ director of communications. “The initial plan was to build a bike that was simple and accessible and high quality, made in U.S., and still affordable,” Gentile says. “A-, B- and C-Types, all carry that initial plan with them.” The bikes retail for $600-700. The company is ramping up production for the C-Type soon following its successful Kickstarter campaign at the end of 2015.
While commuter bikes, especially those similar to Detroit Bikes’ A- and B-Types, are becoming more popular with consumers, none of the American brands that have come to be associated with them, Electra, Linus, Brooklyn Bicycle Co., are manufactured in the U.S. Detroit Bikes draws on a highly trained, skilled workforce that revolves around Detroit’s long history with the automotive industry. Gentile explained that a large portion of the city’s industrial workers aren’t actually employed by the Big Three automakers, but rather, work in the evolving subsidiary businesses that supply automakers with tools and materials for car manufacturing. Although Detroit Bikes is not a union shop, Gentile says it has attracted workers seeking new challenges. “There’s a great culture and history of manufacturing here,” Gentle says. “With that in mind, the idea for Detroit Bikes grew from wanting to make something that can be manufactured in U.S. that isn’t.”
In 2015, roughly 1,500 bikes rolled out of its west Detroit factory. The company expects to manufacture 6,000 bicycles of its own design in 2016. A multi-city bike share program, which is manufacturing bicycles in China, has hired the company to assemble 12,000 bikes at their Detroit factory. The company recently hired 10 new employees, bringing its number of employees up to roughly 35. Contract manufacturing, bikes built specifically for brands like Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing Company, has also become an important element of the business. Gentile estimates that all told, upwards of 20,000 bicycles will roll out of its factory this year.
And while Detroit, with its long winters and car culture, might not seem like the logical starting place for a cycling renaissance, Gentile argues that bikes are a good match for the city. “When you ride a bike through a city you experience the environment much differently than in a car, and when it’s your own neighborhood, it can really show you what a place is really like,” he says. — Annaliese Griffin