DETROIT—Ever since the news broke over a year ago that a Canadian music promoter had relocated to Motown to set up a bicycle factory, Detroit Bikes has been a source of intense speculation. Not surprisingly, those following the fledgling manufacturer's progress have been especially curious about what its inaugural model would look like up close and how it would ride.
Prospective buyers and curious members of the public finally got a chance to answer those questions this past Friday at a launch party held at the Old Miami bar in Detroit. A performance by the Detroit Cobras, a renowned hometown rock band known for stirring covers of lesser known rock and R&B classics, helped bring in a packed crowd full of folks eager to take Detroit Bikes' new A-Type bicycle for a test drive.
The new model is a three-speed one-size-fits-all bike made of chrome molybdenum, a high-strength steel alloy tubing. It comes with a coaster brake, grip shifter, rust-proof chain and rear rack. Built specifically for city riding, it features tires that are a bit thicker than racing tires, but not as fat as those on a mountain bike. Detroit Bikes offers the A-Type in just one color, black, and is retailing it for $550.
After taking the A-Type for a test spin Friday, Liz Walbridge, a speech therapist from the west Michigan town of Richland, weighed in glowingly about her ride.
"It's very light and rode very smoothly," she told Mode Shift. "I like the coaster brakes. I haven't ridden one of those in a long time."
Walbridge had stopped by the event with her husband to check out the Detroit Cobras, but she’s also a big bicycle enthusiast.
"I ride to work and would love to have a bike like this," she added. "Only, I'd like a step-through, because I ride to work in work clothes sometimes. I would definitely support a small business like this!"
Stacy Hall came with his girlfriend from Monroe, Mich. to check out the bikes and see a Tiger's baseball game. Hall, a graphic designer, told Mode Shift he was interested in buying two bikes that night, but needed to get feedback from his girlfriend before making a final decision
His assessment of the ride? "Smooth," he said. "The bike is very responsive, unbelievably balanced right. Cause when I turned around, I dang near let the handle bars go. Good balance."
Len Bertyn, 61, was one of several folks at the launch who expressed satisfaction that the bike manufacturer had set roots in Motown.
“My bike has four little decals on it that says United States of America. You know what's made in the United States of America? The paint, the decals and the head tube badge,” he said. “So I like the idea that [the A-Type is] made more in Detroit than other bikes I've seen.”
Zak Pashak, the entrepreneur behind Detroit Bikes, told Mode Shift he shared a similar sentiment. “The return of American bike manufacturing is pretty significant,” he said. “We’re taking raw materials. We’re transforming them into a product. ... We actually assemble bikes in the city.”
Production at Pashak’s 50,000 square-foot-plant on Detroit’s west side is now up to 30 bikes-a-day. Soon the factory will have to capacity to bring that up to 100, but actual production numbers will depend on sales and demand.
“The key for us is whether or not we can sell 100 a day,” said Pashak, “but that's going to take some time.”
Mark Pierce, chief executive officer and president of the Detroit Cycle Supply Company, has been an advisor to Detroit Bikes since its beginnings. When Pashak initially approached him for parts, though, he told Mode Shift he was skeptical of the venture.
"To be frank, I thought he was totally insane, and I informed him that he couldn't buy parts from me. He'd never compete,” he said. “So, I helped him basically get connections where he could get supplies for some of his prototypes.”
The company’s factory was in shambles when Pashak first bought it, according to Pierce, but over time he watched Pashak’s team develop the facility into a world-class operation. Now he thinks the company may have what it takes to be a contender.
“I have a lot of friends in the industry,” he said. “Europe is has been hearing rumbles on these bikes. ... I think he's three years ahead of his time, but if he can hang in there those three years, he'll be a player for sure.”
The A-Type is sold in Detroit through the Wheelhouse at 1340 E. Atwater. In a few weeks, it will also be available at a co-branded Detroit Bikes/Wheelhouse store opening in the city’s Eastern Market district.