There once was a time when America built bikes.
In the ’60s, Schwinn was cranking out Sting-Rays in Chicago. In the ’70s, Trek models rolled off the line in Wisconsin. And up through the ’80s, most Huffy products were made in Ohio.
But those days were relinquished to a global economy and the cost-effectiveness of China and Taiwan. Of the 16 million bikes sold in the U.S. in 2013, only 56,000 were manufactured domestically.
But if Detroit Bikes founder and president Zak Pashak has anything to say about it, the days of American-made bikes aren’t over yet.
In 2012, Pashak launched Detroit Bikes, a manufacturer on the city’s west side that builds frames, wheels, racks, and chain guards for its two models. Other parts come from American producers and the bikes are assembled in a 50,000-square-foot space that Pashak hopes will eventually churn out the largest number of bikes in the country.
“We have the setup to produce 50,000 bikes a year,” Pashak says. “But our challenge now is to have sales grow in concert with [our] capacity.”
Last year, Detroit Bikes sold 1,000 bikes, but gained recognition near and far. This year, the company is slated to build more than 2,000 bikes for a national brewery. And locally, they’ve popped on the radar of bike enthusiasts, including its very first customer, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.
“I wanted to give him a promo bike,” Pashak says. “But he was very adamant that he was the first person to buy a bike from Detroit Bikes.”
Pashak also expects Detroit Bikes to grow with the launch of its first retail space in April. Along with the shop, Pashak plans to expand his marketing campaign, a task he’s come to know well over the course of his career.
Before coming to Detroit in 2010, Pashak, a native of Calgary, Alberta, had enjoyed success in the music industry, both as a DJ and promoter, earning a spot on Alberta Venture’s list of 50 Most Influential People. But after chasing an interest in politics and an unsuccessful run for city council in Calgary, he felt it was time for a “bit of a change.”
“I’d always had this kind of fascination [with Detroit],” Pashak says. “When I traveled, there’d always be neighborhoods that people say you shouldn’t go to, and I would always find that those ended up being the neighborhoods that I had the best conversations in … Detroit was just kind of an extension of that.”
Whether Pashak’s combination of Detroit pride and Canadian business acumen can revive the American-made bike is a story that time will tell, but Pashak feels the timing now is right, the interest is high, and Detroit Bikes is where it needs to be.
“I didn’t come here to make bikes because I thought that this was a great cycling community,” Pashak says. “I came here because I thought this was a great manufacturing community, and it’s been a very pleasant coincidence that this really interesting cycling culture is developing in the city. It’s been a good surprise.”
For more information visit detroitbikes.com.