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A bicycle manufacturing renaissance springs to life in the Motor City.
Detroit, MI, is a city eager for a transportation facelift, one that could come from the likes of Detroit Bikes and its founder Zak Pashak. In 2013, Pashak launched his bicycle manufacturing company to create city bikes that appeal to both new and experienced commuters. Starting with their first model, the A-Type, Detroit Bikes put together a ride that was subtly attractive, smooth riding, and built from of as many USA-made components as possible. “You don’t need to reinvent bikes … the classic bike is a great bike, [and] there is no reason we can’t make that today,” said Pashak.
Pashak has a knack for sensing what a city needs – through the lens of his entrepreneurial skill – which has led him through a series of successful businesses. A native of Calgary, AB, in 2003 Pashak decided the city needed a live music venue that was open to all groups of people, which led to the start of Broken City. Following his success in Calgary, a few years later Pashak opened The Biltmore Cabaret in Vancouver, BC, an award-winning music venue and something of an institution among locals. After involvement in starting Sled Island, an internationally acclaimed music festival in Calgary, and seeing the positive impacts this and his other venues had on bringing local communities together, Pashak took a run at Calgary’s City Council in 2010.
Through politics, Pashak learned the importance of a strong transportation policy and its vital role in the function of a city. Transportation became a key part of his campaign. Influenced by what Mayor Gregor Robertson was doing for Vancouver, along with the work of Jane Jacobs, Pashak studied public transportation from trains to cars with a specific interest in bike lanes. “Cities are changing, [becoming] healthier places with stronger communities,” explained Pashask. “That’s what led [me] to bikes.” While the campaign was unsuccessful, Pashak’s extensive research into urban planning lead him to anticipate an important movement within urban bike culture and he wanted to “help make that movement happen more effectively.”
Detroit, having once been one of North America’s most successful manufacturing cities, is now hungry for entrepreneurs like Pashak who see opportunity in the shadows of the recent economic turmoil. “I tried to think of something that would provide the most jobs possible,” said Pashak of his company Detroit Bikes. “Here [was] an opportunity to build something that could really grow and use the original skill set of the people.” With no experience in factory production or the bike industry, Pashak revamped an old sign factory and a year and half later started producing the signature A-Type bikes.
With a clean design and staple technical features required for a durable and practical city bike, Detroit Bikes’ A-Type is greatly influenced by classic bikes. The A-Type is a one-size-fits-all bike – comfortably fitting riders 5’3”-6’3” – and is outfitted with standard 700c wheels, coaster brakes, Detroit Bikes’ signature branded rear rack, and a black matte finished steel frame. Hiring local Detroit talent with manufacturing expertise, Detroit Bikes has been able to build their frames, rear racks, chainguards, and wheels all within the factory.
Currently working with a staff of ten, Detroit Bikes is eyeing growth and Pashak hopes to one day be producing 150 bikes a day. As of recently, Detroit Bikes has added a second model, the B-Type, to its roster. This glossy white step-through bike shares many of the A-Type’s technical specifications with a new frame type and size to expand the brand’s reach.
Many of the company’s early adopters love Detroit Bikes’ genuine simplicity, while others have taken longer to grasp this unique take on bike manufacturing. The concept of just one size and color is a contradiction to today’s highly customizable bicycle market. Pashak understands that this outlook may not appeal to everyone, but he is not worried. He is more concerned that people get out on bikes and if that bike happens to be a Detroit Bikes’ bike, then all the better.
“Popularizing urban cycling…[is] the greenest thing that I could do,” said Pashak. A simple statement underscoring the flourishing success of this grassroots, USA-made bike company.