High Gear

A preference for American-made products and simpler lifestyles has shifted Detroit Bikes’ fortunes to another level.
pedal power Detroit Bikes operates a retail store in Detroit’s Capitol Park. // Photograph by Matthew LaVere

When Zak Pashak prepared to open Detroit Bikes in 2012, he didn’t expect to find himself in Asia scouring for machines to build his two-wheel flyers. The irony was that many of the lathes, drills, and other tools he eventually secured were based off of American designs.

“You really do get a glimpse of the global economy here, and the funny thing is places like China are using more robots,” says Pashak, president and owner of Detroit Bikes, during a tour of his production facility on the city’s west side. “So, if the Chinese are using robots to build things, we can use robots to build things, and we can do it cheaper than them because you eliminate the (overseas) shipping costs.”

Utilizing a study in reverse manufacturing, at least from a geographic standpoint, Pashak is a pioneer in bringing back production at scale to the United States. And he has the machines to prove it — the instructions on the front metal panel of one stamping device are actually written in Mandarin.

Still, some parts take longer to source domestically than others, as 36 million bike rims are imported each year. Overall, the American bike industry is a $6-billion enterprise, and around 18 million bikes are purchased each year.

To an extent, Detroit Bikes sets itself apart from the competition by designing eye-catching bikes that look good navigating urban sidewalks or mountain trails — but those products only account for roughly half of Pashak’s business. The rest of the two-wheelers he produces are for other labels like Schwinn, Monkeycycle, and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Because he can offer supply chain efficiencies and provide a nearly fully-assembled bike,  he drew a large order from Dick’s Sporting Goods, to the tune of thousands of bikes per year. As a result, his production will leap from 5,000 bikes in 2020 to 70,000 bikes this year. At that rate, annual revenue will grow to $20 million from $5 million.

“We’re going to a 24-hour production cycle and we’ll double our staff (to 80 employees),” says Pashak, who operates a store in Detroit’s Capitol Park. Driving retail and online sales are several factors, including the outbreak of COVID-19. The virus helped refocus recreational offerings to more simple pastimes, and it doesn’t get much simpler than riding a bike.

What’s more, the Section 301 tariffs imposed on China by the U.S. over the last year have, on average, given Detroit Bikes a 19 percent competitive boost against imported two-wheelers. “You can trace bicycles in Detroit back to the 1880s, and they’ve proven to be timeless,” Pashak says. “We have a long road in front of us.”