Detroit Bikes gearing up for expansion

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit, the city whose auto industry put the world on wheels more than a century ago, is also hoping to become a hub of bike manufacturing.

Last month, Detroit Bikes took a major step in that regard by starting work on a 3,000-bike contract with Motivate, America’s largest bike-share company.

The new work not only pushed the company into profitability, said Detroit Bikes president and founder Zak Pashak, 35, it allowed Detroit Bikes to hire 10 more factory workers, bringing its total to 50.

“We’re shipping truckloads of bikes to Brooklyn as we speak,” Pashak told The Detroit News on Thursday.

Detroit Bikes was founded in 2011 but didn’t start manufacturing until 2013. In 2015, the company manufactured 3,000 bikes; its contract with Motivate will singlehandedly match last year’s output.

While the company is capable of building bikes from start to finish, for the Motivate contract Detroit Bikes will source and purchase parts for bike wheels, and assemble those wheels. It will buy parts in bulk for the rest of the bike, and take frames to a subcontractor for painting. Different city-based programs have different colors, Motivate spokeswoman Dani Simons explained; New York City’s Citi Bike program uses blue; Boston’s Hubway uses gray.

For most of its bikes, Detroit Bikes builds frames as well, but not for its contract with Motivate.

“We’re really challenging assumptions people have about U.S. manufacturing and what’s possible,” Pashak said. “We’re proving we can do what we said we can.”

As Simons explained, shifting some of Motivate’s work to Detroit was about quality control and flexibility. The company can order materials as needed and have the bikes painted only when a final destination is known. The 3,000-bike contract will send bikes to New York City, Jersey City, and Boston, Simons said. Currently, Motivate has a fleet of 20,000 bikes nationwide, Simons said.

The contract with Motivate comes as Detroit looks to create a bike-share program of its own. Lisa Nuszkowski, executive director of the Detroit Bike Share program for the Downtown Detroit Partnership, told The News that the timing of when that program would roll out is uncertain, as Detroit is still working on the procurement process for the bikes.

John Roach, a spokesman for the city, said Detroit is “definitely moving in (the) direction” of a bike-share program, but couldn’t give any specific timing for it.

Initial reports from when the bike-share program was announced last year indicate it would start with 350 bikes and 35 stations.

Pashak said Detroit Bikes is hoping to get some of that work, too, and already has put in a bid in partnership with CycleHop, a bike-share company.

“We would love to be building bikes in Detroit that will be used in Detroit; it would be great to be considered,” Pashak said.