Detroit Bikes' factory is located in a stretch of town that is neither hip nor trendy. It's an industrial area, with no fancy signs and no fanfare — you can tell people actually make things here.
And they do indeed. As Zak Pashak guides us through his factory, we pass workers at every step of process — tightening spokes, fastening wheels, and welding frames.
Pashak's path to industrialist was not a direct one. He was born in Calgary and split his time between there and Vancouver, where he variously worked as a drummer in a band, a radio DJ, a club owner, and founder of a music festival.
He first visited Detroit in 2010. "I had traveled a fair bit and often when I was traveling there would always be a neighborhood you were not supposed to go to, and I'd always end up in those neighborhoods and enjoying myself," Pashak says. "Detroit was kind of that on a bigger scale."
Pashak enjoyed his stay so much he returned for a month. And he kept coming back. At first, he thought about starting a music venue here, but realized the town had plenty of those already — besides, he wanted to create something with less of a ceiling, so to speak. He was also interested in municipal politics, specifically, transportation policy; he ran for Calgary city council in 2010, and lost.
That's when he started thinking about bikes. "I got a sense that there was an opportunity for a bike to be sold to a customer like I was," he says. "So not someone who wants to know about why this bike is technically superior to another bike, but just someone who wants a bike."
Pashak founded Detroit Bikes with a $2 million investment in 2012. The company offers two models: the matte black A-Type and the glossy white B-Type. Both retail for about $700 each — higher than what most Americans are used to paying for a bike, Pashak admits, but not quite a luxury price point, either. "What we're trying to prove with Detroit Bikes is that there's a middle ground, that we can make a really good bike that's not going to fall apart, that isn't a piece of crap like a Wal-Mart bike, but also isn't the other end of the spectrum," he says. "We're trying to establish a middle class of bikes."
Detroit Bikes will soon open a retail store on the ground floor of Capitol Park's Albert building, modeled after Detroit's old Huber & Metzger bike shop.
Pashak notes that Detroit Bikes treads a similar path as Shinola, another company that sells not only bikes but also a story about bringing manufacturing back to Detroit.
"People will spend more for a story to a certain degree, and there's value to a certain degree," he says. "We're really trying to make a well-priced, really good, quality bike with a good story. We need to balance those things."