Digging Detroit: Shinola

12.11.12 Bucky Turco & Aymann Ismail

ANIMAL visited Detroit last week and for the next few days will be highlighting some stories from Motor City.

Meet Sky Yaeger. She’s an old school bike snob turned bike designer who helped popularize fixed gears during her tenure at Bianchi, long before they exploded onto the scene and became the ubiquitous choice of ride for hip urban cyclists. But you’d never know it from conversing with her, as it’s not something she is wont to talk about. For her, the contributions she made to the subculture are yesterday’s news and discussing them at length would violate her oath of “Midwestern modesty.” Besides she’s moved on, sort of.

Nowadays you can find her at Shinola, an upstart Detroit-based manufacturing company that’s attempting to bring back American craftsmanship with its line of high end bikes, watches, and other goods. The brand’s headquarters are located across the street from Cadillac Place and inside what used to be a research lab for General Motors. It is inside this massive 30,000 sq ft space that the bikes are assembled… by hand.

Shinola invited us to Motor City to take a look at their operations and to witness the manufacture of something else besides cars in Detroit. According to Yaeger, the designs for the first three models are inspired by the “French style of Porteur bicycles,” a type of bike that was reportedly used by Parisian newspaper couriers in the early 1900s. The frames are all steel and contain absolutely no derailleurs, opting for an internal multi-speed Shimano Alfine hub instead. They also feature leather grips and a saddle that will eventually conform comfortably to the shape of your ass.

The bikes — priced at $2,500 (for the 3-speed) and $3,500 (for the 11-speed) — are expected to rollout in early 2013. They’ll be available through independent bike dealers and Shinola retail outlets in Detroit and Manhattan. Considering where most bikes are made and sold this was no easy feat. “It’s hard to make bikes here,” said Yaeger. “The whole industry has moved off shore in the last 40 years so all the component suppliers are in Asia. The whole international bicycling supply chain, everything for the whole world is centered there. There’s only a few, small artisans making frames…in the United States.” Count Shinola among them.

(Video by: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)