When we first discovered Shinola Bicycles, it seemed like a cool idea: Grow US bicycle manufacturing and bring new industry to Detroit. But after getting to see them up close and meet the people behind the brand, we’re more excited for them than ever.
We were invited to their store grand opening, which also doubles as the bicycle assembly and shipping facility, an R&D prototyping room and sales center. Besides seeing the bikes, we chatted up Richard Schwinn, the man behind Waterford Cycles, which builds all of the frames and forks, and Sky Yaeger, the design leader, who’s worked with Bianchi and started Swobo’s bicycle line, and many others involved in bringing new life to the Motor City.
Shinola also makes watches, which we photo’d being hand assembled. Tick through for the full tour and a detailed look at what makes these bikes special…
The store’s located near downtown and is absolutely beautiful.
In addition to their own goods, which also includes leather bound notebooks and branded shoe polish and leather care stemming from the original Shinola brand, they curate a rotating selection of local and US made products that accentuate their own products.
On hand were leather wrapped bicycle locks from Map of Days, matched helmets and gloves from Giro, and more. The brand name started life in the 1920’s as the wax based shoe polish your grandfather might remember, but the trademarks were purchased by Shinola/Detroit, LLC.
Motor City Brewing Works is across the street, and Slow’s Bar-BQ is around the corner. Mmmmm…. Slow’s.
This is true small batch production, made and assembled 10 SKUs at a time (same color, model and size). Richard Schwinn was pretty stoked about the bikes and the volume of business it’s generating for his company.
Frames come from Waterford finished and painted, with holes drilled for the head badge and chainstay plate, which are made in
New Hampshire Rhode Island and Wisconsin, respectively.
Both of those parts are riveted on once they arrive at the Shinola, and each model gets a specific badge with the model, size and unit numbers printed on the chainstay plate. Those numbers match up with the build checklist so any issues can be traced.
Each 10-bike batch’s frames and forks is put on a rolling stage. The steerers are cut to length depending on frame size, headsets and bottom brackets are installed and forks are put into the frame.
Handlebar assemblies and wheels are bulk assembled with the right rotors, cogs, tires, reflectors, stems, handlebars, grips, bells, shifters and levers. Wheels are built by StaTruWheels.com with parts spec’d by Shinola. Each one is checked for trueness and tension again once it comes in.
Cables are cut, then all of the sub assemblies are moved to the work stand for the final build. Internal cable routing runs thru brass tubes In the frame.
Fender braces are bent and cut in house to fit around the disc brake calipers and not overhang the brackets.
Not only is the workshop very clean and well organized, even the assembly and torque checklist is stylishly designed.
Once assembled and checked, the handlebars are turned and they’re boxed up. The end user literally just has to pull them out, straighten the bars, tighten the stem and they’re off. Checking the tire pressure’s probably not a bad idea, though.
Sky Yaeger, who was VP of product development for Bianchi’s US line, then started Swobo’s bike program in 2006. In 2012, she joined Shinola and oversaw the design process. That meant leading the design team that picked all of the spec, chose the colors and paint scheme and coordinated it all into a very pretty package.
The women’s step-through version of the Bixby is a perfect example. Everything from the head badge to the bell to lockon grips to saddle rails to pedals to serial number plate all match. Considering most of these parts come from different vendors and are different materials, getting them all anodized or plated in shades similar enough to look the same is a feat unto itself.
This is the men’s Bixby in brown. All parts and their origins are listed on their website. They buy and make what they can from US sources, most located relatively close to Detroit, some of which you’ll see further down.
The exceptions are things like tires and leather saddles that just aren’t made here or things like headsets that need to be kept within a certain budget so the compete bikes can hit reasonable price points.
The Bixby models are $1,950. They use custom double butted True Temper chromoly tubing and come with 3-speed internally geared hubs and Shimano mechanical disc brakes.
The Runwell is the higher end bike. It shares the double butted True Temper tubing but has a lugged construction and comes complete with a front rack (not shown here) and Shimano Alfine 11 speed internal hub. Retail is $2,950.
Dropouts on both models are laser cut from a shop in Detroit. Yaeger says one of the little things that often go unnoticed is how hard it is to get things like chainguard tabs lined up perfectly so there’s no rub or rattle. These little touches are what make the bikes special, and it comes from having someone like Waterford build the bikes rather than being mass produced overseas.
“A fashion brand could have done this and just said ‘We want a bike. Any bike,'” said Yaeger. “But these are serious bikes. The knee jerk reaction is ‘whoa these are expensive’, but people are spending $6,000 or $8,000 on a road or mountain bike. And these will outlive you as long as you don’t throw them in the ocean.”
The Runwell also comes in orange and blue. Here’s that front rack.
This is the one-off brass plated Runwell they made for the Baselworld 2013 watch show. Check it out in full detail here.
In the back corner of their store is the prototyping room. This, along with the entire assembly station, used to be tucked into an unfinished room at their corporate headquarters. They had more space there, but far, far more style here.
Swing by the store and you might see them playing around with something like a scrapped Schwinn Twinn tandem bike (right, gray) or tacking together test frames. They have a full welding set up, jig and mill, among other things.
Dropouts are laser cut in Detroit. The slabs of steel will end up as art.
This is a new version of the fork they’re working on that moves the “S” from the top of the crown to the sides.
Sometimes seeing the raw frame gives a better appreciation for the little details.
HEADQUARTERS & WATCHMAKING
Shinola’s headquarters takes up one floor of the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education.
Step out of the elevator and you’re greater by their pre-lobby. They hold design and other classes and presentations for students in the building, and one of the projects was designing their office.
Behind the entry way and wrapping around the entire back wall of the office is an immensely open work space.
On the left side of the building is their watch making section. It’s completely sealed off to prevent dust and humidity from contaminating the movements.
Julio, who I didn’t manage to photograph, oversees the watch making process. He grew up in Detroit and took a high school watch making class then went to the Lititz School / Rolex Service Center in Pennsylvania. He worked for Tourneau and other brands before coming back to Detroit and getting involved with Shinola.
Ronda AG makes the movements (i.e. all the internal pieces) in Switzerland. Each movement consists of about 46 to more than 100 pieces, all of which are shipped to Detroit loose then hand assembled by about two dozen people. Above, a craftsman is making modifications so the watches will hold larger batteries. At present, all watches need to be sent back to Shinola for battery replacement, but they’re working on authorizing resellers to provide that service.
The blue wand being held is a combination vacuum and drill. It sucks up one tiny screw from the center bowl, then threads it into the assembly.
This is the top of the movement with a temporary hand. They’ll likely make about 50,000 this year, and their goal is to make around 200,000 watches next year.
The watches with calendar function move on to this station. In addition to the day-of-the-month wheel and all associated gears, she’s placing tiny (and I do mean tiny!) springs and catches that help the winding dial snap into place and catch the gears to adjust the date and time. Once everything’s installed, a cap covers the center ring, it’s flipped and then they can work on the other side if necessary, or that ring moves on to the next station.
Completed movements are then sealed inside the case…
… and bands are installed. They’re then polished and inspected before final packaging.
Big thanks to everyone at Shinola for the tour and hospitality!