Shinola Bicycles – Headquarters Tour, Store Grand Opening & Brand Overview

Shinola Bicycles concept store and grand opening

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…

Shinola Bicycles concept store and grand opening

The store’s located near downtown and is absolutely beautiful.

Shinola Bicycles concept store and grand opening

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.

Shinola-concept-store-color-matched-accessories04

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.

Shinola Bicycles concept store and grand opening

Motor City Brewing Works is across the street, and Slow’s Bar-BQ is around the corner. Mmmmm…. Slow’s.

BICYCLE ASSEMBLY

Shinola-bicycle-assembly-workshop

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.

Shinola-bicycle-assembly-workshop

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.

Shinola-bicycle-assembly-workshop

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.

Shinola-bicycle-assembly-workshop

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.

Shinola-bicycle-assembly-workshop

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.

Shinola-bicycle-assembly-workshop

Fender braces are bent and cut in house to fit around the disc brake calipers and not overhang the brackets.

Shinola-bicycle-assembly-workshop

Not only is the workshop very clean and well organized, even the assembly and torque checklist is stylishly designed.

Shinola-bicycle-assembly-workshop

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.

THE BICYCLES

Shinola-bixby-pink-step-through-commuter-bicycle

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.

Shinola-bixby-pink-step-through-commuter-bicycle

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.

Shinola-bixby-pink-step-through-commuter-bicycle

Shinola-bixby-pink-step-through-commuter-bicycle

Shinola-bixby-mens-commuter-bicycle

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.

Shinola-bixby-mens-commuter-bicycle

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.

Shinola-runwell-yellow-city-commuter-bicycle

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.

Shinola-runwell-yellow-city-commuter-bicycle

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.

Shinola-runwell-yellow-city-commuter-bicycle

Shinola-runwell-yellow-city-commuter-bicycle

“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.”

Shinola-runwell-city-commuter-bicycle

The Runwell also comes in orange and blue. Here’s that front rack.

Shinola-runwell-brass-plated-watch-show-city-commuter-bicycle

This is the one-off brass plated Runwell they made for the Baselworld 2013 watch show. Check it out in full detail here.

PROTOTYPING

Shinola-prototype-bicycle-workshop

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.

Shinola-prototype-bicycle-workshop

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.

Shinola-prototype-bicycle-workshop

Dropouts are laser cut in Detroit. The slabs of steel will end up as art.

Shinola-prototype-bicycle-workshop

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.

Shinola-prototype-bicycle-workshop

Sometimes seeing the raw frame gives a better appreciation for the little details.

Shinola-prototype-bicycle-workshop

Shinola-prototype-bicycle-workshop

HEADQUARTERS & WATCHMAKING

Shinola world headquarters in Detroit Michigan

Shinola’s headquarters takes up one floor of the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education.

Shinola world headquarters in Detroit Michigan

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.

Shinola world headquarters in Detroit Michigan

Behind the entry way and wrapping around the entire back wall of the office is an immensely open work space.

Shinola world headquarters in Detroit Michigan

Shinola world headquarters in Detroit Michigan

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.

Shinola watch factory in Detroit Michigan

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.

Shinola watch factory in Detroit Michigan

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.

Shinola watch factory in Detroit Michigan

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.

Shinola watch factory in Detroit Michigan

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.

Shinola watch factory in Detroit Michigan

Completed movements are then sealed inside the case…

Shinola watch factory in Detroit Michigan

… and bands are installed. They’re then polished and inspected before final packaging.

Big thanks to everyone at Shinola for the tour and hospitality!

Comments

Honeybear - 07/09/13 - 9:39am

Hell yeah! Nice job on the story Tyler.

greshkov - 07/09/13 - 10:06am

it’s hard for me to get past the brand name (watch “the jerk”) but i like the product. their price point really isn’t too high and they seem to balance quality and fashion well. i wish them luck.

Topmounter - 07/09/13 - 10:39am

I don’t think I’ll be dropping $2-3k to replace my garage sale Motebecane 10spd townie conversion, but good on them if they’ve found a market for their rigs.

Der_kruscher - 07/09/13 - 10:42am

Selle Anatomica is an obvious source for American made leather saddles – http://www.selleanatomica.com/products/.
“The exceptions are things like tires and leather saddles that just aren’t made here…”

Steve M - 07/09/13 - 10:42am

Wow- good for the Motor city and very impressive.

dgaddis - 07/09/13 - 10:44am

Are people really buying $2,000 and $3,000 townies?

Ryan - 07/09/13 - 10:58am

I don’t get it. My $99 Wal Mart Thruster Fixie has now racked up 2300 miles commuting. All I’ve done is give it a new chain and tires when they were worn.

Joey - 07/09/13 - 11:06am

Greater = greeted. Nice story and wish them much success,

mudrock - 07/09/13 - 11:37am

Well, someone’s buying them. Wish them luck.

boobie - 07/09/13 - 11:40am

Art costs money. These bikes are beautiful. But, the price point takes it out of the commuter market and into a “I just want it” category. You can’t lock this thing in the City and not worry about it.

SuperDave - 07/09/13 - 11:46am

Yup, your Motobecane and Thruster are perfectly fine examples of adequate two-wheeled transportation. I don’t think you two would be among the target audience for Shinola. They seem to be more focused on consumers who aren’t looking for “how cheap can I get by?” They certainly have attracted an audience and I hope they are able to capture enough sales to grow beyond these few niche products. If they were to do an e-assist bike using a Bosch or other similar system I’d be a customer, not just a fan.

-SD

Cream - 07/09/13 - 11:47am

“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.”

No to mention everything except the frameset and headbadge: Wheelset, tires, stem, seatpost, fenders, racks, brakes, levers, etc… everything else is made abroad.

I have no problem with foreign made parts, but I really resent the “Made in the USA” marketing shtick when it would be a lot more accurate to say assembled in the USA.

kevin - 07/09/13 - 11:48am

Saw several while on vacation in NYC last month; I’d always wondered who bought all of those expensive bike locks.

Big Cow - 07/09/13 - 12:33pm

Absolute BS that the headbadges are made in New Hampshire.

I have personally seen them rolling off the production line of a factory in Taiwan, right next to the Giant and Specialized headbadges.

Makes me wonder what else might be BS?

Gravity - 07/09/13 - 12:49pm

I call BS on cutting those dropouts in Detroit! I was personally overseeing a diamond mine in the Congo, and we took our bounty to the factory where they used the diamonds to cut the dropouts right next to the Idi Amin signature edition AK-47.

ccolagio - 07/09/13 - 12:56pm

^hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

thejonpalmer - 07/09/13 - 1:21pm

@Big Cow

That’s funny, I haven’t seen an actual headbadge on a Giant or a Specialized in awhile.

Sam J - 07/09/13 - 1:42pm

Richard Schwinn seems to be everywhere I look: making frames for Boulder, Shinola and Volae in addition to his own brand, Waterford. Good frames, too, making Richard one of the most interesting Schwinns since Ignaz.

Tyler Benedict - 07/09/13 - 2:16pm

Big Cow – actually, we had it wrong as NH. Shinola’s rep just emailed to say the head badges are made in Rhode Island and the chainstay plates in Wisconsin. Post has been updated.

icyclebay - 07/09/13 - 3:35pm

What’s up with the sloppy paint on the yellow bike?

Icarus - 07/09/13 - 3:58pm

kevin…. I haven’t seen one in nyc either on the street or in a shop. no one would buy those here.

Lou - 07/09/13 - 4:21pm

Wow, tough crowd. The bikes are gorgeous, I have a couple of criticisms, but they are really sort of nitpicky (TrueTemper on a $3k bike?). I think with Shinola you are buying into a lot more than a bike. An aesthetic, a mission statement, and an idea. You also get what looks to be a great bike.

I have two thoughts on Shinola though:

1) For the same price you could probably get a custom builder to build you a townie in a better material with custom geometry/paint/look. In my mind, supporting Detroit or a local builder are both noble goals.

2) I understand the price, but while a Dentist/Doctor can afford those $6-8k road bikes they mention, they aren’t really the demographic that wants to support a bike + principle. It is the under 35 demographic that seems more interested in latching onto a principle. That’s the demo that funds kickstarters. They’ve priced them out of the market. Make that Runwell $1200 and I’ll buy one.

K11 - 07/09/13 - 5:09pm

i feel a company like shinola is just the beginning of the resurgence of american made bike products. looks like they are paying attention to fine details and quality control. best wishes.

CMSF - 07/09/13 - 6:07pm

I’d also be interested in a stylish pedal-assist bike like a Faraday (who can’t seem to actually get their bike on the road), or a toned down Koga (not available in the US). I am looking for an e-bike for my wife who has a heart condition, and aesthetics matter too. This company seems to have the aesthetic thing dialed (over dialed?).

I know this is a whole other realm, but so are watches. And isn’t Detroit the “motor city” after all?

S. Molnar - 07/09/13 - 7:35pm

Can you believe there are people who would actually spend $10 or $20 on a botle of wine? I can get a whole box of wine for a fraction of that price.

(Not that there aren’t some very good boxed wines, especially in Europe. But the stuff that comes in under $10 for 3 liters is worth every penny.)

Bob King - 07/09/13 - 8:17pm

Lived my early years in Detroit.. lived there during the riots. Congrats to Shinola for participating in a resurgence with quality products. Keep going !

Psi Squared - 07/09/13 - 8:28pm

I’ve been to that factory in the Congo.

greg - 07/09/13 - 11:52pm

these bikes are also for sale in a few bike shops. you can see them, touch them, test ride them before you buy.
–shameless Freshbikes plug here–

Ed - 07/14/13 - 11:59pm

I have a Bowery Lane Bicycle that’s made in NYC for $600. Really don’t understand why a Shinola is so much more.

Ricklesss - 11/22/13 - 12:58pm

I just checked out the Bowery Lane Bicycles, and yes they are cool, and I definitely wish them well for their vision, BUT are not in the same league (quality parts, custom metal work, paint schemes, etc.) as Shinola.
Sorry, but it’s quite apparent if you compare the 2.

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