Friday, May 22, 2015

US-Made and Low on Hype: Check Out the Detroit B-Type

Detroit Model B Bicycle
"Wait till you see this," said John Harris, as he led me to the bicycle I just had to take a look at and try. The staff of Harris Cyclery made way as the steed was rolled out from the depths of the shop triumphantly. "Finally, a US-made city bike that people can actually afford!"

I'd been hearing about Detroit Bikes for months, and agreed their work sounded exciting. Simple, sturdy commuter bikes made from scratch in a small Detroit factory, at a reasonable pricepoint. What's not to like? But truth be told, when I looked up their bikes online initially, nothing about the "humpback" cruiser that was their flagship model inspired me to rush over and take one out for a spin.

Detroit Model B Bicycle
This, however, was different.

"They've made a step-through, and it's beautiful!"

They were calling their second model the B-Type.  I will "B" right over, I said.

And beautiful it was. Beautifully plain and simple, to be precise. If you have ever seen an early ANT Ladies Boston Roadster, or a Geekhouse Woodville Step-Through, what I saw was reminiscent of those.

The Detroit B-Type is a no-frills loop frame. Pared down and with slightly badassified aesthetics and proportions, it is not a girly bicycle. Neither is it so over-Dutchified that merely imagining lifting it hurts your back. The bike looks overwhelmingly normal. Decidedly un-exotic. Approachable. So approachable, that I took it out for a spin straight out the door and forgot all about photographing it till it was nearly dark.

Detroit Model B Bicycle
Granted, the coaster brakes Detroit Bikes decided to equip their fun and simple machines might not be embraced by their largely North American target market. But aside from this (and their lack of built-in lighting, if I want to be super-thorough about it) I can find little to complain about. The bike rides like a bike that does not make you question its bikeyness. It is simple, fun, not flimsy, reasonably cushy on bad roads, and neither under nor overbuilt for zipping around town with a small to medium carry-load.

Detroit Model B Bicycle
The custom rear rack is not only kind of cool looking, but extra long - allowing for a variety of pannier sizes and shapes to fit without heel-strike issues.

Detroit Model B Bicycle
The Nexus 3-speed hub is sufficient for city riding without major climbs. The hand-activated front rim brake is reasonably strong for stopping at urban speeds.

Detroit Model B Bicycle
The lightly padded synthetic saddle is actually rather attractive, as far as budget saddles go. And, thankfully, it's not one of those overstuffed, wide-as-a-sofa jobs; it is not uncomfortable.

Detroit Model B Bicycle
The water bottle bosses are a nice touch, not often seen on off the shelf loop frames.

Detroit Model B Bicycle
The B-Type's compact frame, slightly extended head tube and reasonable bottom bracket height make it versatile as far as positioning, allowing for both sportier and more relaxed setups, as well as compensating for the fact that the bike is, for now, only available in one size. For me, there was no toe overlap with the front wheel, which was much appreciated.

Detroit Model B Bicycle
The cro-moly steel frameset is neatly welded and finished far nicer than I had expected to see at this price point, while the simple double-plated fork crown creates visual interest and variety (also, I just really like this style of fork crown!). The creamy white powdercoat compliments the all-black components. Overall, there is a nice harmony to this bicycle, which gives it a look of unpretentious elegance.

Detroit Model B Bicycle
The seat tube sticker declares Detroit Bikes to be warrantied for life - a promise the company can, of course, only keep for as long as they remain in business. But it's a reassuring promise nonetheless.

Unlike other bicycle companies that promote the idea of being made in this long-suffering city that has become symbolic of the automotive industry's fall, it is worth noting that Detroit Bikes are actually, truly, manufactured in Detroit itself - in a 50,000 square-foot factory at 1216 Griswold Street, to be exact. Their facilities capable of producing up to 100 bikes per day, Detroit Bikes also offers their manufacturing services to other bicycles brands.

Detroit Model B Bicycle
What surprises me about the Detroit B-Type, is how low-key it is. Not just aesthetically, but in terms of how relatively little hype surrounded the release of this bicycle, considering what it is and what it represents. With this being the time of year many are shopping for a new commuter bike, it is also the time of the year I get questions such as "how do I pick a bicycle that's a good value?" and "How do I support local manufacturing without breaking the bank?" It's nice to finally have a recommendation in answer to those questions.

Competitively priced at $699, the Detroit B-Type is functional, attractive, reasonably specced, and well-equipped for urban commuting. It is the sort of bicycle lots of folks have been waiting for. Well, it looks like an affordable US-made, small batch production loop frame city bike is finally here. And in my opinion, it rides pretty darn nicely too!

With thanks to Harris Cyclery for the demo bicycle test ride. Complete picture set viewable here.

57 comments:

  1. Lovely, but the coaster brake would be a deal-breaker for me. Some people swear by them, others swear at them. I'm the latter.

    ~nemarra

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    1. I like coaster brakes on city bikes myself, but not surprised by the reactions here. In my experience very few Americans are willing to ride a coaster brake bike; it's a niche market for sure. I know that for companies like Detroit Bikes and Beater going with a coaster brake system is a means of keeping the price down, but ultimately I doubt they will benefit from the savings.

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    2. The inability to rotate the pedals into an advantageous position without dismounting would be the dealbreaker for me.

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    3. There is a way to do this in a coaster brake bike that you pick up naturally after riding a coastie for some time. Best way I can describe it in words... it involves hooking your favoured starter pedal with your toe to keep it in position just before coasting to a stop. Sounds weird, but it's actually very easy and one of those things you start doing automatically, without realising you're doing it, once you spend some time on a coaster brake bike.

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    4. I have to say I love coaster brakes. After buying an inexpesive single speed mixte that came with only a coaster bike, I would prefer all my bikes to have one - it free's your hands for other things..... and I do live in a hilly area. For those who have not experienced a coaster brake since child hood, please try it again. You get used getting the pedals in the correct position automatically without thinking about it, just as Velouria says...

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  2. The most important thing about this kind of generic bike is the length of the rack, imo. That said, this is definitely not a long rack functionally. The cut badge / logo occupies some precious real estate.

    Look at a Workcycles rack if you want length + functionality. This thing has basically a standard rack length - your eye is playing tricks on you.

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  3. Nice, but:
    - Front fender is a joke. What is it supposed to protect from at this length?
    - Rear rack is nice but due its squared edges installing some panniers may be very difficult (such as Ortlieb's QL2 system)

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    1. The headset. It protects the headset.

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    2. Actually, I think the coaster-brake, chaingaurd and flattish handlebar make this Bike nearly ideal for wheelies in street clothes. So the short fender will be adequate once the front wheel is lofted and you settle in over the balance point and ride to the bodega one handed, flashing a peace sign...

      Spandazzle

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  4. If I lived somewhere flatter than Hilly Seattle I would buy a mens version in a heartbeat.

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  5. I couldn't find the weight on their website; any idea of total weight?

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    1. I'd say lower 30s(lb) is a safe bet.

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    2. Thanks. Just a little heavier than my Trek cromo. Definitely will check them out when I'm ready for another bike. I love the idea of supporting and encouraging US made products, especially in an area hit so hard economically.

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  6. Nice and elegant but the 3-speed and coaster brakes is a deal breaker. I live among hills that demand more gears and better brakes.

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    1. I can see your reasoning. I would point out that in my former neighborhood of hilly Santa Cruz CA, a friend rides a Masi Soulville with a 7-speed Nexus hub and coaster brake, with no front rim brake. She has found it a reliable stopper on the hills she frequents, and so has put off adding the front brake. YMMV.

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  7. It's cute, n'all, but I picked up my lovely Amsterdam Royale for about the same price, and it has long fenders with mud flaps, a sturdy, full length rack (that one looks kindov flimsy to me?), Shimano 8 speed internal hubs, integrated lights, and roller brakes.

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    1. Electras generally feel like semi-recumbents to me, but the Amsterdam model is fairly comfy. It's a totally different bike to this one at any rate. Enjoy your new ride!

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  8. This looks very nice. It seems to be a lighter, Midwestern version of New York City's own Worksman Cycles. Worksman uses S-A hubs, with and without coaster brakes. I'd be very interested to read your impressions after riding both, Velouria.

    I happen to like coaster brakes and I love three-speeds (had a Schwinn Speedster, have a Linus Gaston). For a utility bike, that seems like a great combination.

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    1. I would not compare it to Worksman Cycles, only because the ride is very different - the Detroit bike being faster and more nimble. In speed/agility it is comparable to a Linus.

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    2. The Worksman is crude bike compared to the Detroit or almost any other utility bike. The Worksman has a one piece steel Ashtabula crank, stamped fork-ends, and a frame welded from low carbon sell. I was sorry to see Nashbar adding it other catalog.

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    3. Do you prefer this bike to a Linus, V.? I was on the fence between a Linus, Bobbin and Papillionnaire. Now Detroit Bikes are a new contender!

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    4. Personally I prefer the ride quality and proportions of the Detroit Model B to the Linus Dutchie 3. As far as component quality, they seem to be comparable - though feedback from owners of the Detroit bike would be useful.

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  9. Velouria, what is the gearing. Judging by the photo, I would say that it is geared too high. It seems to be about 70" while 60" would be more appropriate to the type of usage and rider intended. Please tell us how many teeth on the chainwheel and how many on the cog?

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    1. Well, let's see. The specs say 44t ring/ 19t cog. And the Nexus 3 speed hub is spaced at 36% intervals. Care to calculate?

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    2. Velouria, the Nexus 3-speed's figures are actually .733:1 reduction in low gear, direct-drive of 1:1 in middle or normal gear, and an increase of 1.36:1 in top or third gear. These yields with a 44/19, chainwheel/cog a 45" low gear, a 62" middle/normal gear, and an 84" high gear. Again, a very nicely chosen set-up.

      Please try to include gearing figures in your reviews

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    3. It's tricky to know how much technical information to include in a review of a non-techy bicycle the target market for which is unlikely to find such information useful. Had I found the bike geared too high when I rode it (which I didn't), I would have mentioned this, adding that it should be easy enough for one's local bike shop to remedy that situation by replacing the rear cog. But to include actual gear inches info and such in a write-up of a loop frame city bike... frankly, I'd rather not - though I'm happy to discuss it in the comments as a footnote.

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    4. It is not helpful to know whether you found it easy to pedal or not. We need data and numerical values.

      Knowing that you had "Fun" while riding a particular bicycle aids us only in so far as it validates and helps us quantify our own experiences and generate expectations we can have some confidence of satisfying with our impulse City/Utility Bike purchases. What if I do not experience as MUCH fun as you? How would I calculate that? When a person riding this bicycle passes me in the other direction, will I be able to determine if I am experiencing more, or better, fun on my present bicycle by referring to your appraisal? I wonder...

      As someone dedicated to having "fun"(compelled even), I don't have time a lot of time to waste on less than optimal "Fun" experiences. A value continuum of the 1 to 10 sort for your overall impressions and feelings about various characteristics would be simple for you to include in your reports and would allow us to make rapid judgements based on solid numbers and allow us to dispense with trying to interpret those impressions and feelings.

      How can a person(gender neutral) purchasing this bicycle with hopes of it making them "look cool", confidently press the "purchase key" on their personal device when you make comments about the rear rack "looking not only kind of cool but extra long". Is "kind of cool" supposed to mean "cool" or merely "a kind of cool" in that almost, but not quite entirely, cool way of things that are not comprehensively cool? And "extra long', doesn't that term suggest the rack has exceeded the ideal length and become "too" long?

      I'm afraid this review raises more questions than it answers.

      Spindizzy

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    5. Yes, I understand you reasoning. However, I would suggest that you at least mention the number of teeth on the chainwheel and cog. Those then with more interest could perform their own calculations.



      I surprising number of utility/commuter/urban bikes are sold with poorly chosen gearing

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    6. Thank you Velouria for not including reams of technical information in your reviews - particularly for an urban bike such as the one featured - and nice photos once again.

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    7. And I thought that I was being sufficiently scientific, Spin, when I wrote "The bike rides like a bike that does not make you question its bikeyness." In retrospect, I regret not having quantified that statement with a Likert scale score.

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    8. Spin, "fun" is social-speak perhaps directly related to the desire for connectability: "I can relate to that. The PROMISE of something hopefully translatable even though the obstacles can be enormous. I shall ignore those b/c another's experience inspires me to have an identical experience."

      I'm sure our hostess has tailored her prose to its intended audience, the novice distaff shopper. Of course you are correct, but being correct and _____ -ing a product are two very different things.

      -- the guy who thinks it's better to be accurate than to ______


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    9. distaff! I had to look that up.

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    10. Oh c'mon - I've used it many times. You don't read my post (insert frowny, crying emoticon here).

      QED

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    11. I am flattered by your attempt to placate me and my simmering emotions, however, I am still almost, but not quite, entirely "plussed" and will remains so until this question of the appropriateness of V's evaluation methods are "re-bunked".

      With regret...

      Spindizzy

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  10. I would also like to add the the front fender/mudguard does not extend far enough over the tire to protect the ride from splash. This is glaring and unfortunate oversight.

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  11. Interesting bike, indeed. Looking at the front fender in the photo with your model, and knowing that the bike comes in only one size, it strikes me that the designers probably felt that eliminating toe overlap was more important for riding comfort than full front fender coverage. Add a $20 fender flap, et Voila! Sorted.

    That bike would do well here in the Twin Cities. I'll check and see if there is a local dealer.

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    1. I remember trying to account for an imaginary fender extension, and thinking there still would not be TCO. More likely they just wanted to save money on fenders and used a cheaper model without giving adequate consideration to coverage.

      But as you say, stick a flap on it and that's more or less solved. You can even go DIY and save those $20. The only issue I would have with this bike personally, if it were my one and only transport bike, is that I'd want dynamo lighting. As of 2012, this was possible to achieve for $100 or under; though would have to check where things stand now.

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  12. A step in the right direction and I wish them well. But it does reinforce my view that if you want refinement/equipment that makes everyday transport easier, you have to pay a little more, unless the price of more gears and dynamo lighting drops markedly.

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  13. I will never understand this need to use a word like "pricepoint" when a simple "price" will do.

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    1. Price point is used to suggest a products position to similar offered in the market place.

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    2. A price is a point on a scale. Full stop.

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  14. It's gratifying to see such a very practical bike (well, that front fender needs work, but the gearing is well thought out) **made in the USA**, made well, and for only $800. Still and all, I have to say that $800 is about twice as much as many beginning commuters will want to spend -- I work very sporadically at a neighborhood bike shop (Stevie's Happy Bikes! In Corrales, NM) that does a big business in used (consignment) bikes, and most shoppers come in and say, "What do you have for $150?" Now you can build yourself a perfectly decent bike for that price if you know what you are doing, but really, the goal of such sales is to redeem the unbaptised from buying satanic junk at Walmart. Amen, brothers and sisters! Stevie therefore carries some very decent commuters, designed much like the Detroit, but missing the cachet of chromo and made in USA -- these are tigged out of aluminum in China. Still, for $350 for drop frame, aluminum parts, 7 derailleur gears, fenders, chain guard, decent brakes -- and probably 15 lb lighter than those indestructible Schwinn Collegiates or Raleigh Sportses of yore (which are very nice; I've owned both): a hard act to follow, IMO. (I think that tigg'd aluminum is the best thing that happened to cheap bikes since the pneumatic tire.)

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    1. The "price point" (ha!) many first time city bike buyers in the USA seem to find reasonable is $500 - a figure that, funny enough, has not changed to accommodate for inflation in the now 6 years I've been doing the blog. Now, there are bicycles available at that price. The problem is, they are of a quality that is highly likely to let the buyer down within months of purchase and negatively effect their crucial first impression of what it's like to cycle for transportation. So even issues of manufacturing provenance/ labour ethics/ etc completely aside, I am reluctant to recommend a bike to a first time buyer that I know might actually discourage them from cycling. I'd rather recommend a used or vintage bike instead.

      Which is why, like you, I think shops like Stevie's Happy Bikes are a good solution. There are now several shops in the Boston area that do this, and their customers are very happy with the bikes they get - the refurbished Raleigh Lady Sports continuing to be the biggest crown pleaser.

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    2. Wow. I just sold a 1955 English 3spd, like new, perfect condition, needed nothing and a 531 frame to boot for $100. It took months to sell the thing. Ladies frame and the ladies were enthralled by the mystique, terrified by the bike. Finally a father bought it for his college age daughter. She was thrilled by her test ride but would not have touched it without dad as mechanic and backstop.

      For $500 I want Campagnolo-equipped and a handbuilt frame by a legendary builder. And I get it.

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  15. kinda like "at this point in time" instead of "now"??

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    1. Even better.

      No. If you're serious about it, the term "price point" actually has a different meaning. I'll leave it to you to look it up. But one could make the argument that using "price point" in a context such as a bicycle review makes more sense, because the actual price of a bike can vary.

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  16. I invite readers to do a value-for-money comparison of Nashbar's mass produced 3-speed loop-frame, priced at $199. to the "artisan" produced Detroit. A question to be reflected upon: Which is more likely to contribute to the cycle as transport movement?

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    1. Are you referring to the one that retails at $399, but is currently on sale?

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    2. Yes, and it should be noted that the bike is "perpetualy" listed at a sale-price of $199 and so it would seem to be in reality its regular price

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    3. Ha, okay I see. Well without at least seeing the bike in person and ideally riding it, I don't want to pre-judge. But if I'm going to go that route, personally I'd rather spend $100 on a sale-priced Beater, still available from some retailers.

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    4. I will admit, the Asian manufacturers offer a better beal. I love Asian products and they are of good quality. However, it's nice to see something manufactured in America that just about can afford. Sometimes, we need to make a choice every now and then about what kind of America we want to pass on to the next-generation.

      It's disappointing to look and realize everything we have given up to obtain more. We have basically tossed it all away to save a dollar. Then, that dollar we saved, we spend on more stuff. Stuff, we don't need and we'll just cram into some place to be forgotten.

      When we realize where our money goes and who we're supporting. It gives us a sense of pride and thus, it just might be used and be appreciated.

      Be proud!

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    5. The Nashbar bike is currently $249, not $199.

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    6. As to the question of which bikes would contribute to the "Cycle As Transport Movement," if such a thing exists, I'd say it depends. The Nashbar bike looks to be okay, but not only has no rack, but has no braze-ons for a rack. The Detroit is 4130 steel (the Nashbar is likely carbon steel), has a more durable finish (powder coat vs. paint), better saddle and seatpost, pedals, and tires. The quill stem on the Detroit allows for some height adjustment.

      None of the differences are that big in isolation, but little things add up. Do they add up to a $450 price difference? I couldn't say without seeing and riding them side-by-side, but it's often the case that you get that for which you pay.

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  17. Thank you for your very complete review! I have been seriously considering purchasing one of these and after reading your article, I am 99% sold on getting one! I just want to physically see and ride one and then I will make the purchase. I have been searching all over for a U.S. made bike and all are very expensive - especially the custom-made ones (quotes between $3,000 - $7,000). I try my best to buy US-made products and the bicycle search has been a challenge. Very excited and appreciate your pictures and comments!

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    1. Just an update... I found a shop that sells these and asked them to switch out the internal hub to be 8 speed instead of three and replace the coaster breaks with hand brakes. I am very excited about my new bike!

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    2. kas, that's great! If you remember, please come back and update re what you think of the bike once you get it and ride it for a bit.

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