US-Made and Low on Hype: Check Out the Detroit B-Type
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The water bottle bosses are a nice touch, not often seen on off the shelf loop frames.
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.
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.
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.
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.