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Bringing manufacturing back to U.S. tough for the bicycle industry

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DETROIT, Mich. — Nearly 99% of the world's bikes are made in Asia. Even when one American company decided to bring manufacturing home, it was tougher than expected.

“This place has people who know how to manufacture,” said Zakary Pashak, founder and President of Detroit Bikes. “If there's any part of the country that can bootstrap together a place to do this, it might be here.”

Here, being Detroit. Pashak is hoping one day, the Motor City will also be known for producing pedal power.

“That's kind of where my heart is, said Pashak. “I like the idea of you powering your own vehicle.”

Pashak founded Detroit Bikes 10 years ago with one goal: to get more people cycling in his hometown and to bring jobs to Detroit by building bikes in America.

“This is really about the American middle class. We need to have this kind of work here,” said Pashak.

Thirty years ago, companies sent bike production mostly to Taiwan and China to cut costs. Then in 1996, the United States government eliminated bike import taxes, giving even more reason for production to remain overseas. President Trump did reinstate the tariff, but it hasn’t yet been enough to create a large-scale shift in production.

“When an industry leaves the country completely, it's really hard to fire that backup. It's not just like turning a machine back on,” said Pashak.

Pashak has struggled to find machinery in the United States.

“I now have to now go over there to even get the machinery, so I’ve got this domestic production facility here and my machinery is in Mandarin,” said Pashak, showing the writing on his production equipment that he had to buy in China.

So, with machines from China, Detroit Bikes is building bike frames from scratch here in the United States.

“Some policymakers might really believe that people don't want to do this work in this country, but I think that they're wrong,” Pashak. “I think that if they came to a city like Detroit, they would find that this is work that people really do want, and they're very proud of this work when they do it.”

Pashak’s employees agree.

“It's kind of neat, really, you know? You did it and somebody is enjoying your work,” said Steve Nelson, who has worked with Detroit Bikes for years.

The team has to use parts from overseas to assemble the bikes once their American-made frames are finished.

“If I wanted to buy a bike tire in America, I couldn’t. America does not currently make bicycle tires, and that’s sort of the thing that makes this business difficult,” said Pashak.

The pandemic has amplified these challenges further. From the start of the pandemic, there’s been a bike shortage across the country. The shortage has only worsened by recent supply chain issues.

Still, Pashak is hopeful change is on the horizon.

“That's always been a challenge,” said Pashak. “Being the first kind of company or person doing something has a lot of limitations that come with it. But I think over time, that will change.”

While this change may take generations, Pashak believes bringing manufacturing to the U.S. will leave this nation not only with more success but more community.

“What we're trying to do is kind of just chip away at it and bring what we can back,” said Pashak. “There's just something really satisfying about knowing that this building produced an object that's going to go to somebody, and they're going to cherish it and have that connection.”

If you'd like to check out the bikes Detroit Bikes is making, including a new e-bike, click HERE.