Sunday, November 23, 2014

Detroit as Bicycle Business Model

I’ve been intrigued by the potential of Detroit for many years now. Its slip away from car manufacturing and abandonment by motorized corporate investors has torn the city open into a place where just about anything could happen. Bleak, empty factories can glimmer like castles to the right visionaries. And sure enough, many of those visionaries have entered the scene on two wheels.

A recent article in Fortune magazine shines the spotlight on a few of these new bicycle manufacturing and distribution businesses. Another recent article, this one in Bicycle Retailer & Industry News (unfortunately, not available to nonsubscribers), also noted the renaissance of bicycle manufacturing in the former “Motor City.” That article even features a retail storefront called The Hub that supports Back Alley Bikes, a nonprofit community bike program.

Between these two articles, I was most fascinated by the second-to-last paragraph in Bicycle Retailer that follows a reality check of low bicycling numbers and a dearth of bike shops:

“Still, there is a prevalent optimism that radiates from Detroiters. Some say that Detroit’s renaissance today is coming from within the residents—which sets it apart from past efforts to ‘save’ Detroit.”

This strikes me as the very sort of example I was looking for in my last post, Does Charity Suck Energy Away from Solutions? Charity is not “saving” Detroit. Detroiters are doing it for themselves. And because of this, I believe they will succeed. And I’m darn pleased that many of them are doing it through bicycle manufacturing. Enabling impoverished and struggling people to develop and implement solutions themselves is at the heart of Social Bike Business. Detroit is becoming a proving ground that shows that principle succeeding.



  1. Thanks for highlighting Detroit! We think we have something special happening right now.

    Detroit has low bicycling numbers if you exclude most of the people riding bicycles and rely on the ACS Census bike to work numbers. Is that what Bicycle Retailer did? The League and Alliance do the same. What other U.S. city has a weekly ride that attracts 4,000 cyclists? How many cities have bike events attracting 7,000 riders?

    I would also add that charity is still part of the solution in Detroit. We wouldn't be where we are today without support from foundations and non-profits, but we don't rely solely upon it.

  2. Thanks Todd! Detroiters have a lot to be proud of. And don't get me started on using commute numbers as total bike mode share numbers! Not only is this archaic in an age where so many people work, live and move outside of the old 9-5 system, it gives a terribly false read of bicycling numbers. We need to look to our European peers for counting systems that actually work. Let me know if you need connections.

    And definitely keep welcoming those charity dollars! I always have a hard time explaining my discomfort with the dominance of charity when it comes to considering solutions. But as long as it's available (it ain't going no where fast!), definitely tap that resource, especially if it can help lay the groundwork for long-term solutions that set Detroiters at the lead.

    Keep up the great work!


  3. I totally agree regarding the bike commute numbers. It's the main reason we don't participate in the Alliance for Biking and Walking report and the League's Bike Friendly Community program.


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