Posts Tagged ‘Runwell’

Inside Shinola—Detroit’s newest old name brand

bixbybell

Few things make me happier than the increase in the rise of affordable city bikes available in North America. When I bought my Batavus in 2009, I went all the way to England to get it, because Batavus bikes were only sold by a few North American dealers. Now Public and Brooklyn Cruiser and even mainstream manufacturers like Trek have added city bikes to their lineups for well under $1000.

Of course, selling bikes at that price point means having the frameset built overseas. If you want a city bike built in the US, your choices are myriad, but your price options are not: Most run upwards of $2000 for the frame alone. Which is not a criticism—if you’re getting a handbuilt frame from Ant, for example, it is cheap at the price. But what if you want similar quality on a smaller budget? That’s the gap that Shinola is trying to fill with their line of city bicycles.

shinolawelcome

When I was in Detroit last week, I was able to visit Shinola and learn a little more about the brand—and the bikes. The brand Shinola has been around for quite some time—and yes, it’s the same one that inspired the famous catchphrase.

Headquartered in the famous Argonaut Building, GM’s former design headquarters, the entry to the offices is a nod to the brand’s history of shoe polish production. Now, however, the company focuses on bicycles, watches and leather goods.

shinolaheritage

Original Shinola products

The first thing everyone asks me when I tell them what Shinola makes is why those three products—so of course it was the first question I asked Alex Stchekine, Shinola’s bike assembly specialist, when I arrived. The answer? People who geek out over watches and people who geek out over bikes have a lot of overlap—and of course, bikes and watches are both efficient, useful technologies, and can be investment pieces that are built to last. As for the leather goods, well, if you’re going to make watchbands, bike saddles and grips, you might as well make bags, wallets and journals. (Plans are in the works to make leather bike bags to match the bicycles.)

alexandme

 

As an aside, apparently people are *really* eager to see Shinola watches—even more than the bikes! They’ll be available for men and women soon, and feature quartz movements and leather bands made in Missouri.

women's watch/men's watch

women’s watch/men’s watch

 

This is where the watches are assembled.

This is where the watches are assembled.

But I know our readers are here for the bikes, so let’s move on! Shinola is starting out with two models: The Runwell and the Bixby, which are sold as complete bikes. The Runwell has 11 speeds and retails at $2950. The Bixby, a three-speed with a distinctive decal and geometry, retails at $1950. Both come in three frame sizes and three colors, and the Bixby comes in a relaxed diamond or a step-through frame. The diamond Bixby is sold in black or the emerald shown below; the stepthrough Bixby is sold in black, cream or mauve.

runwellheadbadge greenbixby

Made in the same Waterford, Wisconsin, factory that formerly built Schwinns and now produces its own line of bicycles and those of some other small manufacturers—including a few of the higher-end Rivendell models—the bikes are then assembled in Detroit. They can be shipped fully or partially assembled.

allofthebikes

runwellframes

Runwell frames

Whether they’re building bikes, watches or leather journals or bags, attention to detail is important at Shinola. Most of this post will focus on the Bixby, since that’s the bike I test rode, but let’s take a minute to admire the lugs, custom dropouts and reinforced front fork on the Runwell. Can you see how the cables are routed through the frame?

doublefrontfork

shinoladrivetrain

shinoladropouts

Both bike models feature internal Shimano hubs, Shimano disc brakes, Velo Orange fenders and stems. The saddles and grips are custom Shinola-branded leather. Somehow, I cut the nose off this one when taking the photo! But the feel was similar to a new Brooks B17, although I think the nose is slightly longer.

Shinola saddle

Shinola saddle

These are pictures of a Bixby, which is accented with warm copper rivets, pedals and grip borders. The Runwell accents are silver.

shinolagrips

pedalsblog

The tires are Schwalbe, of course.

waitingwheels

And the bell is a Crane.

bixbybell

Each bike also has a serial number.

shinolabadgeserial

The Argonaut Building is also home to the College for Creative Studies, and several students have worked on projects with Shinola dealing with bike design. The walls are decorated with student prototype ideas—elements of some of them have made it into the final Shinola designs, including the elegant cream decal on the Bixby. You can also see here, again, how the cables are routed through the frame.

bixbyblog

Here’s one example of a student project. We at LGRAB support the creation of a bicycle meant to haul wine!

studentprojectbike

I only got to ride the Bixby around the offices, but here are my impressions of it.

meandbixby

FIrst, the posture was more agressive than any of my other bikes, with the saddle positioned slightly above the handlebars. I felt perched on the bike, although still fairly upright. Obviously this is something that could be adjusted by raising the handlebars, but it also felt like something I could get used to easily and seemed to be a good position for this bike’s geometry.

ridingbixby3

ridingbixby2

The 47cm Bixby fit me almost perfectly, something that, as a short-torsoed 5-feet-and-change girl, I find to be pretty rare. The only other bike that I’ve ridden that fits me as well is Kermit Allegra. This is the only size ladies’ Bixby listed on Shinola’s site, which says it should fit riders up to 5’8″. I’m not sure that would be true if the 5’8″ person in question has long legs. The inseam measurements say that the 47cm Bixby fits those with inseams between 25-32, and as usual that seems like a better way to judge whether the bike will fit you (my inseam is 28 inches).

ridingbixby

Stopping power felt good, and pedaling was a breeze, though obviously there was no real challenge on terrain like this!

inspectingbixby

inspectingbixby2

That said, this bike is light! Hard to say without a comparison around, but for a bike with fenders and a steel frame, I was surprised to find it so easy to lift. They don’t list weights on their site, but I’d say that it is under 30 pounds—at least as light as my Abici, if not lighter. Of course, it doesn’t have lights or a rack on it yet.

pickingupbixby

Alex told me that response to the bikes has been better than expected so far. They’re currently building about 50 a month at Waterford, and they expect to build around 500 this year.

Obviously it’s impossible to compare the Bixby to the competition in any meaningful way after a short indoor test ride, but I was impressed with the attention to detail and the quality feel of the bicycle. Luckily, those of you in the market for a bike at this price range can check the Bixby or Runwell out for yourself. Currently they are available at Copenhagen Cyclery in Chicago, and in a few other shops across the country, but Shinola will be opening two storefronts in the near future: One on West Canfield street in Detroit, and the other in Tribeca in New York City. I really enjoyed my test ride of the Shinola Bixby and might have to take another spin when I’m in NYC this spring.

{Thanks to Bridget and Alex at Shinola for setting up the visit and being so generous with their time, and to my brother Charlie for taking most of these photos!}