There’s a new manufacturing revolution in Detroit, but this time there’s no combustion engine to go along with it.
When Detroit native and master builder Henry Ford II was unemployed in 2008 after the market crash, he would often go for bike rides. It was on one of these rides he realized how rejuvenating it was, and wanted to spread that feeling to the rest of the city. He’s been on a mission ever since, and the movement is starting to gain traction.
Reigniting the soul of Detroit has been the talk of the motor city since the slow and painful downsizing process of the American big three: General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. All of which, are automotive power houses that employed thousands, including my own family.
Now the bread and butter of the city and majority of the state is in limbo. A crisis within itself because the fabric the namesake area was made on has been unraveling for years.
First signs of it started when automotive buyers began leaning towards foreign car purchases. Then came the energy and financial crisis. The plight of the energy markets were from 2003-2008 which was correlated with the sharp increase in oil prices and the decrease in the purchases of SUV’s.
The proceeding global financial crisis came after the energy markets plunged and swallowed the city itself and surrounding areas, leaving only an ugly imprint in the form of abandoned buildings, high levels of unemployment and lay offs.
Now, the city is trying to come back and is hopeful the bicycle will be the solution. The two wheel form of transportation has put the “D” on the map and has raised up a small but mighty new workforce with members just happy to be a part of the movement that’s sweeping the state and the United States.
Ford is the master builder at Detroit Bikes, as well as this writer’s cousin, and through things like the Slow Roll project he is using his personal passion for bikes to help create community and generate jobs in the weary city.
Ford himself has experienced the hardship of trying to make it through the post-automotive industry boom. He bounced between the automotive and banking work force before being laid off and underemployed.
On a fall October afternoon, I followed my cousin and participated in an assembly line tour led by the master bike builder.
The details and the devotion that goes into making each part safe for the purchasers of any Detroit Bikes is fascinating to watch.
It shows that each detail of the American made bike, has an authentic spirit behind it, of a person invested in making the Detroit Bike product work, it is also one of the leaders in turning the motor city to a bike friendly one.
Ford claims the success of the company and industry is due to one thing, “we all understand.” Explaining, “some people ride bicycle and deem them a toy, some use them as their sole form of transportation, some use it to get exercise, some use it for everything.”
Outside of the “office” Ford leads a Thursday night bike ride meet-up, a community building activity that has inspired a healthier lifestyle for himself as well as others in the city.
He said, “its a group ride that has initiated a spark with people.”
During the ride, “they see people of all shapes and sizes, age groups (and) nationalities.”
“You can even break it down to social status, there are attorneys, teachers, factory workers, doctors, there are people who are unemployed, there are stay at home moms, but when you are on a bike in a group, you are all there for one thing, who cares what you are doing, the only difference is your bike.”
“Your style the flavor you put on, into your bike that distinguishes you.”
Now as far as the health aspect, “I think when people see a group of larger, overweight people, they are like, ‘oh if they are doing it, why can’t I do it and look at the cool bike they got, I can do that.'”
Explaining that, “cycling is low impact, however it still gets your blood moving, you get fresh air, the more you do it, the more you want to do it, it seems like and that initiates better breathing, better circulation, with a decent diet, you can tell.”
From his weekly rides, “there are a lot of folks that I know of, that have become cycling addicts because they see how good they feel. It gives them more energy to do everything by spending time just casually riding their bike.”
On his own, Ford is volunteering by rebuilding donated children’s bikes in his home and taking them to Palmer Park, a Detroit park.
He started this while he was laid off because in his words, he was looking for something to do, doing stuff for the people of palmer park, the same group he leads slow roll with.
Palmer Park was a childhood park for Ford, it was near his neighborhood growing up and now with the lack of funds for the city, the park needs help.
Just looking at it, it appears that no one is cutting the grass, maintaining the lighting or making sure the vagrants and the trouble makers weren’t there, Ford said.
So, “we decided as a group to make sure there are activities everyday in the park. That way at least during those activities and that time period all of the crooks, criminals and vagrants would be moved on to somewhere else.”
Now, “six years later, we have a rejuvenated park, we have festivals that come there throughout the summer and the year, we do our own festivals, and we do programs for people of all ages.”
Through Ford’s volunteer efforts and companies like Detroit Bikes, one could argue that Detroit is making a comeback.
Ford agreed that there is a new fervor and feeling of success to the city. Saying to Faithwire, “I think it is. We definitely have our piece of the pie of the comeback, being a manufacturing company, being products that are American made, using american parts, american steel, using local workers and also having a goal of everyone to ride a bike, get healthier and enjoy their surroundings, ‘you know get out of the car that we are so used too.'”
“In the car, you’re in this little bubble and there is no interactions with anything, whether it be the weather, whether it be your neighbors or a stranger that happens to be riding next to you.”
“There are several aspects that have evolved since starting this company that we’ve attached ourselves too and try to enforce and make flourish.”