Review: Shinola Detroit Arrow

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Shinola—of the famous “You don’t know shit from Shinola” catchphrase—was a shoe polish brand founded in New York in 1907, gained fame in World War II, then went out of business in 1960. Relaunched in Detroit in 2011 by a Texas investment company that bought the name rights, the new Shinola began its second life as a fine watchmaking company, then expanded to bicycles in late 2012. It now employs more than 400 people in a city still struggling to find its footing following the crumbling of the auto industry, a mass population exodus and a recent bankruptcy.

That old saying still applies: Shinola product is anything but crap. Its three bicycle models are meticulously designed, American-made and have price tags befitting the finer things in life. If you’re more inclined to bust your knuckles fixing up a Craigslist find, this is not the bike for you. If you’re willing to pay for subtle, classy, lasting quality, read on.

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Bike industry veteran Sky Yaeger—formerly of Swobo, Spot, Bianchi and Suntour—leads the design of Shinola’s bicycles. Yaeger is the real deal, a true pioneer with more than 30 years of experience in the bicycle industry. At Shinola, she is proudly focused on things like weld integrity, custom dropouts, proprietary cast fork crowns and stamped chainstay plates.

Shinola’s frames are handmade at Waterford Precision Cycles in Waterford, Wisconsin, from U.S.-made True Temper double-butted 4130 chromoly, and assembled at the Shinola flagship retail store in Detroit. That is a big part of what you’re paying for. It’s easy to balk at the $1,000 price tag of the singlespeed Detroit Arrow, but you also can’t find too many off-the-rack, American-made bikes at that price. Shinola is arguably helping to put a little spirit back into an industry that readily offshored itself and no longer gives much love to the “Made in USA” sticker.

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On the road, the 26-pound Arrow feels much lighter than I expected for a sturdy, steel townie. It is markedly smooth-rolling and quiet—I would describe the ride feel as “gliding.” The upright position lends an air of casualness to cruising about town. With only one gear, riding this bike involved plenty of climbing out of the saddle. The swept-back bars aided those efforts, as did the bike’s well-mannered stability.

While the Arrow’s intent is to be a throw-your-leg-over-it-and-go bike—reminiscent of whatever simple, two-wheeled transport you had as a kid—it is practically designed for those who want a singlespeed even in a hilly, urban environment. The Arrow not only climbs well, but is also fun and maneuverable when it picks up speed on the return descent.

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The Arrow runs 38×18 gearing and is equipped with a basic, all-black build kit, leather Shinola saddle, custom chain guard, Tektro caliper brakes, cork grips, silver bell, steel fenders and 700×32 Continental Contact Reflex puncture-resistant tires. It comes in either black or white, and the frame features rack mounts for extended practicality. You can choose a step-through model or a traditional, straight top tube frame.

I did question the use of bolt-on axles (a nemesis of mine) rather than quick releases. Yaeger responded this way: “On city bikes, I have always used nutted axles on the rear and a lockable quick release on the front as one more deterrent if you just leave your bike for a few minutes and [don’t] lock the front wheel. Also, there is no learning curve to a bolt, compared to a quick release, which poses a challenge to beginning cyclists.”

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Is it worth spending this kind of money for a bicycle with only one gear? Only you can decide that. My mom’s sister-in-law likes to say that there should be a few items in life you’re willing to spend good money for lasting quality because you will use them daily. For her, it’s eyeglasses, shoes and coats. For you, it might be your bike. The Arrow doesn’t give you the most bang-for-your-buck, but statement pieces rarely do.

  • Sizes: Traditional: 53, 55, 57, 61 cm. step-through: 47 (tested), 51 cm
  • Weight: 26 pounds
  • Price: $1,000
  • More info: Shinola Detroit Arrow

 

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