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John Shire and Detroit’s Bone Shakers

Detroit History: Before Detroit Bikes and Shinola, This Corktown Resident was Putting Detroit on the Cycling Map.

John Shire in Corktown

For a time in the late 1800s, Corktown Resident and carriage maker, John Shire, was the only velocipede manufacturer in Detroit.  

Velocipede = Bicycle.*

Shire’s bikes were predecessors to the safety bike—two equal(ish) sized wheels with rubber tires. Except his bikes had wooden frames and steel tires and thus called bone-shakers because they literally SHOOK YOUR BONES.  And, apparently, lacked pedals, chains and gears and were entirely foot propelled. Honestly, we don’t even understand that part.

But, whatever, this early safety bike was safer than the day’s penny-farthing, which required a certain talent just to mount. Let alone ride. Or fall. Or bathroom break in a hurry.

It’s a shame that Shire isn’t as well remembered as some of his bike building contemporaries—like, say, the Dodge Brothers who started their bicycle company in Canada. CANADA.

He’s a big deal. The Smithsonian’s collection has one of his bikes and his patent for a hammock style seat was something of a game changer, to be filed with helmets, spandex, and anti-chafing cream.



*Shout-out to cyclists Amit Singh and Todd Scott of Detroit Greenways Coalition for clarification and details.