Simcoe: A Lesson in Cycling Demographics
Posted on 14 February 2013
The city bike market in North America isn't just an exciting new market, it's a fascinating reality that represents a massive normative shift in North American demographics. Every shift requires its symbols, and the bicycle - especially the city bicycle - has become a powerful new symbol of a new and different value system. But, this has changed the way we do business as an industry. The bicycle has suddenly turned from a toy into transportation and it's opened up a blue ocean of new customers. But what is this new demographic looking for? Who is this demographic? Simcoe is precisely our answer to this question.
People often forget that the bicycle is one of the first moments a consumer commodity was ever marketed solely to women. That's a lesson every advertising company inherently remembered, but the bicycle industry strangely forgot. But why? The reason is not surprising. Despite the fact that the bicycle and car were created at roughly the same time, the bicycle has followed the car, from urban transportation to suburban toy. And suburbanization divided this toy into a big-box store afterthought for suburban families or a rarified performance sport, largely for men. So, as city centers once again begin to densify the bicycle has become a fashionable new symbol of urban versus suburban values. This could also be because an urbanite can be defined not by race or class but rather by something we call the lifestyle radius. Studies in Amsterdam show that a urban cyclist rarely rides anymore than five miles in a single trip. That means a large majority of an urbanites life is lived within a five mile radius of home. Most of these distances are too far too walk and too close to drive, and that's the single biggest reason the city bicycle has been rediscovered - and reinvented.
But this urban demographic is interesting for many other reasons. The urban theorist Richard Florida calls this new urban demographic the 'creative class,' a post-industrial class of urbanites (also known as "hipsters" and "yupsters") who place their equity in creativity and collaboration as well as living well - but sustainably. The NY Times recently called the creative class "a group of people who have the incomes of the lower middle class and the cultural habits of the wealthy or upper middle class." Probably because they're saving money riding bicycles! And, if the city bicycle has become a symbol of this new lifestyle its probably because it's the chief enabler. Suddenly bikes shops are experiencing a customer who walks in having pre-shopped their purchase - and that's because their bike has become a central piece of their identity. Nonetheless, part of this identity should be the ability to identify what a good city bike is. And that's why we built Simcoe, so you can tell this story and that you can tell it honestly.
A city bicycle can be directly compared to the way a person buys a car or clothing. Perhaps that requires an explanation of the way the fashion and car industry understands its demographics. Both industries chart their consumer by opposing identity versus purchase-motivation. We've all met the beach cruiser customer who who wants identity but doesn't want to spend much money. We've all met the customer who 'just wants a bike' and isn't motivated to look good or spend any money. In the bike industry our buyer tends to be technologically purchase motivated but hardly image conscious. The city bike consumer is in altogether different. Our customer here is both motivated to buy and deeply image conscious, especially women. But you have to watch out for fast-fashion. Like an amazing pair of Japanese raw-denim jeans, the product must be at once beautiful but beautifully made. And, in the race-to-the-bottom that is the bicycle industry, that kind of product has been hard to find. Believe us, we know.
Simcoe was borne out of honest shopkeeping and the responsibility that comes from face to face transactions. And, the luck of being in a prosperous rustbelt ciy. Toronto might be one of the strangest cities in North America, a place that built subways while NYC built expressways. It is, in many ways a city that has modelled the creative class since the 60's (not surprisingly, Richard Florida lives here and Jane Jacobs lived in our 'hood). Simcoe grew out of Curbside Cycle. For twenty years the city cyclist - especially women - have been our primary customer. After years of replacing exposed cables and drivetrains and hearing about customers laundry costs we were the first to import Batavus and Pashley bikes. We were proving the market four years before companies like Linus even existed. We started Fourth Floor and even temporarily distributed Linus in Canada, stunned by the power of good branding but convinced we could do much, much better. Simcoe is really a story about the evolution of the city bike in North America. It's a commitment to building better lifestyles though quality and beauty.
In sum, Simcoe is about building an experience that provides longevity, exhilaration, and identity. And identity, as our discussion above has shown, is deeply important. Building identity is as much about color as it is about engineering careful attention to details. Simcoe is a brand that wants you to look under the hood and fall in love with the details, whether that's the leather washers on the fluted fenders, braze-ons for dutch rear wheel lock, stainless steel eyelets on the rims, or the Pantone laces on the Brooks B68 saddle. It's all about integrity and a story that keeps unfolding years after purchase. Hope that helps!
Editors note: In 2015 there have never been more bikes sold and at the same time, more bike stores closing. It's a strange phenomena. But, it makes sense. Many bike stores followed the car from urban centers to the suburbs and in order to reinvent themselves against big-box stores, became male-dominated performance centres. Now, as people return downtown the bicycle has gained a whole new identity politics, but hardly the identity politics that the bicycle industry gets (women are welcome! and men don't have to wear spandex or shave their legs! - OK!). While a ton of city bikes are sold over the internet, the bicycle industry won't be able to capture this market until it moves away from novelty beach cruisers, performance road bikes, or commodified hybrids and onto something that is answering questions about function and identity - and is made for nothing less than everyday use. The same questions the car industry answers.
- February 2016