City Bike Faceoff
Posted on 28 March 2016
Simcoe: borne at Curbside, built for Toronto
Looking for a city bike can be a daunting adventure. Six years ago there were only one or two European brands in the market, most of which we were importing. Now there are ka-billions, many of them start-ups.
So, how did we get from two European brands to a plethora of city bikes in six short years? Well, you could define the city bike market with three distinct waves:
- Wave One: Heavy, pricey but authentic European bikes. Examples: Gazelle, Batavus, Pashley
- Wave Two: Rebound relationship! Lightweight faux-European bikes that are light, colourful and on-price. Examples: Linus, Pure City, Public (and too many others)
- Wave Three: Middle position! Handsome, durable and lightweight bikes that correct the drift on geometry, spec and materials. Examples: Simcoe, Shinola
At Curbside we've surfed all three of these waves. Heck, we've been a wave machine. We were the first to import European city bikes, we were the Canadian importer for Linus, and we collaborated with Simcoe on their excellent bike. And, while we believe that each wave offers somebody something, each wave also has it's leaky canoes, so we're here to sort that out. So, what are the main features to look out for when buying a city bike? Time to break out the scorecard!
Simcoe: made for Toronto winters
If you store your bike outside year round in a city like Toronto, nothing beats a Dutch bike. The frames are galvanized for rust-resistance and powder-coated for chip-resistance. Every part is either stainless steel or alloy, and every part - including the cables - are sealed from the elements. So, while buying a Dutch bike will save you from buying a bike again (ever), all of this weather protection means the bikes tend to be on the heavy side.
Today, many bikes have moved away from Dutch quality while spending their time trying maintain a lot of Dutch styling. There are actually good reasons for this. The new "millennial" consumer was a newer cyclist and wasn't quite committed to buying a long term commitment quite yet. Nor did they have the money. Of the ka-billions of companies that suddenly appeared only two have managed to acquire staying power: Pure City and Linus. Both brands are much lighter than Dutch bikes but aren't nearly as good. And, being from California, it shouldn't be surprising that both bikes really don't suffer Canadian winters that well.
If you want a bike that offers durability and lightweight then look beyond Holland and California and straight to... Toronto - would you believe it? We've yet to find a bike that competes with our friends at Simcoe. Their bikes feature a chip-resistant polyurethane clear-coat, a rust-resistant phosphate undercoat and rust-proof alloy fenders. While these processes are nowhere near as durable as a Dutch bike, they're much better than companies like Pure City or Linus. Here's a sample of city bikes and how they rate according to outdoor storability.
|Martone Step Thru||Nope||0|
|Brooklyn Step Thru||Nope||0|
|Public Step Thru||Nope||0|
|Linus Dutchi 3speed||Nope||0|
|Pure City 3speed||Nope||0|
|Shinola Step Thru||Nope||0|
|Electra Loft (alloy models only)||Yes||1|
|Simcoe Step Thru||Yes||1|
|Gazelle Toer Populaire||Absolutely||2|
Achielle: unapologetically overbuilt
Frame strength is important because unlike your racing bike or mountain bike, you lock your city bike to metal poles all day, and that hurts your bike a lot. So, while bikes like the Electra Loft may be rust-proof because of its alloy frame, alloy frames also tend to dent fast - much like an aluminum can. Today you can see the battle between aluminum and steel in the "truck wars" where Chevrolet demonstrates the strength of steel over aluminum by dropping cinder blocks into the truck bed.
Aluminum is lighter - which is great if you own a road bike and store it in the garage - but city bikes are locked to metal poles all day, and we see a lot of dents. So, think of those cinder blocks as the steel posts you lock your bike up to.... yikes.
Steel versus aluminum
So, steel is better, but the problem with steel is that it rusts. And, as we discussed above, if the bike has good undercoat and finishes, you need not worry. Here's a quick survey of bikes according to frame strength.
|Martone Step Thru||Poor||0|
|Brooklyn Step Thru||OK||1|
|Public Step Thru||OK||1|
|Linus Dutchi 3speed||OK||1|
|Pure City 3speed||OK||1|
|Shinola Step Thru||Good||1|
|Simcoe Step Thru||High||2|
|Gazelle Toer Populaire||High||2|
THE "MY PANTS ARE NOT A RAG TO CLEAN MY CHAIN WITH" TEST:
Full fashion, full chain guard
The whole point of a city bike is that you can wear whatever you want, whether that means you're off to an important meeting or a hot, hot date. While all of the city bikes in our test have fenders, not all have chainguards. And, between chainguards there are those that cover half of the chain or fully cover the chain, which is the difference between your pants staying halfway clean, chewed up or absolutely untouched. Interestingly, some of the bikes that purport to be the most fashionable don't keep you that fashionable. Hmmmm.
|Martone Step Thru||Fails||0|
|Brooklyn Step Thru||Fails||0|
|Public Step Thru||Barely Passes||1|
|Linus Dutchi 3speed||Barely Passes||1|
|Electra Loft||Barely Passes||1|
|Pure City 3speed||Barely Passes||1|
|Shinola Step Thru||Barely Passes||1|
|Gazelle Toer Populaire||Passes||2|
|Simcoe Step Thru||Passes||2|
Rack it up!
If you carry groceries or want to double your friends as they do in Holland, you need a strong rack on the bike. In Holland racks are all EN tested, which means (a) they actually test these things, (b) they can carry a ton of weight. Obviously Dutch bikes have such racks, but its nice to see that a brand like Simcoe employ these too. This is where a lot of companies really fail. Either they have a thin ornamental rack or no rack at all (negative points!). And so, the results:
|Public Step Thru||No rack||
|Martone Step Thru||No rack||0|
|Brooklyn Step Thru||Weak||1|
|Linus Dutchi 3speed||Weak||1|
|Pure City 3speed||Weak||1|
|Shinola Step Thru||Weak||1|
|Gazelle Toer Populaire||Strong||2|
|Simcoe Step Thru||Strong||2|
Simcoe: streetcar-track grade wheels
This is boring, so we'll go real fast. Your bike has many parts, but what part do you think is the most expensive to replace? You got it: wheels. And, what parts takes more abuse than any other part? You guessed it again: wheels. In order to be strong wheels must minimally feature a double-walled rim (which means the rim is internally box-sectioned) and 36 (not 32) stainless steel spokes (which is where Electra loses points).
Bonus points if the rims have stainless steel eyelets (even more strength) and thicker gauge spokes (which is found only on Dutch bikes and Simcoe). Let's wheel up the results!
|Martone Step Thru||OK||1|
|Brooklyn Step Thru||OK||1|
|Public Step Thru||OK||1|
|Linus Dutchi 3speed||Good||2|
|Pure City 3speed||Good||2|
|Shinola Step Thru||Excellent||3|
|Gazelle Toer Populaire||Excellent||3|
|Simcoe Step Thru||Excellent||3|
Math = movement
So far we've just looked at specs, which is important, but what what about the way the bike rides? You can get all the features you need, but what if the bike just doesn't feel safe? And what does safety mean?
Let's imagine a very typical scene in the city. You're riding with a load of groceries (or a child on a child seat) when all of a sudden a pedestrian steps out in front of you. At one-and-the-same-time the bike must duck the pedestrian while staying glued to the ground. The words here are agility and stability - and for a city bike, both are deadly important.
Unfortunately in the bike industry you usually get to choose only one. Performance bikes are highly agile. Dutch bikes are stable but not terribly agile (they handle like a luxury Rolls, which people like). And then there's Beach cruisers which are almost too stable (like driving a school bus).
Only one bike wins this test, and that's Toronto's own Simcoe. As far as we've seen, Simcoe represents the only re-think of geometry we've seen in the city bike market - something the Dutch never seemed to get around too (while brands like Pure City and Linus spend too much time trying to hit price points and look pretty). Simcoe keeps your centre of gravity low to the ground and engineers agility into the front end of the bike and stability into the rear. It's about as telepathic as you can get.
|Martone Step Thru||Twitchy||0|
|Brooklyn Step Thru||Twitchy||0|
|Public Step Thru||Twitchy||0|
|Linus Dutchi 3speed||Twitchy||0|
|Pure City 3speed||Twitchy||0|
|Gazelle Toer Populaire||Heavy||1|
|Shinola Step Thru||Not bad||1|
|Simcoe Step Thru||Perfect||2|
Pure City: leader brand at leading prices
Finally, let's talk about price. To be sure, a bike is one way you can spend money to save money - and it should be true that the more you spend the longer it will last. So, let's see how things rate compared to the score we've gathered so far.
|Brooklyn Step Thru||Low||3|
|Pure City 3speed||Low||5|
|Simcoe Step Thru||Mid||12|
|Public Step Thru||Mid||3|
|Linus Dutchi 3speed||High||5|
|Gazelle Toer Populaire||High||12|
|Martone Step Thru||Insane||1|
|Shinola Step Thru||Insane||6|
So there you are. If you want nothing more than splashy fashion for an insane price you can buy something silly like a Martone. If you want handcrafted excellence - which arguably belongs more on a racing bike - there's Shinola (they are awfully nice). Dutch brands continue to dominate but still remain heavy and expensive. Out of the "second wave" price-point bikes, Pure City offers the best value for the money while similar bikes like Linus want you to splash out more for brand. Electra, Public and Brooklyn all seem to struggle with the overall concept while Simcoe definitely masters it. We hope this helps!