Posted on 19 June 2017
In 2014 Jonny Cooper wrote in the Telegraph that the bicycle is about to have its "Newport moment," referring to Bob Dylan's 1965 concert at the Newport Folk Festival where he came armed with a Fender Stratocastor electric guitar. The purists may not have liked it, but there was no doubt that Dylan ushered in a future that was not only prescient, but amazing, and here to stay. When it comes to bicycles - and we mean city bicycles - we believe the future is equally electric. So, damn the purists. Our Stratocastor is the Moustache e-bike, and like Dylan, all we're really trying to do is show people an electrifying good time. And, to think differently. Yeah, that too.
So, before we ask why Moustache perhaps it makes sense to ask, why e-bikes?
Well, if we were the kind of store to take things for granted, we wouldn't bother with e-bikes. Because we're located in Toronto's dense Annex neighbourhood, our customer often lives, works and plays downtown. That means they live most of their lives within a radius that is far more bike-able than driveable or walkable. And, that means we could just sell fashion-forward city bikes all day long.
But, we believe that city biking needs to take the suburban and exurban commuter just as seriously as the city cyclist who lives in places with high MLS walk-scores. And believe us, for this person the options are limited. Certainly, the standard fashion-forward city bike we sell won't do. Due to distance, the commuter often only has one choice when choosing to bike: a hunched-over hybrid bike that is designed for speed and requires a shower and change of clothes at destination. That's too much hygiene and logistics, and it's no wonder few are sold. But, an e-bike? An e-bike lets you smugly bomb through gridlock with a huge smile on your face, your tie or dress flying in the breeze, and not a drop of sweat on your forehead. You're not paying for gas or TTC anymore, you're passing traffic (including other cyclists), and you're not grumpy. Nope, you're having fun.
At Curbside we've been doing e-bikes longer than most any other store. While that might puzzle our frequent visitors, we'll qualify this by saying that most of these e-bikes were cargo bikes. Makes sense, right? If you're going to truck yourself and 2-4 kids in a 130lb cargo bike (and you have some hills), you might want a little extra help.
As a result, we have experience. We've seen the market move from front-wheel e-assist (bad) to rear-wheel (ok) to the absolutely phenomenal mid-drive e-assist (absolutely phenomenal). And, while we've witnessed a certain sophistication with e-assist technology (you can read about the genesis of e-bikes here) we've certainly seen a lack of sophistication with Ontario legislation which basically declares that any crappy e-scooter that has pedals is an e-bike. It doesn't matter whether the pedals work or not, it doesn't matter that their lead-acid batteries will leech poison into landfills forever... but anyways... don't get us started.
Whereas many shops have rejected e-assist bikes because they conflate them with e-scooters and the DUI demographic they seem to attract, we're well-travelled enough to know better. In Europe you won't see e-scooters unless the operator has a drivers license and insurance (as it should be the case here). And, in Europe, law requires that the operator must be pedalling in order for the motor to assist. That means the motor has to know you're pedalling, and how much, and what assist you need. These bikes are called pedelecs, and they're reading your pedalling RPM's, wheel RPM's and torque/wattage 1000 times each second so they can produce the needed assist. Riding one feels like the bicycle is reading your mind. There's nothing quite comparable. They're stylish as hell and to say they're exhilarating is an understatement.
So, why Moustache? Two reasons. One, because we're no stranger to importing bikes from Europe. And, two: because no one in North America remotely builds a bike as good as Moustache.
An anecdote: last year our staff was having a PK (product knowledge) meeting with a (unnamed) North American company who admitted they made an e-bike because they knew the market was coming. We agree, the market in North America is still coming. But, until the market was here, they said, their bike was a placeholder, not the end-result. And, that's not a game we want to play with our North American suppliers, most of whom employ young men who are really into professional mountain biking and have purist sentiments when it comes to e-bikes. If they do finally get it, it's going to be a long wait. We simply lack the patience.
The problem is that most North American e-bikes lack real e-assist design. They are basically regular bikes with a motor chucked on it. Placeholders. They're sold on the merits of the mid-drive system (which are indeed great) but not the way the rest of the bike is designed to work with the mid-drive. There is no thought to the increased torsional twisting the frame experiences, there is no thought to racks or fenders loosening off due to higher speeds, there is no thought around proper wheel size or tire width. There is, in short, no integrated ground-up approach. They're all waiting for the market to arrive.
In Europe the e-bike market arrived a decade ago. In Holland and Germany, the e-assist market counts for 50% of bicycle market value whereas in North America it's less than 1%. That means that in Europe the e-bike market has also evolved, and no company represents this evolution more than Moustache.
Unlike most European e-bike manufacturers, Moustache is strictly an e-bike brand. That means they sink all their R&D into e-bikes, not other segments that might take away their attention. The results certainly show. Bikes like the Lundi have wide aluminum tubes that keep the frame from twisting when the motor is engaged, and the feeling is thus one of planted stability, even at 32km/hr. The rack, which cleverly conceals the battery, interfaces with the mainframe with big machine bolts that won't rattle loose. The wheels are 26", which means your centre of gravity stays low and safe. The tires are wide yet high-pressure, that means there is a good footprint to handle the potholes and streetcar tracks but no compromise to speed or efficiency.
Add the clever ergonomic handlebar and insanely intelligent integrated headlight and you are looking at the finest e-bike on the market. But, Moustache is much more than the sum of its parts, it's good design. You can see this with bikes like their Phillipe Starck series, but it's just as present in bikes like the Lundi which has a sleek unisex step-thru design, smooth welds, smart looking forks, and a wholistic approach to quality and detail. And they're made in France, not China or Taiwan. You can sense something very special here. We're very happy to be carrying these bikes.
"Electricity," says Jonny Cooper, "is a powerful thing...Dylan changed the face of music simply by plugging in his guitar and supercharging folk songs on that evening back in 1965. Electricity could yet do the same for commuter cycling."But, he says, "just don't expect it to be a smooth ride."
By that he means the purists. But, who cares about the purists? If we cared about them we never would have imported cargo bikes, city bikes or folding bikes. If the world was made in their image we'd all be riding racing bikes and wearing spandex super-hero outfits to work. Um, no thanks. Luckily the e-bike industry, says Cooper, "isn't targeting Lycra-clad fitness freaks.. Instead, it wants to persuade non-cyclists – think motorists, public transport commuters and motorbike-riding delivery men – to swap combustion engines for pedals power." Amen to that. Moustache delivers the goods with a bike that's better designed than your colleagues BMW and keeps your waistline trim so you can wear those sharp suits - even while you're riding.