Posted on 14 March 2016
Editors note: Due to rapid growth and the difficulty of capitalization, Simcoe was sold to Hawley-Lambert, the second largest bicycle wholesaler in North America who unfortunately did not tend the brand very well. However, today, thanks to the Canadian European Trade Agreement and a lot of research (and travel) we've found an even better solution with Germany's Fahrradmanufaktur, a bike that shares the same evolution in materials and geometry but capitalizes on access to top-notch German parts - something we were unable to do out of Taiwan (read our post, Why Fahrradmanufaktur for a more in-depth review). We'll miss Simcoe... it was one step forward in the path towards a global city bike.
Simcoe is a Toronto brand. And, it was also developed right here at Curbside. In many ways, Simcoe is a tale of our quest at Curbside to find city bikes for our customers who rode in the city - but didn't have access to real city bikes. Finding these city bikes became the Curbside mission, a mission that we continue today.
A city bike is a beautiful thing. Unlike bikes tweaked for sport or performance, a city bike gives you upright comfort, low maintenance, clothing protection, and durability that can weather Toronto's winters. Despite serving city cyclists for over 25 years, these bikes didn't exist from our usual Curbside vendors. So, in 2006 we started importing Dutch bikes, because if one country has city cycling figured out, it's the Dutch. The Dutch bike worked for many, but they were heavy if you needed to lift it inside overnight, and that heaviness also made longer rides feel a bit strained. To many, they were also fairly pricey, especially if you are a first-time city cyclist unsure you want to spend $1000+ on something you still need to prove to yourself.
BUILT FOR THE NORTH AMERICAN NORTHEAST
Beyond Holland (and California)
Light enough to bring inside, durable enough to store outside
In 2008 we were approached by a small California company called Linus. Their lower price bikes and fashionable colours attracted us, especially because we wanted something that could attract a newer city cyclist. However, Linus bikes proved to be very much the opposite of Dutch bikes. They tried to look like a Dutch bike (which is why they are called a "Dutchi"), but weren't made for longevity or Toronto weather - but they were light and inexpensive, a perfect summertime-only city bike but not much else. Surely there had to be a lightweight, high quality bike that was light enough so you could it bring inside overnight and durable enough if you wanted to store it outside.
But, there wasn't. And, we began to realize that we had put ourselves in the position where we could articulate what this might look like. We had already imported Dutch bikes and built the market for cheaper city bikes, why not start up a bike company ourselves? It would be a beautiful bike designed for the Northeast, a place that has different weather than California and hills and sprawl unlike Holland.
FINISH LINE: DURABILITY
Strong finishes for chip and rust resistance
Durable finishes in autumnal semi-matte
Simcoe is really a story of working with our customers. One customer, Dave Anthony (the former head of R&D at Cervelo) helped answer a question few have asked: how should a city bike ride? The branding was done with our customer Markus Uran, a Toronto graphic designer and clothing designer who owns Metsa Clothing and worked for years with Toronto's prestigious Concrete Designs. And then there was our daily customer whose needs weren't being met with the recreational bikes on offer at most other stores, but neither with Dutch bikes or Linus bikes.
Simcoe is, like a Dutch bike, designed to be durable. Unlike most city bikes companies who use a cheap two-stage wet-paint process, Simcoe features a polyurethane clear-coat that keeps your bike highly chip-resistant. Should the bike chip (and all bikes eventually do) there is another three layers of paint and then a rust-resistant undercoat. That means chips don't turn to rust quickly - and in a city where you often lock your bike against new to a sharp pole, that's important. The colours are nice too, a semi-matte palette in deep autumnal hue that isn't just summery but all-season - just like the bike.
WHETHER THE WEATHER
Parts that can weather the weather
Parts for durability in the dense, cold cities of the Northeast
Then there is the small parts. No other part of the bike is more susceptible to rust than the fenders. That's because your tire spits up rocks, glass and dirt into the underside of a fender kind of like a sandblaster. If you have steel fenders (as most other companies do) then the inner paint layer is gone pretty quick and suddenly the fenders start rusting. Simcoe uses aluminum alloy fenders, which not only cut a full pound of weight off the bike, but - being alloy - they naturally can't rust. That's smart thinking.
Strong wheels are essential on a city bike, especially in Toronto. Unlike most North American cities, Toronto has streetcar tracks and big potholes, so the wheels on a Simcoe are exceptionally strong. The wheels on a Simcoe could be compared with the wheels you find on a touring bike. These strong wheels means that Simcoe can also use a EN certified rear rack - which can carry up to 100lbs. Most bike racks barely let you carry 30lbs. That means you can actually double your friends or carry a child in absolute safety.
Geometry for safety and efficiency
Every angle and millimetre towards the virtue of forward motion
But spec aside, the real conversation when buying a bike should concern ride quality. The only adjective we can think of to describe a city bike is "safe." The problem when designing a city bike is that it must offer both stability and agility at a very high level. This may seem obvious but with most other bikes you never get stability and agility together in one bike. Instead, you choose. Beach cruiser or fixed gear. Road bike or mountain bike. Dutch bike or Linus. Simcoe is different; it's as stable as a Dutch bike and as zippy as a Pure City or Linus. You feel firmly rooted to ground yet able to handle any high-contingency situation with maximum agility. That makes SImcoe very different from many European bikes, where a safe bike lane is assumed, or many California bikes where colour and fashion are the selling points.
We like Simcoe because it has real dirt under its fingernails. Most bike companies don't come "from the streets", let alone a bike store - they come from boardrooms where there are a lot of spandex-wearing men try to figure out what their customer needs. Simcoe arose from a bike store, not from an office or ivory tower somewhere. And, it rose up because we at Curbside needed to respond to the needs of our customer in a city that has very different demands than Holland or California. Simcoe represents another phase in the evolution of the city bike. It has a similar price-point than much of its competition yet challenges the fast-fashion bikes dominating the market today. And, with its advanced re-articulation of ride-quality and materials, it's a real step forward in city bike evolution.