Posted on 14 March 2016
Simcoe: born in Toronto
Simcoe is a Toronto brand. It was also developed right here with Curbside. In many ways, Simcoe is a tale of Curbside selling city bikes to a customer that always rode in the city - but didn't have a real city bike. Finding that real city bike became our mission, and Simcoe is very much the completion of that mission. If you have half a moment, we can tell you the story.
In about 2006 we started importing European city bikes to handle our local customers needs, whether this meant comfort, low maintenance, clothing protection, or something that could be stored outside in Toronto's winters. Those products didn't exist from our usual suppliers although we certainly petitioned them to carry such bikes (they thought we were nuts). Eventually, we realized we needed to create our own supply chain. That's another story.
It's not just about looking pretty, it's about the ride
These "first generation' European city bikes were big and sturdy, but, they were also heavy and expensive. At the time we were in the middle of the 2008 recession and there was all this talk of a new generation who would live downtown, stay downtown, and ride bikes. In 2008, with the rise many North American city bike start-ups, we were approached by a small California company called Linus. We sold and established their Canadian footprint until their prices rose higher than their quality. These were bikes that were very much the opposite of a Dutch bike. They tried to look like a Dutch bike (which is why they are called a "Dutchi"), but wouldn't last a month in Holland. They were designed for California boardwalks, not the salty climes of the Northeast - and it showed in the rust. However, they were light, they were good-looking, and (at the time) they were priced well. So, surely there had to be a lightweight high quality bike that was light enough to bring inside and durable enough to store outside.
But, there wasn't. And, we began to realize - to our great trepidation - that we were the only ones who could possibly articulate what this bike would look like. This was partly from experience with Dutch bikes, partly from experience with Linus bikes, but also being from the Northeast and knowing as a retailer what riding in a city like Toronto requires.
Durable finishes in autumnal semi-matte
Luckily we had a Rolodex of talented collaborators. Dave Anthony, former head of R&D at Cervelo helped answer a question that the Dutch forgot and many style-oriented companies don't care about: how should a city bike ride? The ride of a Simcoe is both highly agile and stable, two things that are often contra-opposed in our industry. The branding was done in collaboration with our friend Markus Uran, a New York graphic designer who worked on identity and branding. We worked with Steve Tam, a marketing go-to for many tech start-ups, and of course we relied on feedback from our Curbside customers, our international network of wholesale customers, our salespeople and mechanics. And so began the third generation of city bikes.
Simcoe is one of the few brands that let's you literally scratch below the surface. Unlike most city bikes which use a cheap two-stage wet-paint process, Simcoe features a polyurethane clear-coat that is highly chip-resistant. Should the bike chip (and of course all bikes do) there is another three layers of paint and then a rust-resistant undercoat. That means chips don't turn to rust instantly - and in a city where you often lean your bike against a sharp pole, that's important. The colours are nice too, a semi-matte palette in deep autumnal colours.
Racks that are actually strong enough to carry stuff
On the same theme there are the fenders. 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 like a sandblaster. If you have steel fenders (as every competitor does) the inner paint layer is gone pretty quick and the fenders start rusting immediately. Simcoe uses alloy fenders. Alloy can't rust. They're expensive, lightweight, and also beautiful, but they're worth it.
And then there's the wheels. Toronto has streetcar tracks and big potholes, so the wheels on a Simcoe are ridiculously strong. The wheels on a Simcoe could be compared with the wheels you find on a Surly Long Haul Trucker, a bike meant for loaded touring across Canada. 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 - because it's made for that!
Streetcar tracks? Whatever.
But spec aside, the real conversation should always concern ride quality. And the adjective to describe city cycling should be safety. The problem with a city bike is that it must offer both stability and agility at a very high level. This may seem obvious but with all other bikes you never get stability and agility in one bike. Instead, you choose. Beach cruiser or fixed gear. Road bike or mountain bike. Dutch bike or Linus. Take a Simcoe around the block and feel the sense of being firmly planted coupled with remarkable agility. And that's important.
So, sure - we like Simcoe because we proudly played a part in it but we also like it because the brand 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 mountain-biking men who don't get it. Simcoe arose from Curbside, not from an office or ivory tower somewhere. And, it rose up because we needed to respond to the needs of our customer in a city that has very different demands than Holland or California. And that means Simcoe represents another phase in the evolution of the city bike. It has a similar price-point, and challenges much of the fast-fashion that appears to happening at the bottom of the market today. And, with its advanced re-articulation of ride-quality and materials, it challenges grand old dames like the Dutch bike too.