| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter Youtube RSS Feed


A bike for Toronto: a Q&A with Curbside's Eric Kamphof

Toronto's bike culture highlights what's to love and despair about this city: chaotic and traffic-ridden, but also alive and growing into something that demands to be taken seriously. We are a city with its own magazine (Dandyhorse) and blogs (like this one and this one and this one) dedicated to all things on two wheels, and one where cycling is growing almost as fast as the bars on the Ossington strip. More than half -- 54 per cent -- of adults identify themselves as cyclists, a figure that's up six per cent from ten years ago.

Our biking culture may be growing strong, but most bikes are designed to be thief resistant and not much else. Call it the Igor Kenk effect (recall the "world's most prolific bicycle thief"), but we expect very little from our cycles other than their ability to get from A to B. Like a Pierre Lallement of the modern world (Lallement was one of the original inventors of the early bicycle), Eric Kamphof has designed a different sort of bike for city living. His baby, the Frysl�n, aims to raise our expectations, tailored specifically to Toronto's geography and climate. An upright Dutch bike, designed in Toronto and built to specification in Holland, it promises form and function, with improved brakes and gears, puncture proof tires, extra locks and a grease-proof chain. That attention to detail has caused notable success: the Frysl�n, priced at $1050, is now sold in sixty stores across North America. Kamphof is the general manager of the Toronto store Curbside, which is where we chatted with him.

Alexandra Shimo: What's different about the Frysl�n?

Eric Kamphof: Dutch bikes have a number of advantages -- you can ride upright, which makes for a more relaxed ride. Dutch bikes tend to be lower maintenance since the core mechanisms, such as brakes and gears are sealed. The downside is they tend to have only one gear. That works if you are only traveling short distances and the terrain is flat, but in North America, the cities aren't as dense as in Europe. Toronto has a compact core, but its suburbs continue for miles. And we have hills, which is why we added more gears to the Frysl�n � it has five speeds. And we added better brakes too for our ravines.

I keep my bike outside, although it's a rusted wreck when spring arrives. Would this bike be any different?  

You're not alone -- almost everyone leaves their bikes outside because downtown, there aren't many garages. That's why we changed the bike to accommodate for winter weather. Every moving part on the bike is sealed against water and salt. The chain is under a rip-stop vinyl sail cloth, so you won't have to lubricate it more than once or twice per year and there is no need for the rolled-up pant leg. The gears and brakes are inside the hub.

These changes aren't just about the bike, they protect the rider too. You wouldn't drive a car that sprayed grease, so why a bike? You don't change your clothing when you ride a streetcar, and yet we think it's normal with a bicycle. A good bike should adapt to your lifestyle. You should be able to dress smartly and know that your clothes will stay clean and you'll be safe.  

Does the Frysl�n protect against our notorious potholes?

The tires are puncture resistant and lined with Kevlar, to prevent accidents with nails or broken glass. But if you really want to avoid a puncture, your best bet is to avoid them completely.

Igor Kenk may be gone, but theft will always be a reality. Are there any special features to stop the Frysl�n from being stolen?

For starters, the tires aren't quick release so you don't have to worry about chaining them up. And this bike has a built-in back tire lock if you are just popping in and out.

Toronto is currently being transformed by a rise of cyclists and bike culture. Who's responsible?

When Igor Kenk was arrested, the theft rate plummeted because he was responsible for much of the city's bike crime. So if you want to buy a beautiful, new bike, there's never been a better time. The cycle market is changing too � it's not just the Frysl�n, but other designer bikes are attracting those who wouldn't have ridden before.

Is this different from other cities?

Toronto is more grass-roots rather than top-down. In Paris, the government brought in the V�lib that increased the number of cyclists on the road. Here, the number of cyclists is rising because people realize that this is a great biking city and they want to get out there and ride. We have an active bike culture who are connected and are pushing for much-needed changes, such as more cycle lanes and bike racks. The citizens are ahead of the government on this one.

How do you promote this bike across North America?

I visit a lot of bike conferences; such as January's FietsVAK 2010, Holland's national bike show. We talk to people and explain the bike. We sell this model to stores across North America -- Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco -- there are about sixty cities carrying our bikes. And we have a blog that celebrates good design and Toronto's bike culture. Ultimately, if there's a lot of excitement around a bike, it sells itself.

Does this come in any other colour than black?

No. At the end of the day, people might say they like the red bike in the window, but what they buy is black.

(This interview was edited and condensed)

Alexandra Shimo is an author and journalist based on the Ossington strip. She has lived in several cities, including London, New York and  Washington D.C. and is now proud to call the T-dot her home.

Signup for Email Alerts
Signup for Email Alerts