Cycle Couture is the type of bike shop that could only open in a city that's at least somewhat cycling friendly. Even if our bike lane infrastructure isn't where it could or should be, one finds more and more riders on Toronto streets than ever before. Part of the reason for this gradual increase is that more and more people have taken up what might be called utility cycling. This type of riding isn't so much about cultivating a hobby as it is about utilizing an efficient, cheap, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation to get from point A to B.
With the increase in these types of riders, bike stores around Toronto have started to carry a greater number of European and European-inspired bikes that are designed for comfort and stylishness. Places like Urbane Cyclist and Curbside Cycle have been in this game for years, but College and Dovercourt's Cycle Couture takes the trend to the next level by restricting its focus solely to these types of bikes. In other words, you're not going to find performance bikes here, but the minimalist showroom is dotted with some of the prettiest and most functional utility bikes out there.
In keeping with the boutique concept hinted at in the shop's name, the brand selection is deliberately limited. Owner Jeff Scullion and manager Adam Freeman have put significant thought into what they carry, and don't want to dilute the store with anything other than what they think are the best bikes for their purpose. On offer at Cycle Couture are a selection of Velobris, Public, Herskind + Herskind and Swobo bikes. Most of these qualify as Euro-type cruisers that are easy on the back and on one's clothes, but the Swobo's are a bit speedier as far as urban bikes go.
Prices range from $800-$2000+, depending on which brand and model you're looking at, but all of the bikes I saw had solid chromoly frames and impressive components. Even the Public bikes, which occupy the bottom of the price range, will take some serious commuter abuse. $800+ may seem like a lot to pay for utility bike, but the idea with these is that they'll stand up to Toronto's weather and the test of time.
Along with the narrow brand focus, Scullion hopes that top-notch service will set Cycle Couture apart from the increasingly dense Toronto bike market. If my visit is any indication, they're off to a good start. Not only are the tune-ups reasonably priced at $35, but Freeman is a former mountain bike racer and bike expert, who's friendly demeanor and laid back attitude make him super easy to talk to about the store's products but also cycling culture in general. There's no pressure sales action going on here, just informed and enthusiastic cycling talk.
The accessories section is currently pretty small, but as with the bikes, it's composed of stylish items/brands that are new or hard to find in Toronto. I particularly liked the Toronto-made YNOT bags and the super fashionable helmet selection. Clothing options are sparse right now, but from what Freeman tells me, the plan is to build this up later this season and through the winter. To some extent that seems like a natural step, given how difficult it is to find non-goofy looking cycling wear in Toronto. I might not need any more bikes (I own three), but I'll still be paying regular visits to Cycle Couture to scope out accessories and chat it up with the guys.
Who the store caters to: urban riders, commuters, anyone who doesn't want to look like a dork while riding a bike
Bike price range: $800-$2000+ (sweet spot $1200)
Service capabilities: Full service shop, but geared to commuter bikes rather than performance machines
The tune-up: For $35 you get adjustment of the gears and brakes, tightening of key areas, and a safety check