Toronto’s boutique motorcycle shop, Town Moto, makes Time Magazine’s list, “A Little Place I Know: 24 of the World’s Best Kept Secrets”.
You know you’re on to something when Time Magazine puts your name on a list that includes ancient cities, marvels of nature and some of the best, undiscovered eateries on the planet. A week ago, just before the Time article was released, Town Moto was still a secret – to me, at least. So I arranged a visit to the store and a sit down with co-owner, Andrew McCracken, to see what’s what.
If not for the bike on display in the front window, you could easily pass by Town Moto’s discreet front fascia without ever noticing it. Each month since the store’s opening, May 2012, TM has showcased a different “window” bike, ranging from sport bikes to customs to this month’s 1974 Honda XL350 dirt tracker: a recently restored barn find. Now, you might think that the window bike is for sale. Why else would it be there? And you’d be wrong. Over the year, the 12 different bikes are used as bait, really, luring in as many different riders as possible. In doing so, TM doesn’t fall into a catch-bin, categorizing itself as a specific type of motorcycle shop, catering only to a certain segment of riders. As Andrew puts it, “The window bikes vary in style because we’re fans of motorcycling at heart.” The bikes themselves, usually on loan from friends, also help showcase TM’s riding gear, parts and accessories.
Taking a closer look, TM dresses up each bike with gear or parts that they do sell in-store. This approach, not unlike the great window displays of upscale fashion stores, requires the keen eye of a stylist with the ability to choose items and details that compliment each bike’s style. In the image above, you can see how the blue and gold flaked, Bell helmet picks up on the Honda’s yellow Goldwing logo and blue paint on the tank. Below, we see yellow, Lee Parks Design, gloves and blue hand grips matched with apparel from Loser Machine. Motorcycle gear, like any other fashion, is about making a statement – whether on or off your bike. And so I applaud TM for taking the time and curating the looks/style statements of their window bikes, which greatly adds to their appeal.
Walk into the tiny store and you’ll see that the attention to detail is carried on throughout. The owners make the most of the small space with creative display stands, racks and shelving to highlight their vast array of merchandise. Apart from the technical riding gear and street wear that takes up the bulk of the space, there’s a plethora of other motorcycle-related ephemera to keep any casual browser occupied for hours. Perusing the goods you’ll find things like bar end mirrors, tail lights and turn signals in the same section as Roland Sands Design leather jackets and Deus Customs T-shirts. Over in another section you’ll see a selection of bespoke riding gloves next to chain lube, tethered wallets, baseball caps and silver rings. This arrangement is kind of like the layout of a webpage, too, flanking feature articles with related content.
Also, the way items are laid out requires a special mention. There’s the supermarket-style, OCD alignment of items on shelves, juxtaposed with a more casually laid out grouping of things that seemingly don’t go together, like books on riding and gloves and motor oils. On the one hand, this magazine-type look creates a number of attention- grabbing focal points, chock full of details in a store with very little space. On the other, it almost dissuades you from ever touching anything or picking anything up for fear of ruining the whole presentation. Like shopping for fruit in Italy, you point to the apple the you want, never touch.
In the back, you’ll find a more straightforward showroom area dedicated to helmets, boots and even more technical apparel. There’s a nice selection of open face helmets from Biltwell, Bell and closed face lids from Arai.
Now, you probably don’t buy a leather riding jacket under the same roof as, let’s say, L-wrenches or an emergency tire repair kit or a quart of oil. No. You’d normally go somewhere like Canadian Tire for that sort of stuff. As Andrew explains, the idea behind Town Moto was to have a motorcycle shop that riders living in Toronto could easily access, either on foot or by public transit, and find handy the things needed to keep their bikes on the road. For some, getting out to major parts stores like Canadian Tire or even the dealership where they bought their bike, is simply too far away, especially if your motorcycle is your only means of transportation. So, they stock many of these simple yet, so very vital supplies like oils, chain cleaner and other spare parts which are good for most bikes. If you require something more specific, Andrew will happily order it in for you special.
That’s right! Special orders for aftermarket parts and, when they come in, someone from TM will probably help you install them. If you ask nicely. And bring beer. Ok, I made that last part up but I bet you could arrange to have an extra set of eyes troubleshoot a problem for you at the very least. After all, they even hold regularly scheduled tech nights at the shop, where they discuss all things hardware related. For dates and times check their blog. Andrew counts a typical turnout of 15-20 people who come out for demos on changing motor oil or replacing turn signals, to tips on buying a used bike. This effort, normally seen at much larger bike dealerships, shows TM is keen on nurturing its local network of customers and riders – even if parts sales are no more than 10% of their business.
Beyond its innumerable, candy store selection of goods that are presented like curated art exhibits, TM has quickly become one of Toronto’s major proponents for motorcycling lifestyle. Not just a place to find clothing or gear, it’s also become a reference point for local riders of all skill levels to meet, discuss and above all, cultivate the city’s urban riding culture. If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast living in Toronto, this place is for you. If not one of the World’s best kept secrets anymore, then look forward to more tech nights, pow-wows, window bikes and of course, their one year anniversary party.