This recent Ossington arrival caters to downtown bikers turned off by the cheesy gear found at mainstream motorcycle stores.
Although Toronto has experienced an explosion of interest in motorcycles as of late, it’s hardly anything new to Marika Thoms, who, along with partner Andrew McCracken, has just opened Town Moto right in the thick of the busy Ossington strip. In fact, for Thoms, motorcycles are the family business.
“In Ottawa, my parents own a larger dealership,” says Thoms. But with her own tastes running to the more traditionally styled and “more subdued” end of the spectrum—think black leather, raw denim, and heavy boots—Thoms experienced a certain amount of frustration shopping at local mainstream motorcycle stores overrun with cheesy, colourful gear. “There wasn’t really anything catering to what I was into,” she says. “I would go to these bigger stores and they’re not specific to what people need riding in the city.”
Thoms also found it frustrating that there wasn’t a nearby shop where she could purchase the basic supplies needed to work on her bike. “A lot of our cleaners and our chain lubes and all the mechanical products is stuff that I have experience with and is my favourite one out of a sea of options,” she says. “There’s some new lines that I wasn’t able to do in the dealerships I worked in before, because they’re really niche and really specific.”
For Thoms, scoring her prime location involved a fair amount of serendipity. “When we were looking at locations at our price point, there wasn’t a lot of options—this one just kind of came up. We lucked out on so many levels; our neighbours are great and everyone in the neighbourhood has been super positive. It’s close to the [Gardiner], it’s a nice street to ride, and it’s developing really quickly right now.”
And the neighbourhood also comes with an unexpected benefit: The no-reservations policy in effect at the restaurants surrounding the shop have served Thoms well by providing some built-in traffic as people wait for seats. “We’re open until 8 p.m. because there are all these amazing restaurants that have hour-and-a-half-long waits,” she says. “People put in their name and they walk around and there’s not really all that much else to do.”
Being a neighbourhood shop also allows Thoms to interact with her customers and pass on some of the wisdom she’s accumulated, something you just can’t get when shopping online. “At the end of the day,” she says, “you want to wear a leather jacket because you don’t want to scrape your skin on the asphalt. And you want to wear a helmet because you want to live if anything happens, so I take that side of it really seriously and try to balance the two together. I look at a lot of my friends and they don’t necessarily wear proper gloves, or they don’t wear proper riding shoes, and I think a lot of it is because there’s no major dealer in downtown Toronto and there hasn’t been for the last 10 years. So they’re buying their bikes off the internet and they’re not getting the education of what it actually means to buy a helmet, they don’t know why maybe you shouldn’t buy a helmet online, and why it’s really important to try it on.”
Speaking of which, although Thoms can see the appeal of a 3/4 helmet when riding around city at relatively low speeds, she is concerned that some people are prioritizing style over safety by wearing them out on the highway. “But I’m trying to change that,” she says, “I’m slowly trying to get people into full-face [helmets].”
Part of the learning process for people getting into motorcycles comes from participating in an extended community and sharing knowledge, much of which is acquired through trial and error. “Nobody can build a bike by themselves—everyone has a question that needs answering at some point,” says Thoms. “All these crews that you see, they all have garages together; you’ll have one garage and there’ll be six bikes in it and there’ll be six different guys in it.”
Thoms hopes that Town Moto can help foster this sense of community. “We built a really big back patio. Motorcycling in Toronto, if you have a couple of hours in the afternoon, you’re not going to make it out of the city,” she says. “Our thoughts were that at least you can ride here, meet your friends, and come hang out on the back patio, meet likeminded people, check out other people’s bikes or have someone tell you your bike is nice—because essentially that’s what everyone wants to hear.”
At the same time, Thoms is aware of the dangers of becoming too much of a clubhouse. “I don’t want to be that too-cool shop. Crows Nest [barbershop] has done a really good job at [not becoming] that. They’re the coolest guys, they look so cool, their style is so cool, and they’re friends with the coolest people, but you walk into that shop and everyone says ‘hi’ to you and you’re treated the same no matter how cool you are,” she says. “We really wanted to have that. This is an intimidating world to a lot of people. As soon as you start having that elitist mentality, it’s not fun and it’s not positive, and it changes all the benefits that this thing can be.”