Guest Review by Ken Sturrock: Gary Fisher Simple City 8 M

Editor’s note: When Gary Fisher Bikes unveiled their prototype Simple City platform at the 2007 Interbike, there was TREMENDOUS buzz in many bike blogs about this bike…a mixture ranging from extreme excitement to skepticism and even genuine dislike. Since its release to the public, though, there haven’t been many articles written about the bike, and I haven’t run across any detailed reviews of how the bike actually performs. Enter Ken Sturrock, fellow Tampan and good friend of the Bikecommuters.com crew — who has graciously offered to provide us with his own words on the bike, its features and his likes and dislikes. Here is his review:

Gary Fisher 8M

I recently purchased a Gary Fisher Simple City 8M (from Carrollwood Bicycle Emporium in Tampa, Florida) and although there was a lot of early attention to this bicycle on the net I have seen little posted by actual owners. The Simple City is an interesting ride that is hard to categorize. I bought it because it fit my need for a fun and useful urban bicycle. However, before telling you about what it is, I want to clear the table a bit and mention what it is not.

The Simple City is not a “Dutch Bike?. It does not come with a full chain guard, a coat guard nor a built in lock. The Simple City is also not a cargo bicycle. Despite the prominent front basket, you can’t load up heavy stacks of newspapers or machine parts. This bicycle is also not an “indy-hipster-steel-is-real? bicycle because the Simple City is essentially a mass produced Trek made out of aluminum in China.

Now, a little bit about what the Simple City actually is. According to the marketing story, Gary Fisher was influenced by a “Dutch Shopping Bicycle? and decided to build something similar. The bicycle has some utility features but also has a strong “fashion bike? vibe to it. The frame uses oval shaped aluminum tubes and routes the rear cables through the down tube; it also has a steel fork with touring style mount points midway up the blades and 700c wheels with 32mm tires that use Schrader valves. Both the seat post and handle bar stem are alloy and the handle bar stem is a classic adjustable quill design. The pedals are standard metal toothed double-sided jobs with channels and mounting holes for toe clips and straps. The saddle, like many components on the bicycle, is a Bontrager. The saddle material is a brown synthetic “leatherette? with a gel layer. The stock saddle is comfortable and looks good on the bicycle. The handlebars are classic looking “city bicycle style? and come with hand grips that match the saddle. The drive train varies depending on the model but is based around Shimano’s Nexus series of internally geared hubs. The rear brake depends on the hub used and the front brake is a serviceable but plain dual pivot caliper. When not moving, the bicycle is supported by a slick two-legged Pletscher kickstand.

The Simple City is currently available in four models:

1.) 3M – A matte black diamond frame with crème colored trim, a three speed Shimano rear hub with a coaster brake and an optional front basket.

2.) 3W – An aqua blue drop frame with white trim, a three speed Shimano rear hub with a coaster brake and an optional front basket.

3.) 8M – A crème (sand) colored diamond frame with white trim, an eight speed Shimano Nexus rear hub with a rear roller brake and a standard front basket.

4.) 8W – A white drop frame with aqua blue trim, an eight speed Shimano Nexus rear hub with a rear roller brake and a standard front basket.

The bicycle is also available in the following sizes:

1.) Drop Frame: Small 16?, Medium 18.5?
2.) Diamond Frame: Medium 18.5?, Large 21?, Extra Large 23.5?

My personal bicycle is an extra large 8M. I am 6’1? and weigh about two hundred pounds but have longer than usual legs and a shorter than usual torso. My traditional (not compact) road frames tend to be in the 58cm to 60cm range and the XL Simple City fits me very comfortably. My body position on the bicycle is a bit more aggressive than upright but it is far from a drop bar position. The starting position is very classical in that with the saddle set for proper leg extension, I can sit on the saddle and stay upright at a stop by leaning the bicycle over and balancing on my tip toe. However, I typically get off the saddle at stop lights. I have never felt comfortable on relaxed bicycles like cruisers so I find this position a great solution for regular riding.

The bicycle’s civilized features include a set of metal fenders in a complementary color and a matching chain guard. The fenders are mounted solidly to dedicated eyelets front and rear. Some have commented that the front fender is too short and I have not ridden it in a real down pour yet so I cannot comment about that issue. The chain guard is a modern and minimalist looking design which I find very attractive. Although I have not managed to catch any clothing in the chain yet, the guard may not do as good of a job as one with more coverage – time will tell.

chainguard

The first thing that everyone notices about this bicycle is the giant metal front basket. People comment about the basket as I ride by them and it’s the thing that people seem to like most about the machine. The basket is really a combination of a rack and a basket and is rated for 10kg (22 lbs.). The outer frame of the basket is secured to the bicycle with braces that run to dedicated eyelets at the end of the fork and to the sockets located mid-blade. The frame and basket are also connected to a metal strut that runs from the brake bolt at the fork crown. The frame of the basket is painted to match the bicycle (crème colored on my bicycle). The inner part of the basket looks very similar to a metal mesh in/out bin that might have appeared on a corporate desk in the 1950s and is painted a complimentary color (white, which matches the fenders and chain guard on my bicycle). The inner part of the basket is secured to the outer basket frame by two hex headed bolts and a Velcro strap. If the strap is loose, the basket will rattle like crazy. I’m not sure why Fisher used a Velcro strap instead of simply using another bolt because the inner basket is not meant to come out (editor’s note: we have since discovered that this strap is meant to secure a standard Kryptonite U lock inside the basket). As mentioned above, the basket is standard on the eight speed models but is an optional accessory for the three speed models.

basket

The bicycle also has a stiff spring that runs from the bottom of the down tube to the back of the fork crown. The spring is supposed to prevent the fork from rotating too far too quickly and slamming the basket frame in to the bicycle frame while stopped and loading up the basket. However, this is purely guessing on my part as the bicycle came without a manual or any documentation at all. The spring is not noticeable except every once in a while it will make a “sprong? noise while turning.

To test the basket and the spring, I tied two 5kg telescope counterweights into the forward corners of the basket to see how the bicycle handled under a worst-case maximum load. The results, predictably, were not pretty. The first trick is to actually keep the bicycle upright while attaching the counterweights. The bicycle will happily tip off of its kick stand and land on its side if you are not holding it. I then moved the counterweights to the center of the basket and the bicycle would just barely stand on its own as long as you didn’t move your hand too far away. Riding the bicycle with the 10kg load in the basket is possible but is a miserable experience. The bicycle feels like it is riding through sand and it could be used to teach people what the word “inertia? means. Under a full front load, the bicycle doesn’t want to go in to a turn, and once it does start to turn, it doesn’t want to come back to center. Naturally, the bicycle will handle better if the weight is shifted towards the head tube and centered left and right. Most likely the 10kg load warning in the basket is probably related to structural failure of the basket rather than providing any sort of “safe to ride? weight guidance. Even if you decide to carry light weight items in the basket, it is advisable to use some sort of bungee cord tie down to keep the items from flipping over the side and to try to minimize rattles. Don’t get me wrong, the basket is useful for lighter loads and very cool looking, but as I wrote earlier: The Simple City is not a cargo bicycle.

The drive train on the bicycle is fabulous. The shifting is precise and extremely smooth – under load, coasting or stopped. I have yet to feel that I was missing a step. In other words, the gearing seemed pretty near perfect and has a nice low gear, a nice high gear and no ugly gaps in between. It’s the best shifting bicycle I have ever ridden. While certainly no road bike, the bicycle is remarkably fast. See the graph for the hub’s range in gear inches (using Sheldon Brown’s calculator). The bicycle’s drive train is also completely silent. While the three speed models use a grip shifter, the eight speed models use the higher end Alfine trigger shifter. The Alfine shifter is also the only plastic component on the bicycle.

gear chart

Jack did an earlier review of the Redline 530 commuter which featured Shimano roller brakes. The roller brake is an internal hub brake that attaches to the side of the Nexus hub and is operated by a hand lever. Jack found that the rear roller brake performed well but that the front roller brake was lacking. The Simple City 8M avoids that issue by using the roller brake in back (or a coaster brake on the 3 speed versions) and a traditional dual pivot caliper on the front. I found that the brakes were well matched and perfectly capable of stopping the bicycle comfortably. The only brake drawback is that the front brake does not have a quick release lever so pulling the wheel off will require adjusting the brake or deflating the tire.

front end

The Simple City handles well and is surprisingly nimble. Although some may worry about the harshness of ride due to the aluminum frame; harshness is subjective. The Simple City comes with a steel fork, decent saddle and fairly wide tires. I have not found that the ride quality diminishes my enjoyment of the bicycle. My extra large Simple City 8M weighs in at about 34 pounds from the factory.

Naturally, bicyclists like to customize their rides and I am no exception. I ordered a Bontrager rear rack from the bicycle shop which attaches to the dedicated rack mounting points. I also transferred my toe clips, my brown Brooks B17 saddle, bell, head lights and tail light from another bicycle to the Gary Fisher. I then placed an order with Velo Orange for a set of panniers, an elegant water bottle cage and a set of matching brown leather toe straps. Note that the drop frame models do not have water bottle mounting points while the diamond frame features two mounting points. Although the head lights mounted fine on the handle bars, I will probably experiment with a way to mount lights farther forward and a little lower on the basket frame.

So far, I am very pleased with the Gary Fisher Simple City 8M and would encourage anyone to give the bicycle a try. It may not be the ultimate commuter but it’s a great riding and stylish machine.

rear end

We’d like to thank Ken for taking the time to do this thorough rundown of the Gary Fisher bike for us…and for taking illustrative photos for the article. If anyone else out there wants to take a crack at a guest article (product review or advocacy/tactical issue), drop us a line — we’ll always entertain reader submissions!


24 Comments

  1. Justin December 11, 2008 9:54 pm 

    I love this design. This is the “city bike” that people want. It mixes the comfort of a mountain bike with the bent bars of Jitensha’s custom Nitto design with a practical basket and sane drive train.

    It also happens to be the mass produced representation of my ideal bike. It really looks almost identical to my current setup that’s built around a SOMA DoubleCross and XT derailleur instead of Nexus. Mine has fancier fenders and a lighting system but I think this thing is perfect for your average bear.

  2. Ghost Rider December 11, 2008 10:01 pm 

    I agree…still, I wish GF had spent a little more time engineering the front end of the bike to handle a stout front-basket load like a Kogswell P/R or any traditional porteur bike. Front baskets ROCK, but if you can only put lightweight items in there…well, that bums me out a bit.

    The bike is STUNNING in real life. I got to ogle it extensively during a club ride, but I didn’t get to swing a leg over it…perhaps next time I see Ken?

  3. Raiyn December 11, 2008 10:40 pm 

    So the front rack writes checks that it can’t cash. Disappointing.

  4. MattG December 12, 2008 6:12 am 

    Very sad to hear about the front rack’s limitations. When I see a big beefy rack like that, I can’t help but load the sucker up.

    Is this a limitation of all front racks or just this one?

  5. Ghost Rider December 12, 2008 6:22 am 

    MattG, probably just this one. It takes a good bit of engineering (fork rake and trail, headtube angle, etc.) to allow heavy front loads…and the lower and closer that load is to the front wheel and headtube itself, the more stable such a load is. Even on a purpose-built front-end hauler such as a classic “porteur bike”, a heavy load WILL affect the steering and handling of a bike — it’s the nature of the beast. Whether those changes are manageable or not is the kicker…the bike either turns and handles a bit slower or the bike wallows and shimmies like a pig in the mud. Obviously, the former is FAR more desirable than the latter!

    It’s not hopeless for the Simple City — since there are brazed-on mounting points on the fork, the basket could be swapped for some low-rider pannier supports or similar and this bike would make a dashing touring machine.

  6. Ken Sturrock December 12, 2008 11:55 am 

    Thanks to Jack for posting the review for me and to the readers for their comments.

    Yeah, the basket’s load carrying is a bit disappointing but, truthfully, it does OK by me as I wasn’t really looking for cargo carrying ability. In fact, if I could have bought the sand colored bicycle with an 8 speed hub and no basket I might have gone for it.

    Having said that, I do find the basket (think basket – not rack) very handy – both to carry things but also to set things in when I’m messing around. The basket definitely carries more than your typical wicker or metal mesh front basket but since it isn’t deep – I use small bungee cords to secure items and keep the rattle from driving me crazy. You could actually stick a large craft store woven basket inside the metal basket and that would probably make it even more useful. I’ve managed to carry a little over a full bag of groceries home in the basket but, advertising photos aside, you can’t just stick the grocery bag in there – you have to repackage the load a little so it fits more securely. Meanwhile on the same shopping trip, I carried two other bags of groceries in the rear panniers.

    Basket issues aside – it is a really enjoyable bicycle to ride! I’ll report back when I get more saddle time.

  7. Mike Myers December 12, 2008 12:12 pm 

    It really is strange that Gary Fisher would have made a bike that LOOKS like it is built to carry front loads but actually isn’t.

    It’s not like the geometry for carrying front loads is a secret. GF copied the color and look of the Kogswell P/R, so why not ape the geometry as well?

    I’m sure it’s a nice bike. Good quality. It looks nice. Selling a “faux porteur” seems to be much like WalMart selling “faux MTBs”. I know if I bought a bike with a big front rack/basket I would tend use it. I couldn’t even carry a bucket of cat litter home without crashing on the Simple City.

  8. Ghost Rider December 12, 2008 12:30 pm 

    Mike, where ya been, buddy?!?

    Mike and I have made the bike blog “circuit” talking about this bike when it was first announced. If I recall correctly, he was considering it as a commuter (among other bikes like the aforementioned Kogswell). We were both eager to hear more about the basket and the cargo/handling capabilities of this platform. Again, it isn’t a hopeless case, but it remains a bit of a disappointment to me to hear about the deficiencies of that basket. Of course, a bag of groceries isn’t too shabby.

  9. Clancy December 12, 2008 1:04 pm 

    I really like the looks of this bike. The real question ” How does it handle with a case of PBR or 12 pack of bottles?”

  10. Mike Myers December 13, 2008 7:37 pm 

    GR–Ahh, I haven’t been on the bike for a while. Hurt myself at the gym. Kinda depressed me and didn’t want to look at bike stuff.

    I’m better now and looking to pile on some miles in the new year. Time to get serious and shredded.

    As for the Simple City—I wonder if LBS employees are warning buyers of the deficiencies of the basket? It just seems like the bike was designed with looks foremost in mind. It’s baffling. Why not give it a proper geometry?

  11. schacter December 14, 2008 2:50 am 

    I ride a Trek Multitrack 7000, with low-rider mounts. I wanted a basket, and simply had a Bridgestone (taken off the bike I rode when I lived in Japan) one bolted to the top of a low-rider, front rack. Works like a charm, and the bike has never been hard to control, even when I have 2 jugs of milk (4 litres — slightly more than a gallon each) snugged in there.

    Some might imagine that much weight to be awkward, and truth told, it was. However, with a little practice, I got really good at it, even in the corners. The only thing it won’t do fully loaded, is sudden chicanes, but then again, who cares?

    I doubt the GF is truly that hard to control. Heck, I even learned to carry 44 pounds of rice (22 on the back rack, and 22 on my right shoulder) while I steered with only my left hand.

    Another time, it was 48 cans of beer, by the same method.

    These things *can* be done.

    Training, my friends. It’s the solution to *almost* everything.

  12. Ken Sturrock December 14, 2008 8:22 am 

    Clancy: It would probably handle a decent amount of beer in aluminum cans, but I wouldn’t risk it with glass bottles. Maybe Jack and I can test that for you.

    Mike: I trust that your question about bicycle shop employees warning their customers about the load carrying ability of the bicycle was rhetorical. As far as I can tell – this is the first time anybody has tested it and mentioned it. However, I doubt that there’s a conspiracy. In the real world, I suspect that very few people actually care. As you know, most buyers will buy the bicycle because it looks cute. However, you are a more sophisticated buyer.

    I feel that the geometry was a compromise of many factors (including cost) and could never please everyone. I also feel that, although on one hand, the geometry may damage GF’s reputation; on the other hand – the shape, size and location of the basket makes it so clearly *not* a porteur that it wouldn’t fool anyone seriously interested in cargo bicycles. Is this a Walmart (and many many many others) tactic? Possibly. Yet, GF has never claimed it was a genuine cargo bicycle – maybe it’s just a bicycle with a big metal basket.

    Regardless – you have some really valid points

    Schacter: Valid points. Standards vary. Once I got under way with the ten kilo load, I never felt that I was going to lose control of the bicycle, it just handled like crap. Of course, I’ve never ridden a real cargo bicycle so I can’t compare one to how the Simple City rides. Truthfully, I feel that cruisers and mountain bikes handle like crap too (however, they still ride better than the loaded down SC).

  13. Julian December 21, 2008 11:58 pm 

    Nice review! It feels as if this bike has been out for a long time, but I’ve never seen one in person or read much of a review.

    It’s indeed a looker … as for the basket and handling, it’s too bad they didn’t go with a frame-mounted design. I have one on an Azor Dutch bike and there seems to be no limit to what I can stick in it. I like those Pletscher double kickstands, though, and the Nexus 8 hubs are indeed smooth and lovely, IMO.

    But any moves in this more practical direction by a major US bike company are very welcome … I’ll be curious to see if the GF “el ranchero” longtail makes it to market.

  14. Rain Waters December 26, 2008 3:26 pm 

    This is precisely why its dangerous to be buying stuff anymore.

    The engineering of this toy leaves much to be finished. . .

    Before moving on to the fancy eyecatcher, the cute rack, 53×12 gearing on a 16lb road bike is 116 inches.

    IMHO purchasers of this bike might look at losing a few teeth on the chainring.

  15. Ghost Rider December 26, 2008 4:53 pm 

    Rain…say what? The chainring is a 44T, rear cog is 18T.

    I don’t know if you noticed, but that hub is an 8 speed internal. The gear RANGE is 40 inches low, 120 inches high, according to the chart above. Sounds good to me! Plenty of range for pretty much all urban scenarios (although I’d like to tweak the low range down to the mid-30s).

  16. Steve January 1, 2009 7:40 pm 

    Thanks for the review. I’ve got the 3M, and having ridden the 8 speed also, I must say I prefer my 3 speed. And yes, this bike is faster than it looks and takes hills just fine.

  17. Chris January 9, 2009 5:22 pm 

    It’s lovely looking, and I hope it gets people out of their cars.
    But at best it’s a copy of a proper utility bike, made up with a lot of components that aren’t quite right for what it was designed for.
    Raleigh was making utility bikes that were much better than this in the 1930s, and lots are still in daily use.
    They turn up all the time on Ebay, and if you can buy the real thing secondhand for less than the price of one of these new, what’s the point in it?

  18. Craft Beer January 4, 2010 9:13 am 

    Life is too short for bad beer. :-)

  19. Amy February 18, 2011 6:15 pm 

    I’ve been riding my simple city for 3 years now. I have the “girlie” aqua bike. I ride my bike as often as I can because I love it. People at work don’t even think I own a car. It is so smooth, comfortable and easy to ride. It is also very good looking. Many people compliment my bike. I am a fair weather cyclist so I don’t ride in the rain and so I don’t know if the fenders are any good against splattering mud. What is not good is the chain guard. I have ruined about 4 right pant legs in my chain. I take a hair clip/clamp and hold back my pant leg with it. I put a whicker basket on my bike which also looks good because the brown whicker matches the brown seat. I would love to have one of the metal baskets that were built for Simple City bikes but they only come in black. It would be so excellent if they came in aqua like my bike, wouldn’t it?

  20. Paul March 23, 2011 6:56 am 

    I have been riding my simple city 8 for 2.5 years–14 mile commute to work (7 each way) with a three mile hill. It works just fine, even with a front basket full of books and tennis equipment. I also go to the farmer’s market and grocery. Yes, filling up the basket makes for sluggish turns, but if you do it three times you have it figured out. Moreover, the point of a bike like this is freedom. You don’t need to mess with extra racks, panniers etc. You remember that you need a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread on the way home, you drop by the store, plop them into the basket and you are off. The point of the bike is that it is “Simple”–get it?

  21. byrdisthewyrd November 9, 2012 9:29 am 

    I love my Simple City bike. I bought the first one sold in Austin, Texas (so they told me), was not a bike enthusiast, per se, but I wanted something to get around this bike-friendly town that didn’t have a bazillion gears and technical bells and whistles it would take an engineer (or enthusiast) to be able to figure out and maintain.

    More recently, I sold my vehicle and now use my Simple City bike as my main form of transportation. Occasionally (but rarely) I use the car2go car share program here, and virtually never use public transportation. I buy groceries weekly – a 5-mile round trip journey – with the front basket full of groceries strapped in with rubber straps and that back panniers loaded up too.

    And it IS very stylish. I’m about as proud as PeeWee Hermann riding around town on my Simple City bicycle, and I get complements just about every time I park it.

  22. Ruth April 3, 2013 6:02 am 

    I love this bike! Easy to ride for someone hitting senior life. Brother has put 1300 miles on his in just over 6 months. I haven not put as much but didn’t ride over winter. This is a wonderful bike.

  23. Erica April 19, 2014 6:44 pm 

    Just had to chime in on the basket load. I’ve had the Simple City 8 diamond frame for nearly 4 years now, purchased it in Madison, WI and road it all around town as a three-season commuter bike, now I use it year-round in Washington, DC. My basket has a forward imprint indicating a 15Kg load limit, but I’ve definitely done much more with grocery runs, beer runs and farmers market pick-ups. The most unwieldy load I ever hauled was 7 watermelons. But I’ve also carried birthday cake in it. Heavier loads (20+lbs) are a little more difficult to turn with, but you get the hang of it. I second the recommendation for bungee cords to secure grocery loads. And the chain guard isn’t foolproof. But I love this bike, would buy it again in a second, and get tons of compliments on it. Many folks ask me where they can get one, but sadly I heard its been discontinued. Maybe GF will revive it someday…

  24. Ken Sturrock December 2, 2014 8:04 pm 

    As a followup, I still use the simple city weekly. One day, after the basket swung around and the bicycle tipped over six times in an afternoon, I finally ripped the basket off the bicycle and just rely on the basil panniers for shopping and a philosophy bag for commuting. Removing the basket also made the bicycle dramatically quieter

    The simple city has been very reliable and remains a comfortable and fast commuter.

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