Braking for bike cafes
Sedona Bike & Bean is across the street from a major trail head in Sedona, Arizona. (Jan A Sullivan)
Bicycling and coffee have a strong connection. Riders have been congregating at cafés since the sport became popular in Europe in the 19th Century, and coffee can certainly stimulate the system before hitting the trails -- so it is no surprise that cafés catering to cyclists have cropped up in recent years. Bike cafés are now proliferating in biking-friendly cities, like Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. Riders can get air in their tires and a tune-up, socialize before and after rides and drink excellent coffee.
“This is definitely becoming a boom across London,” said Ben Owen, a fundraiser for a homeless non-profit in the city. He has been to a handful of local bike cafés, including Look mum no hands! where he watched the Tour de France recently. “It’s just great fun to have a café that invites cyclists to be a part of the brotherhood,” he said, “to be among people who love and enjoy and share a passion for cycling”.
The trend has a popular appeal that has reached farther-flung cities in the US, like Pittsburgh, Louisville and Orlando, and international cities like Melbourne, Taipei and Bangkok.
Most bicycle cafés are in cities, but urban or rural many capitalize on their proximity to trails. Sedona Bike & Bean is across the street from a major trail head in Sedona, Arizona; Uphill Grind Bicycle & Coffee is on the Ironman Wisconsin bike route in Cross Plains, Wisconsin; Velo Rouge Café, in San Francisco, named for the red bicycle that hangs above the entrance, is on a bike path that begins in Golden Gate Park and leads to Marin County; Ride Studio Café in Lexington, Massachusetts is near the Minuteman bike path; and the Cog Bike Café is near Dandenong Ranges National Park in Mt Evelyn, Victoria, Australia, at the beginning of the Warburton Trail.
“You just roll out of the bike shop and can be on the trail,” said Damian Auton, who owns the Cog with his partner Libby Evans. “As riders ourselves, we wanted to be where the riders were.”
The Cog repairs bikes on the spot, rents bikes and sells hot and cold drinks, smoothies, energy bars and freshly baked muffins. It is the latter that “are really our specialty”, said Auton. Favourites include the white chocolate and berry (the café is near an orchard).
The café, about 42km from Melbourne’s city centre, opens early and closes when the sun sets to meet the rhythm of its guests, and offers an informal atmosphere where riders can learn about new trails, swap ideas and tips on routes, grab maps, post notices about events and meet other riders to put together groups for long-haul bike trips. Two patrons recently told Auton that the café “is like our church -- it inspires us to continue to ride,” he recounted. A Cog2 is in the works to open in about a month – at the end of the Warburton trail.
On the other side of the globe is the Lakeland Pedlar Café, in Keswick, England, the gateway to the country’s Northern Lake District.
“There is fantastic mountain biking right on our doorstep as well as excellent road biking,” said Maggie Doron, the café‘s owner. Keswick is surrounded by mountains and lies on the C2C, the popular biking “sea to sea” cycle route that crosses the country from the Irish to North Seas.
Decked out with paintings, drawings, posters and cycling memorabilia from around the world , the Lakeland Pedlar specializes in vegetarian whole food, and serves “good, no fuss, fresh food in a relaxing atmosphere,” Doron said, to fuel-up before and replenish after, a long day out in the saddle.
As there are no comprehensive directories, exactly how travelers find bike cafés is largely luck and word of mouth. Even in cities where there are many, there is usually no resource that lists them all; even cycling associations and professionals often do not know where they are located.
Julie Ihle, a Sydney based freelance writer and author of the blog Bike walk eat, discovered Casualties (23 Clarence Street; 02-6584-3375) in Port Macquarie, about a five-hour drive north of Sydney, while vacationing earlier this year. “I was surprised to see it has a vibrant bike culture.”