It’s all about the
A quick delve into the history records will tell you that the bicycle evolved as a means of conveniently transporting people from one café to the next. Before the Tour de France became the arcane stick-insect race of modern times it was nothing more than a multi-day café-crawl with the intention of sampling the many different Gallic tarts, gateaux, pain-dépices and patisseries scattered around the French towns and provinces. Riders would finish the race in Paris weighing more than they did at the start, with more cake crumbs and coffee stains on their jerseys than road detritus.
The above may not be entirely true (blame Wikipedia), but thankfully the celebration of the relationship between the vélo and the viennoisserie survives today amongst real cycling afficianados. I’ll go as far to say that no ride can be really good unless there’s a really good café en route. The right pitstop in the right place on an established cycle route can seem like a blessing from the biking gods and if the prospect of a slice of cake accompanied by a fine coffee is what often motivates you to get out and ride, you’re not alone.
But what makes a good cycling café? Greasy spoon? English tea-room? Hipster hangout? Tastes vary, even among cyclists and I know I’m hard to please on this front, but here are my suggestions in no particular order of importance:
The café just has to be bike friendly. Real cyclists are universally good people and if a place doesn’t welcome cyclists then nobody is welcome. Stay away. If a place doesn’t offer somewhere to securely lock your bike then it’s a tad inconvenient. This is especially so when it means your only option is to lean your steed up against the window and watch over it whilst you sip your coffee. Bike memorabilia and magazines are often a nice touch, but just hanging a rusty penny farthing from the rafters doesn’t make you a ‘cycling café’. Since I generally ride well-equipped with spares and tools, a nutritious healthy menu has more appeal to me than a few puncture repair patches and an offer to fill water bottles for free(!).
- An important part of Inspiring Cycling’s ethos is to support locally owned businesses and that’s how we like our cafés, which rules out Costa, Starbucks and the like. We also like the cafes to be staffed with friendly, knowledgeable locals who are paid a decent wage. If the staff are bike people too, then even better. The best bike cafés are often attached to a service centre, mechanics shop or bike rental location, which gives you the comfort of knowing you’re surrounded by like-minded souls and empathetic advice is usually close at hand.
- Consistently good quality coffee, ideally ethically produced and sourced, and made with a proper espresso machine. Coffee standards in the UK have really improved over the last 10-15 years, along with our expectations and there’s no excuse for being fobbed off with a spoonful of instant coffee.
- A healthy varied menu that caters for a variety of tastes and diets. I’m talking main-course salads, veggie main courses, gluten-free cake options and a bit of thinking outside the box. I always find a choice between toasties and jacket potatoes as depressing as the words ‘Pub Grub’.
- A good selection of cakes that are tasty, fresh and calorific. Specific gravity comes into play here, which means I tend to favour the bulk of a fruity Borrowdale tea bread over an airy Victoria sandwich. Maybe my northern upbringing has conditioned me to assume I’m getting more cake for my money.
There’s more to add, I’m sure, but writing this has given me a bit of an appetite and the sun is shining outside. Over the coming months we’ll be posting about our favourite cycling cafés, so please fell free to get in touch and share your recommendations. Right, I’m off…