The march of British cycle cafes seems irrepressible. According to CW calculations, of the 40 or so cafes we’ve featured in our occasional cafe guides, 14 opened in 2013, with many more in the pipeline this year.
From workshops with standing space only to an entire building with a bike shop downstairs and restaurant upstairs, from cafes with full events calendars to simple pit stops, instalment four of our bike cafes series is on its way and, truth be told, there’s no end in sight.
Simon Mottram, Rapha’s chief executive, says the company’s cafes, or ‘cycle clubs’, started life as pop-ups in 2010, but have since become pivotal to the company’s brand.
Mottram says: “It wasn’t supposed to make lots of money, it was supposed to be part of the overall offer. Most of the cycle club revenue comes from selling Rapha products, even though half of the space is given over to food and drink.”
He said: “The cycle club is a meeting place for road racing, that is why we’re Rapha.cc: I wanted Rapha to be a cycle club and not a product. It is my ultimate place to hang out with people with the same interest, where you don’t feel embarrassed about wearing Lycra.
“We always meet, or start and finish rides in a cafe, but if I want to watch racing, which is my connection with the sport, where do I go?”
“It [Rapha cafe, London]has been full since we opened; it’s like there was pent up demand”
With clubs in Osaka, San Francisco, New York and Sydney, Rapha will open in Manchester and Tokyo in May and April. In February, meanwhile, the London cc in Brewer Street, Soho, which already makes 30-40 per cent more than other stores, doubled in size, including 30 more covers in the cafe.
Mottram said: “It has been full since the day we opened. It’s like there was this pent up demand.”
Perhaps the most famous cycle cafe, Look Mum No Hands, meanwhile, opened its second London branch last June, and now employs 40 staff. CW met two of its founders, Lewin and Matt, between interviews for a new full-time PR person.
The pair also feel racing screenings are a key part of their offering, as well as an openness to a diverse clientele with their ‘fix any bike’ policy. Since conception in 2009 LMNHs has inspired numerous bike cafes.
When writers from CW recently visited a cycling cafe in Ghent, Belgium, the owner told us she’d always wanted to open a cafe but chosen to theme it around cycling after stumbling across LMNH during a trip to London.
“We spent quite a lot of time talking to Roll for the Soul [in Bristol], and then recently someone came over from Stockholm to talk to us,” said Lewin of other cafes they’ve collaborated with. “We tend not to divulge all our secrets to everybody but with some of them you can definitely see that they’re drawing heavily from us.”
Lewin says: “It’s frustrating for marketeers because they say: ‘Who are your customers?’ Sometimes they can be two or three-years-old with their mum, sometimes they are in their 60s, 70s and they come with their wives, and sometimes we’re selling online in Japan.”
In fact LMNHs is becoming an export, part of the ‘Britain’ brand. On the back of Lewin’s chair is a quilted jacket which he holds up to reveal the cafe’s logo embroidered on the back.
He says: “This comes from a [Union flag-branded Japanese] horse blanket manufacturer, Lavenham, who sent us an email saying they’d love to collaborate with Look Mum, No Hands. I thought it was a joke and then we met them and designed this thing with them and we love it.“Try it on,” he enthuses, “it’s really great.”
Did you know?
Iconic Italian cycle brand Bianchi has put its name to four cycling cafes in Sweden.
Matt pulls a face at the word ‘brand’, but admits LMNH’s brand started with requests for t-shirts, before its ‘podium pants’ (green, and red polka-dots) and yellow, and soon sweatshirts.
His inspiration for the cafe sounds familiar. He says: “There’s more cyclists now and cyclists want an identity through where they visit. When we started [LMNHs] we were really into cycling, subscribing to Cycling Weekly, we’d go every week down to Condor, but unless you go out for a ride, even with a cycling club there’s nowhere to go and sit and it’s a bit uncomfortable 20 of you going into a cafe dripping wet in Lycra.”
Lewin adds: “There is also a connection between cycling and coffee that I still don’t fully understand.”
“For me there’s nothing better than while people are eating, hearing someone bashing a bottom bracket in the workshop and the smell of GT85 in the air,” he adds.
Anne Peek, of the long-established Eureka Cyclist’ Cafe in the Wirral, says her long-established customer base is growing as the sport changes.
“It has always been a popular place, we still have our regular groups which come two or three times a week but we are having a lot more cyclists coming in and a lot more juniors, because junior cycling has expanded.”
Meanwhile, in the South- West, Martin Bult returned from Australia to open Gloucester’s Veloton cafe last August. Bult feels as well as cycling’s increasing popularity the cycling culture in Britain is rapidly changing to reflect long-established habits of countries like Australia.
He said: “In Australia cycling and coffee are very big. A few years ago my [English] friends didn’t want to drink coffee, they wanted to go to the pub after a ride. They looked at me funny if I suggested a cafe. Now they come in here, drink coffee and chat.”