As a writer and a cyclist, one of my favorite quotes is from Christopher Morley: “The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets.”
A bike ride is a source of inspiration, a way to slow down to a more creative pace, one that gets you from point A to point B, but still allows you to take in all of your surroundings. Of course, a little coffee helps too, as Honoré de Balzac noted in another famous quote.
To put it simply: a bicycle is my vehicle and coffee is my fuel.
There is something special about bicycles and coffee, something that ties them together, and not just for the creative crowd. Take a look around the coffee world, and you’ll quickly find bicycles everywhere, be they in a logo, on a bag of beans, or in the delivery method of a roaster. Now turn to the world of bicycles. Many a ride has begun, as well as ended, with a cup of coffee. Global bike brands like Bianchi and Rapha have bike shop cafes, and there’s even a bike brand that makes an espresso tamper.
This relationship is obvious in bike and coffee capitals like San Francisco and Brooklyn. But even in Paris, where riding a bicycle has long been a maddening mission, and finding a good cup of coffee even more so, the growth of the two cultures have happened simultaneously, a symbiotic relationship that’s evident in not only the riding habits of baristas and roasters, but in the launch of new bike-themed cafes as well.
Today, bikes and coffee are ever present in Paris. Several times when I have been at Café Lomi, I have seen roaster Paul Arnephy come in on his bicycle, and hang it up next to the roasting machine in the back. Every time I go to Hexagone Café, Chung-Leng Tran and I commiserate about the state of Paris bike lanes (they’re there, but they have a long way to go). If you pass by Fragments on a sunny day, bikes will be parked out front. Rainy? They’ll be stashed in the back of the cafe. The bike-coffee connection is alive and well in Paris.
This love affair of coffee and bikes isn’t inherently Parisian, but it’s a pairing that makes sense. “I think cycling and specialty coffee are a bit counter-cultural, or at least not mainstream. That is, in many places car ownership is valued and large brands have cornered the coffee market. It means riding a bike and finding quality coffee requires doing something a bit different,” says Daniel Warburton of Honor Cafe. “Further to that, there are many shared aesthetics between the two. For example, there is a crafted nature in a great bike and a great coffee.”
Warburton, himself an avid cyclist, has built a bike angle into his own business, using two wheels to do some good: since 2010, every September he has done a four-day bicycle trip for charity—the Cycle Challenge—raising money for Street Action, a UK-based nonprofit which supports partner organizations in Burundi, Kenya, and South Africa. All of the money that Warburton raises goes to supporting New Generation, an organization that helps street children by providing housing, food, and schooling. This year, Warburton rode over 440 kilometers, beginning in Calais and ending, of course, at his own Parisian cafe, Honor.
For cycling coffee lovers, this year Paris has also welcomed two bike-themed cafes, Steel Cyclewear and Coffeeshop, and the newly opened Le Peloton Cafe. The Steel Coffeeshop is unique, in that it’s housed in the headquarters of Steel Magazine, a publication dedicated to bike culture. In the front part of the space is the new cafe and bike shop, full of fashionable items for the urban cyclist, even a few exotic items like Portland Airport Carpet Socks from The Athletic. Peruse the bike attire, then sit down in the cafe area, right under the bike hanging on the wall, for a cappuccino or a cup of filter made with Belleville beans. The space has also become a gathering place for Paris’ cycling community. Rides can start and end here, and Steel hosts a variety of bike-related parties.
Le Peloton Cafe is the newest addition to the Paris specialty coffee scene, and its story is different than other coffee shops in town. While other cafes have been opened by coffee professionals with a bike passion, this one is run by bike professionals with a coffee passion. For the last ten years, Christian Osburn and Paul Barron have run Bike About Tours, a well-respected bike tour company that allows visitors to explore Paris on two wheels. “It’s the mid-life, mid-business crisis,” says Barron. “For our ten year anniversary, we opened up a cafe!”
Coffee has always been a part of this business duo’s lives. Osburn tells me that when they first launched Bike About Tours, they used to regularly sit and drink coffee at La Caféothèque after a tour. That was back when it was the only craft coffee place Paris had to offer. It was here that they met Thomas Lehoux (co-founder of Belleville Brûlerie – Paris), who quickly became a friend, and when the time was ready ten years later, he was there to help them branch out into the coffee world. Osburn and Barron have been putting in their training time at Belleville, and now serve their beans in the new space, which is fittingly only a stone’s throw from their original inspiration, La Caféothèque.
“We always wanted interaction,” says Osburn, “it’s why we wanted a bar.” Enter the cafe, and the first thing you see is the bar, circling around the espresso machine, inviting you to stand and chat about bikes, coffee, or whatever else is on your mind. “I’d love it if it [the cafe] was a bike hub for people,” says Barron.
These cafe openings aren’t just indicative of Paris’ ever-growing coffee culture, they point to a wider cultural shift taking place. “I think bike culture is changing the same way that a lot of French culture is changing. People are consuming differently, (the way they eat, drink, move, buy) and biking fits in with that change,” says Lehoux, who is also a big cyclist, pedaling around town on a modified old Helix. “People want to drive less, cab less but retain the freedom of movement.” And that freedom of movement fits in perfectly with exploring coffee culture. “Enjoying coffee can be a nomadic experience, you go to one cafe try a coffee and you keep moving, go to another cafe, try another coffee…riding bikes makes that experience much easier and more enjoyable,” says Lehoux.
A bicycle might be the vehicle of novelists and poets, but it’s also the vehicle of the coffee lover, particularly in Paris. “Paris is the perfect cycling city,” says Warburton. “Distances are not far, the views are beautiful, there’s heaps of cycle lanes and there are more and more good cafes to ride to.”
Here’s to many more cups, and much more pedaling.
Anna Brones (@annabrones) is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in Paris, the founder of Foodie Underground, and the co-author of Fika: The Art Of The Swedish Coffee Break, available now from Ten Speed Press. Read more Anna Brones on Sprudge.