Starting and ending a bike ride at a cafe has long been a tradition in continental Europe. But the concept of a cafe dedicated to cycling is a much newer phenomenon—just a few months actually, if you’re in Paris.
Australian Chris Fuller and Englishman Jacob Burke opened the first cycle cafe in Paris last February. While a few cafes catering to the cyclist lifestyle already exist, La Chouette is the first to tuck a full-fledged bike repair shop inside a wood- and brick-lined cafe. Fuller and Burke decided to open La Chouette after their online business selling custom-built, mostly steel-framed bikes took off. Both being certified bike mechanics and competent baristas, they figured, why not open an actual store? They picked a perfect time to do it, too.
While Paris lags behind its European neighbors in terms of bike-friendliness, a plan unveiled in April 2015 by Mayor Anne Hidalgo intends to see the city catch up: over a five-year period, €150 million will be invested in doubling the city’s current 700 kilometers of bike paths. Bike “expressways” running north-south and east-west, as well as a stricter stance toward misbehaving motorists, are intended to encourage more commuters to ditch their cars.
“Paris is such a tiny city, you can get across it [by bike] in 25 minutes. Why take a car?” says Fuller. “Our underlying philosophy is really to get as many people on bikes as possible.” Granted, the day we met it had been pouring for days, and even Fuller admitted that the Metro can be appealing at times like that. Nonetheless, a few brave cyclists stopped in for quick repairs that afternoon; the shop sees 10 to 15 customers on a good day, perhaps half that on a miserable one.
“People are opening their eyes in Paris to the fact that bikes are an easy way to get around,” Fuller says. And he and Burke are trying to make it even easier for people to get on bikes by creating an approachable place to buy one, ask for advice, or get a repair done. Coffee is their secret weapon. “It’s a way to get people to stay in the store a little bit longer, to be able to speak to them a little bit more, and create a nicer atmosphere than the other bike shops in Paris,” explains Fuller. “I feel like in other bike stores people can feel intimidated by the bike experts. If you ask what’s perceived to be a silly question, they might kind of look at you sideways. We want to create an environment where people don’t feel afraid.”
Customers are welcome to hang out in the front room with a Belleville Brûlerie latte and watch their bike being fixed or settle in the back room with a fresh bagel. Those in the market for new wheels can check out a sample of Fuller and Burke’s work on the stand in the back; seven or eight bikes are always on display. “We really try to have something for everyone, in every price range,” says Fuller.
Fuller admits he expected their clientele to be a little younger and more bike-obsessed, but the welcoming cafe setting has drawn a surprisingly diverse crowd. “We see everyone from the people working for food-delivery services to elderly women on their old Dutch bikes, and families as well,” he says. “Sure, we do get the guys with the $5,000 bikes coming through, but also a lot of everyone else, which is really nice.”