article_APR2015_cycling-cafes

Britain’s best cycle cafes

Posted on 30th April, 2015

The days when cyclists had to refuel with a squished bar of Kendal Mint Cake or a bag of crisps outside a country pub are long behind us. A peloton’s worth of cycle cafes has sprung up around Britain, aimed at the nation’s growing army of bike enthusiasts. From Brighton to Glasgow, hungry riders can enjoy an espresso and a slab of homemade carrot cake, all while planning routes, watching big-screen cycling or getting their bike fixed. With the Tour de Yorkshire taking place from 1-3 May, and set to encourage even more Brits to take up cycling, there’s never been a better time to get on your bike and discover these hidden foodie gems.

The best-known cycle café in the UK is probably Look Mum No Hands in London. Since opening in 2010 it has become a mecca for the capital’s cycling community, both of the ‘to work’ and ‘long distance’ variety. Inside the bustling café there are bikes hanging from the windows, Tour de France yellow jerseys on the walls, and – often – cycling on the big screen. Of course, you don’t have to be a bike owner: Look Mum No Hands serves homemade cakes and pies, and coffee from acclaimed roaster Square Mile, and is always full of freelance types on laptops. But for riders it’s a one-stop shop. You can get your bike looked at by a mechanic in the workshop, go to the monthly ‘bike jumble sale’ or even attend cycling speed dating nights. The café has proved so popular it’s spawned an offshoot in Hackney, and a pop-up on the Southbank.

These days, the London scene is buzzing. As well as the Square Mile at Look Mum, leading coffee blogger Chloe Callow says she also rates the coffee at Rapha in Soho and Peloton in Spitalfields. Meanwhile Tom Hutchinson, a keen cyclist who works in hospitality recruitment, is a fan of the coffee at new south London spot Pedal Back Café, which sells vintage bike gear alongside sourdough toasties.

The great thing about the cycle cafes trend, however, is it’s not just a London thing. You’ll now find them dotted around the country – either on key cycle routes or in cities including Oxford, Edinburgh, Bristol, Cardiff and Newcastle, as well as smaller towns surrounded by prime countryside. Vanessa Brooks, a teacher from Kent, is a fan of The Velo House – opened by husband and wife Olly and Sophie Stevens in Tunbridge Wells in 2014. “Velo House is fab,” says Vanessa. “I go there with my cycling club or just for a coffee with friends and to buy new bike gear. They do a good flat white.” The café, in a former bank, features tables with maps of local cycling routes in the Kent Weald and Sussex countryside printed on top, and has a clubhouse feel, with lots of cycle groups popping in at weekends in full Lycra gear for a full English or avocado toast. Stevens estimates about 25% of the customers are cyclists, though the team have converted a few regulars to the cause.

The percentage of cyclist customers is likely higher at cafes out in the countryside, especially those on popular bike routes. Pilgrim Cycles is housed in a former railway station near Box Hill in Surrey, and the historic Pilgrim’s Way. Meanwhile Route 2 in Topsham, Devon is on the beautiful Exe Estuary Trail, which runs from Exeter to Exmouth. It’s named after the planned National Cycle Network Route 2 which, when completed, will run all the way from Kent to Cornwall. Meanwhile, East Anglian blogger ‘The Cake Crusader’, is a keen rider who reviews cycle-friendly cafes on his blog. He recommends The Olive Branch in the Norfolk village of Tunstead, which shows big-screen cycling and serves Belgian beers.

And so to Yorkshire. The area is gearing up for the Tour de Yorkshire from 1-3 May which promises to attract thousands of spectators. The Tour features some of the world’s top cyclists including Bradley Wiggins and five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault. The race is divided into three stages – Bridlington to Scarborough, Selby to York and Wakefield to Leeds. Spectators keen to soak up the cycle café atmosphere, or who’ve worked up a hunger from all that cheering could head to several much-loved spots near the route including Your Bike Shed in York or Dales Bike Centre in Fremington. Or, for something a little more luxurious, try one of Classic British Hotels’ properties near the action. Marmadukes Hotel and Middletons Hotel are both located in the heart of York, making them perfect retreats from the Tour crowds on day 2. Meanwhile, Waterton Park Hotel, Wakefield, and Weetwood Hall Hotel, Leeds, are both ideally placed for the last day of the tour, at the start and end of the route.

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Katy Salter
Katy Salter is our food and travel writer. She contributes to most of the UK’s major food titles, The Guardian and The Telegraph. In 2012, Stylist named Katy one of its ‘Top 20 Food Heroines,’ alongside Mary Berry, Lorraine Pascale and Delia Smith.

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