Title: Cycling Cafes
Author: Kitty Pemberton-Platt
Publisher: Après Sport
Date: April 2023
Format: Soft-back with embossing
Reviewed by Richard Peploe
It should be no surprise that establishments catering to cyclists’ passion for good coffee (and cake) have proliferated recently, and ‘Cycling Cafes’ showcases a few of the best. Looking at what goes on in the many photographs reminds you of why a good café can be such an integral part of an enjoyable ride; the hope is that you will be tempted to get on your bike and savour your preferred outlet.
‘Cycling Cafes’ isn’t an extensive directory (or rating) of cafés, in the way that Simon Warren manages in his ‘100 Climbs’ series for hills: it’s more about showcasing some of the best-in-class, and so is better compared to Michael Blann’s coverage of a small number of iconic climbs in ‘Mountains’ .
Pemberton-Platt calls her book “a celebration of the UK’s endearing cycling café scene”, and you can get a flavour of what is on offer at the Après Sport website – including a great video about constructing a frankly ridiculous ‘ultimate sandwich’. Well worth five minutes of your time.
She showcases 22 cafes where the owners have gone out of their way to give cyclist’s what they want, starting with a warm welcome.
We all have different priorities, but things like good security, suitable seating arrangements, an appropriate menu, speedy service, and some link to cycling are almost universal; that link could be posters, pictures, jerseys, books, magazines, route maps, or even a workshop.
Beyond that, I really enjoyed discovering some of the more esoteric offerings from the owners that only cyclists would fully appreciate: Caffe Velo Verde (Nottingham) has a “cleat cleaning station” for example, and La Ciclista (London) have “table hooks for your helmet and a heater for your gloves.”
The popularity of cycling-friendly cafes mirrors the popularity of coffee shops in general, but I don’t think that is the only reason for their success: I suspect that they also provide something of a virtual clubroom for those who are not part of the traditional club scene (which often prompts social gatherings).
I say success, but it is surprising how many don’t survive: although Pemberton-Platt reported that “during the making of this book, Café Ventoux unfortunately closed”, it later transpired that it was only temporary “in order to establish a new and improved space for cyclists”. An update note is included: false alarm there.
However, since publication, a further three really have called it a day: Woodside Welcome (Carlisle), I want to ride my bike (Cardiff), and Look Mum no Hands (London) – despite it being generally accepted that the latter set an early example of how to do things properly.
Even if you accept that the book is not trying to be a definitive listing of all the best cafes, the first thing you will want to do if you have access to a copy is look to see if your own personal favourite is featured. It hasn’t been made easy: whilst there is a list of entries, the index doesn’t have any page numbers to help you find out more. Odd.
In my local area Musette (Tring) is a logical and worthy inclusion, even though my allegiances now favour Chiltern Velo (partly for reasons of a more convenient location). I am sure that many of you will be able to suggest other worthwhile candidates – probably enough for several more volumes, should Pemberton-Platt decide to head in that direction.
As with any coffee-table style of book, the quality of design and photography is of paramount importance, and Cycling Cafes doesn’t disappoint: given the use of such skills by Pemberton-Platt in her day job, that shouldn’t be a surprise. The result is a pleasure to peruse, and you can see where some of the cost has gone.
To top it all off there is a foreword by none other than Tao Geoghegan Hart, a professional cyclist who clearly has a deep passion for both cycling and coffee. That’s reflected in the training routes published on his own website , where he mentions his favourite café for each – although none are in the book.
Pemberton-Platt invites you to send in your own routes that take advantage of good pit stops, to join those that several of the cafes have already supplied https://www.apressport.co.uk/cyclingcaferoutes ; just be aware that the request is for routes that bypass a cycling café, but I suspect that she really wants ones that pass by a café.
Unlike with her previous book, ‘Eat Bike Cook’ https://kitchenpress.co.uk/portfolio-item/eat-bike-cook/ , Pemberton-Platt has gone down the self-publishing route this time. She has also limited the first edition to a print run of 300 copies, which is a sensible way to minimise the increased risk that she is now taking.
One result is that should you decide you want one, you are limited as to where to find them. You might have noticed them at the London Cycle Show last month, or you might find them at one of the cafes mentioned, but in practice most purchases will be from the Après Sport website (see below) .
There you will discover an additional charge of £3.50. Naturally it covers the postage, but it also includes some really nice work on the packaging, such that the book effectively comes ready gift-wrapped. Is it a bit early to be thinking of Christmas?
Given the relatively restricted distribution, I doubt that all 300 have sold out yet - but the risk of that happening is only going to increase.
‘Cycling Cafes’ isn’t a particularly cheap book, nor is it an essential purchase, but it sure is a unique and interesting proposition; as an added bonus, several of the cafes will give you a free coffee on production of the card included with the book. Even with two of them now closed, you could probably still recoup the cost of the book from the remaining nine!