Daily Life


Roasters roll with the crowd

Hannah Francis and Dannika Bonser on the bike and coffee link

When elegant, high-wheeled bicycles were superseded by lower, faster designs in the 1880s, cycling in Europe and the US was in vogue almost overnight. Italy, in particular, embraced this new form of sport and mobility, and Italy also, of course, had a passion for coffee. And so the affinity between coffee and bicycles was born.

A cyclist's dream of gentle hills, wide roads and sunny weather, Canberra is now putting its own spin on the tradition. You've no doubt noticed the new breed of excellent cafes opening around the city, with bicycles as their decoration - hung from the walls or the roof, or sketched on the walls. Making a statement that for a less-than-obvious reason says we're young, we're topical, and we're generally all-round groovy.

Cyclists frequent these cafes. And now there are hybrid venues in the serious business of - not just boutique coffee - but bike culture, too.

What is it that makes the bike and the bean such kindred spirits? One obvious answer is the kick a coffee offers. As well as being a stimulant to the nervous system, caffeine contains a pain-blocking molecule, and cyclists joke, blackly in the current climate, that caffeine is the last legal drug available to adrenalin-chasing athletes.

There's also the logic of meeting for a coffee and a catch-up after a long ride. You might ride in a group, but presumably the options for conversations are limited until the bike is parked. Thus, the lycra-clad hordes that flock to some of Canberra's best coffee spots.

Popular economist, casual cyclist and federal MP in Canberra Andrew Leigh says that just as cyclists benefit from cafe culture, it also works in reverse, especially at peak cycling times.


''What's great about cyclists for coffee shops is they use the capital stock - like chairs and space - at times when the cafe wouldn't usually be making use of it,'' he says.

Savvy eateries and bikeries are fusing these shared passions.

Co-owner of one of Canberra's hippest and most popular cafe brands, Lonsdale Street Roasters, Alastair Evans, says the idea for a cafe that involved bike culture had been brewing in his head for a while before he started the business two years ago.

''I've always loved both,'' he says. ''It [the cafe] had to be on Lonsdale Street because there was no other place that would've really understood that combination. There's so many bike shops in that area.''

Bicycles adorn the walls of Lonsdale Street Roasters, which also supplies the coffee at the newly opened Celestino, which shares a refurbished warehouse space with bike shop The

Cyclery in Fyshwick. In New Acton, Mocan and Green Grout is also doing much more than making coffee. Over a latte, you can discuss options for you dream bike with co-owners of the cafe, David Alcorn and Myles Chandler, who custom-design and manufacture their ''Goodspeed'' road bikes.

Alcorn says living in northern Italy for a year inspired their business model. ''Coffee culture and cycling go a little bit hand in hand,'' he says. ''An espresso is almost part of the uniform for high-end cyclists.''

Up the road, Two Before Ten has fostered bike culture since it opened nearly five years ago, with staff encouraged to ride to work. Earlier this year, the cafe hosted its inaugural Out on the Townie event, which saw hundreds of fixed-gear and vintage bike enthusiasts from across Canberra ''show'n'shine'' their wheels. A second event is planned for early next year.

Owner Jarrod Deaton says the cafe's relationship with cycling communities happened ''by chance'', but it seems just about everyone's involved in one way or another.

A regular customer, with a penchant for restoring old bikes from the tip, forged a small fleet of single-speed bikes for the cafe, which are used for errands such as coffee deliveries. The cafe also supplies coffee to cycle store Bike Culture in O'Connor, which is equally passionate about coffee and offers a complimentary brew to bike-browsing customers.

''It's a little bit of a barter system,'' Deaton says, with the bike shop giving ''various bits and pieces'' to the cafe in return.

Two Before Ten staff and others associated with the business, including solicitors, designers, suppliers and electricians, ran two teams in the Scott Australian 24 Hour Mountain Bike Championships at Mount Stromlo last month.

Lonsdale Street Roasters and Mocan and Green Grout also take part in cycling events around Canberra. Each of these three cafes has its own specially-designed cycling jerseys.

''We had them made in one of the high-end Italian factories where all of the good stuff comes from,'' Mocan's Alcorn says.

It might seem as though there's a split between serious racing cyclists and perhaps the more image-conscious owners of fashionable custom bikes and ''fixies'' - many of whom would rather drink Nescafe than be seen dead in Lycra. But Evans says that while there are many different demographics of cyclists who frequent Lonsdale Street Roasters, at the end of the day they all have coffee and bikes in common.

''There's mountain bikers and road bikers but also the hipster bikers, but if we can mix them together, why not? It shouldn't be any different,'' he says. ''If you like coffee and bikes, it's simple.''

* Hannah Francis and Dannika Bonser are Canberra Times interns.