'There's so much to fight for' - how the UK's cycling cafes are struggling to survive

Cycling cafes by Kitty Pemberton-Platt salutes 22 establishments across the country as they are hit hard by the cost of living crisis

Cycling cafes
(Image credit: Kitty Pemberton-Platt)

For Jordan Addison, the co-owner of G!RO in Esher, Surrey, the problems his cycling cafe is facing at the moment are surprisingly not to do with either the cycling or the café parts of his business.

"From our perspective, any issues or pinch points we are facing, are not due to lack of footfall, I think it's just rising costs and access to staff," he tells Cycling Weekly. "I don't need to go online and say 'please come in' because I think they are. I don't think the issue is customers at all, I think it's wider issues."

Central to this are the rising costs G!RO faces just to stay open. The business's electricity bill went up 420% overnight towards the end of 2022, but it is not just utilities that have shot up, but produce from coffee beans to tomatoes. The south-west London spot has battled to stay open but is well aware that other places have fought this battle and lost.

Addison, however, will not give up. "The resolve was always that we can't let our community down," he said. "So far for us, we've continued on and we're prepared to push through. Community is everything, it's the people that come through the doors, it's not about the money in the bank at the end of the month.

"It is a challenging time, but there's so much to fight for. If anyone has the privilege to have an open shop, the rewards are so great, and what it means for individuals is so important."

G!RO is one of 22 cycling cafes featured in a new book, helpfully titled Cycling cafés, written by Kitty Pemberton-Platt, which was released on Saturday.

"It's a celebration of cycling cafes in the UK," Pemberton-Platt tells CW. "Cycling cafes have always played such a pivotal world in my cycling life. The Rapha Cafe was the first place I met a group of friends that I then became lifelong friends with on and off the bike. 

"It's where I went for food after I got into racing, and now when I just do longer, slower riders, cafes give me a sanctuary. Just give them a little bit of acknowledgement, because they are gorgeous places often run by a small group of people, or family and friends. "

"It's 22 stories of places you've either been to or loved, or want to go to," she continued. "The idea is that it becomes a lovely bucket list for people. There are places I assumed everyone would know about, that people I've shown the book have never heard of.

"If this means more people go visit a cafe, or just slightly change their route to hit a cafe... or even, it still surprises me that people don't want to stop. Without cyclists, these places will stop running."

The foreword to the book is written by Tao Geoghegan Hart of Ineos Grenadiers: "I'm most definitely a cafe stop addict. I strongly believe any bad ride can be turned on its head by a good cafe. 

"That any day with s*** weather can be saved with a 2.5hr ride to a location promising carbs and caffeine - before remembering you also have to get home!"

Cycling cafes

(Image credit: Kitty Pemberton-Platt)

But these sanctuaries are struggling, two of the 22 cafes have closed down since Pemberton-Platt started writing the book: Woodside Welcome in Cumbria, and Look Mum No Hands! in central London.

LMNH! closed in February, with an outpouring of love following the announcement. At the time, its owners said that "the past three years have been very difficult for us and although we did our best to survive, we've come to the end of our time on Old Street".

Pemberton-Platt hoped that the book can inspire people to visit these essential parts components of British cycling culture: "Businesses are struggling, cafes in particular, and a lot of people who start cycling cafes are doing it out of passion, they're not entrepreneurs."

However, as Addison of G!RO points out, the problems his café might face are not down to lack of support from customers, especially cyclists, but wider industry issues.

"We're seeing an unbelievable rise in costs, not only in the case of produce, where the costs have risen significantly, but also utilities, which have increased a huge amount," he said. 

"In other places, rent has gone up. Revenue has never been stronger, we're in a really good space, especially with regards to cycling. It's still a growing sport. It doesn't hit our bottom line as much as we would like it to, and that's simply because in the last two years we've seen a huge rise in costs above the boards. 

"It's sad to see some of the places in the book close down, it's just a challenging time, but it's not specific to cycling."

There are also staffing issues affecting hospitality at the moment, with Brexit choking of a supply of labour to an industry many left in the pandemic and have not returned to.

Cycling cafes

(Image credit: Kitty Pemberton-Platt)

However, when it comes to cycling, and his customer base, Addison is evangelical about the powers of a simple cafe on a high street, as his is in Esher.

"This is not the most enjoyable topic to discuss, but I'm still hugely excited about the potential for anyone who has a space open on a high street or wherever, because I believe in the opportunity to serve as a hub for a community is important, and people need it more than ever," he says "If that means having to fight a little bit harder to stay open, then we should do it."

"I'm a really big champion of community and the importance of the high street," Addison continues. "I don't think the high street is dead. What the high street can continue to offer is the sense of connection, and community. That experience could be the cinema or a coffee shop, you could never do that online. 

"I really passionately believe that the high street is not dead. The challenges we face are not insurmountable, but it's not specific to cycling cafes, it's anything hospitality or retail on the high street."

As for cycling, Addison has not seen a dip since the pandemic boom, despite some of the difficult times two-wheeled businesses have been through lately.

"The pandemic saw a lot more people come back to the bike and take it up for the first time," Addison says. "With each of those booms, we haven't seen a drop off, it has kind of plateaued, people have understood how enjoyable cycling is. I wouldn't say it had decreased, per se."

The 22 cafés featured in Cycling cafés

1. Allex Nutrition
2. Bank View
3. Caffe Velo Verde
4. The Commute
5. The Cycle Collective
6. Destination Bike
7. G!RO
8. I Want To Ride My Bike
9. La ciclista
10. Lantern Rouge
11. LMNH!
12. Maglia Rosso
13. Mud Dock
14. Musette
15. Rapha
16. Ryde Liverpool
17. The South Downs Social
18. Spoke Cycles
19. The Velo Barn
20. Cafe Ventoux
21. Woods, Bikes and Brews
22. Woodside Welcome

Cycling cafes, by Kitty Pemberton-Platt, is out now. It's available to purchase from après sport and some of the cafes featured in the book. A film has also been made about Woodside Welcome

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