What would we do were not the countryside dotted with welcoming places of food and drink? For the cyclist, the cafe’s a crucial resource, it enables us to ride, it makes our rides.
The cafe has today become for many people – people who arrive by car – a destination, a place to which they travel in order to go there. This isn’t so for the cyclist, who goes to a cafe in order to go for a ride; for the cyclist the cafe is a resource, not a destination.
And doesn’t that make the cafe so much better! The cafe matters so much more to us.
At this time of year, building the miles and my legs, I wouldn’t make some of the rides I make were it not for the cafe. Yesterday, for example, I set out from Lancaster, over Jubilee Tower and through the Trough of Bowland. At Dunsop Bridge I knew a decision had to be made – either turn right to struggle into the wind to Chipping and then fly north to home, or else a longer, harder route – left with the wind to Slaidburn, up over Bowland Knotts towards Clapham, and finish with a 15 mile push west into the still strengthening wind.
I took the harder option, thanks to the cafe.
A few months from now, when I hope I’m fitter, stronger and leaner, I’ll not depend on them in quite the same way, though still they’ll have their uses. But for now, the cafe acts as both insurance and hospice. Confidence in making my rides gradually longer and harder comes from knowing there are cafes en route. I might not use them, but should I want to or need to, they’ll be there.
The cafe also breaks up these pre-season rides into more manageable chunks. My mileage dropped dramatically in the tail-end of last year, the snow and ice meaning I did no long rides at all through December. But a couple of weeks ago I learned I’d got a place in this year’s Fred Whitton Challenge. So over the next three months I must teach my body to ride more-or-less non-stop for 112 miles over all the Lakeland passes, the double-whammy of Hardknott and Wrynose Passes coming when I’ll already have 100 hard miles in my legs.
Last week I followed a 78 mile route along which I’d identified four potential cafe stops, at Ingleton (18 miles), Hawes (36 miles), Sedbergh (51 miles) and Kirkby Lonsdale (62 miles). Two months from now I’ll aim to use none of them, but last week I used two; after 36 miles into an icy head-wind I was ready for beans on toast at the Penny Garth Cafe in Hawes, and partly because it’s such a quick and easy stop I sank a mug of tea whilst eating my flapjack outside the caravan-cafe on Devil’s Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale – both those places have stronger cultural allegiances with motorcycling, but they’re supremely useful and welcoming to the tired and/or hungry cyclist too.
Yesterday I almost rode on at Slaidburn, twenty miles in, but with the climb to Bowland Knotts at 422 metres just ahead, I decided instead to be cautious and replenish myself with a mug of coffee and a couple of slices of toast at the Riverbank Tea Rooms. What joy to sit outside in the sunshine, on 3rd February in the north of England! And what privilege to make such places meaningful to both ourselves and cycling by enrolling them into our rides, into our biographies, into the history of cycling itself.
A few times recently, and again yesterday, I’ve found myself approaching Wray – about 10 miles east of Lancaster – at lunchtime. And I seem to have struck a deal with myself – I stop for a quick lunch (the soup is always quick, and delicious) at Bridge House Farm, so long as afterwards I ride back to Lancaster the harder and longer way, on the north side of the River Lune.
The cafe is a building block in our cycling lives. We use the cafe in different ways at different times. But cyclists don’t just go to the cafe, cyclists have need for the cafe. The cafe is central to the cycling experience, and for that I think it ought to be praised.