The London Bicycle Café is a space unlike any other in the city.
It’s a community hub that puts quality first, whether on wheels or in a mug.
Ben Cowie, owner of the London Bicycle Café, explains that as much as this shop is a place to sell great bikes and coffee, it’s also a business focused on building a community of people who want to bike in the city and giving people who ride a home.
At first glance, bikes and coffee may appear as an unlikely combination.
“Coffee makes bikes accessible”, Cowie says. “A lot of people haven’t been in a bike shop in 10, 15, 20 years and maybe their entire life. We want to give people a reason to come into a bike store and think about what their life could be like if they had a bike”.
He recalls a time in his life when he used to cruise around his neighbourhood, enjoying the freedoms of being a kid. Cowie says he sees the same freedom in his customers when they leave the store with a brand new bike.
A perfect fusion
This fusion of fusing café and retail space is not new to the world of small businesses. Cowie explains that the term is called “coffee-shopping” and it encapsulates the idea of placing a coffee shop in a regular business.
“If you look around, you can see that this is a different atmosphere than a bike shop,” Cowie observes. “It’s a comfortable place to hang out, whereas bike shops have that reputation as a comfortable place to hang out only if you’re part of the club.
“A coffee shop makes everybody part of the club.”
Currently, there is a small but committed group of cyclists within the London community. The majority of people stick within the realm of sport biking, with facilities like the Forest City Velodrome providing space for indoor tracks and races.
“There’s lots of people who ride bikes (in London) but there’s not many people who ride bikes every day,” Cowie says. “So we want to open biking up to people who don’t think of themselves as an athlete. This is a regular people’s bike shop”.
They are a shop with a keen emphasis on dedication and reliability, selling high quality bicycles that are meant to last. The major difference between independent bike shops and department stores, Cowie says, is those bikes cost less up front, but they’re not built by a professional technician.
“They don’t have quality parts so they end up falling apart anyway and never really give you a quality ride,” Cowie says.
He adds he wants customers to see this shop as a personal bike concierge – helping you find the right bike that fits your budget and your needs.
Quality rides, quality brew
Quality is an apparent theme throughout the shop. Not only are the bikes handled with care and precision, but the coffee is too – easily some of the best in the city.
For Jenn Dylowicz, the resident barista at The London Bicycle Café, making that perfect cup of coffee comes down to a science. She explains they follow very specific recipes to weigh and time everything to make sure the end result is well-balanced, properly extracted and consistent for the customers.
Using a manual espresso machine means maintaining a meticulous focus on numbers and proper calibration.
“Even when getting the water to come out, we have to decide what level of water, we have to make sure that the pressure is proper, we have to actually steam and stop the steaming ourselves when it gets to a certain temperature”, Dylowicz illustrates. “All of that kind of comes together to create a really good cup of coffee”.
She explains that in the early stages of the business, she and Cowie knew that if they had the right tools, they were going to produce a really good product.
Supporting local arts
The space in itself speaks to great lengths about their dedication to community inside and outside the shop. Vibrant paintings created by local artist Nigel Pereira line the walls of the lounging area, with print works by Emily Beaudoin on display as well.
What’s more, both artists’ works are for sale, once again fostering the support of London locals.
The London Bicycle Café building was once home to Dr. Disc, a popular record store in London during the ’90s, adding historical value to their location. Cowie notes that with the revitalization that’s going on downtown, more people are starting to live downtown, so being central was really important to them.
He adds that this space is not restricted to adults-only.
“I think most coffee shops have that vibe that it’s not a kid-friendly space, but we have tons of kids through on weekends and with the cargo bikes too we’re helping families get mobile,” he says.
With their latest introduction of the Fluffy drink (steamed milk with sprinkles), kids can have a treat with their families and feel just as part of the community.
The café recently held their grand opening, with around 500 guests popping in over the day.
“It was just amazing,” Cowie explains. “People were having lots of fun trying out cargo bikes for the first time, experiencing our coffee for the first time and just getting a feel for what we’re offering here.”
If coffee and bikes aren’t enough to peak your interest, the shop hosts musical acts for their Song Cycles series on the first Friday of every month. Proceeds from these events go to London Cycle Link – a volunteer organization dedicated to making London a place where citizens can easily choose cycling as their preferred mode of daily transportation.
Whether you’re looking for a better quality bike ride or a beautifully brewed cup of coffee, The London Bicycle Café is your one stop shop for a new kind of London adventure.