Friday, 25 November 2016

#Coffeeneuring Challenge: The 2016 Edition

The 6th Annual Coffeeneuring Challenge: Yay, I finished! Autumn of last year is a complete blank for me so presumably I didn't even attempt this wonderfully traditional challenge, and I know I did not complete in 2014.  So I am quite surprised and pleased that I did succeed, on 7 separate occasions, in riding my bicycle at least 2 miles for the pleasure of a hot beverage. 

I have finally figured out why this is such a tough thing to do if I'm riding with Adam. It's all down to the "spirit" of the challenge. See, Adam does not drink hot drinks. But the problem is more than that. We are both "tourists" and love nothing more than spending the day together out on our bikes peering at everything. However, Adam is not a coffeeneur at heart. He does not see the point of stopping -- or 'interrupting' -- a perfectly good bike ride for something as trivial as having a drink.  Drinking is for hydration and drinking from his bottle on the bike while on the move is perfectly adequate and sound good sense to him. Stopping is inefficient. He does it for me but I have to pointedly and directly request it. Hints go right over his head. Yet, how many times have we ended a ride only for him to say "Oh no! You didn't get to log this as a coffeeneuring ride!"  If I didn't know him (and his honest heart) so well, I'd suspect Coffeeneuring Sabotage.  

So this year, knowing that one week of the 7-week challenge would see us in the Netherlands where we would be cycling together every day, I devised a strategy:  get him cold enough and/or present our plans each day as ambitious enough that some kind of proper sit-down stop would be not only (1) welcome, (2) sensible, (3) enjoyable (even for him), and/or, if push came to shove, in some way (4) absolutely necessary.

Fortunately, the weather during our Amsterdam sojourn was fully co-operative! 

But I am jumping ahead to the second part of my 2016 Coffeeneuring Challenge.  

Without further ado, here are my 7 rides in chronological order. 

Destination:  Chilterns Gateway Centre (National Trust), Whipsnade Road, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, LU6 2GY, UK
Date: Sunday, 9th October 2016
Hot drink of choice: Plain Black Tea with Milk (score: average, say 3/5)
Total mileage: 23.8km
Bicycle: Riley the Enigma

Bike Friendliness: 

Quite good. There are bike racks but it is perfectly okay to keep your bike with you and lean it against a table or wall within your line of sight.  This is a popular stop for cycling clubs.

Other Observations:

This was a beautiful morning and it was nice to see so many families out early to enjoy the great outdoors. Lots of dog walkers and kite flyers. After enjoying my hot beverage, I freewheeled into Dunstable to visit Adam's daughter and her fiance in their new, first home.

Destination: Harpers, Half Moon Lane, Pepperstock, Slip End, Bedfordshire LU1 4LL, UK
Date: Saturday, 15th October 2016
Hot drink of choice: Cappuccino (score: again, only average - 3/5)
Total mileage: 7.1km
Bicycle: Petra the Puch Princess Road Bike

Bike Friendliness: 

What you make of it. The proprietors made an effort at the beginning, without considering what cyclists might want or need. This was discussed with them and they have made no move to improve the situation. More detailed comments below!

Other Observations:

Two years ago, I visited Harpers for the first time on a bicycle and noted the less-than-perfect parking arrangements. I have since spoken to the owners and explained that it would be far better to have a solid structure to which a bicycle can be secured with locks through both the frame and wheels. They understood the logic of that. But... nothing has changed. 

As noted during my 2014 coffeeneuring visit, I felt the venue could still work as a mid-ride stop for our local group rides, as bikes could be kept within sight nearer the building if we were prepared to not lock them at all. 

Nonetheless, I have never been 100% happy with this shop as a ride stop and on this visit I finally figured out why.  It is trying to appeal to an upmarket clientele and I don't feel they've got it right for anyone. The  food and produce available in the shop is wonderful: high quality, small production badges, most of it quite local. A shop like this is a good distribution outlet for small artisanal-type producers. But. But. Most of the clientele for the shop visit by car. The proprietors assume that will be the case. The entire premises are arranged to maximise access by car. The cafe is geared to being a quick pitstop after you shop and before you get in your car to go home. It looks and feels like a cafeteria, with counter-service. The decor is cold and sparse. 

Nothing here is welcoming. It's cold, not cosy. Nothing fosters a coffeeneuring spirit. Nothing encourages you to 'sit a spell', visit with a friend, read a book over your coffee. The moment I arrive, I can't wait to leave. So, no more coffeeneuring here. 

On the other hand... it was another beautiful autumnal day and on the way home I pulled over to take some 'beauty shots' of my bicycle and my badged-up Carradice saddlebag. And then two girls on horseback I had overtaken earlier came by and stopped for a chat. 

Destination: The Hub (Coffee Bar & Cyclist's Refuge), 22 High Street, Redbourn AL3 7LL, UK
Date: Saturday, 22nd October 2016
Hot drink of choice: Flat white (score: 4.5/5)
Total mileage: 19.8km
Bicycle: Bridget the Cross Check

Bike Friendliness:

Bike parking stands (of the kind we call 'Sheffield' and Americans seem to call "staple") right out front. Lots of space. 

Other Observations:

The Hub is -- surprise, surprise -- doggone perfect. It can get terribly busy and cramped inside but I don't think I'd want it to grow any bigger!

This ride was a Facebook group meet up with Joaquin. I'd really like to meet more coffeeneurs in the UK!  

Destination: Camden Market, Camden Market, Camden Lock Place, London NW1 8AF, UK
Date: Saturday, 29th October 2016
Hot drink of choice: Flat White (score: 3/5)
Total mileage: 18.6km
Bicycle: Petra the Puch Princess

Bike Friendliness: 

Not much to say. The cafe was inside the market and we used normal street parking stands to lock up our bikes. 

Other Observations: 

I had my brand new Panasonic digital camera with me and to be honest wasn't too impressed with what I was seeing in review mode after each shot. Thankfully, the photos look a lot better uploaded on the Internet! 

As for Camden Market itself, I am glad we arrived before it got insanely busy -- which it did. I am amazed by how many out-of-towners visit here. In fact, the whole market complex is a much bigger deal than I ever imagined. According to the website: 

"Camden Market has been ranked as London’s fourth-largest attraction with approximately 100,000 people visiting the stalls and shops each weekend. The market has approximately 280 stalls and 54 shops. The Camden area generates £1.2 billion from visitor spending and has 24,400 businesses, which is the second largest in London after Westminster. These businesses are responsible for about 275,000 jobs, providing almost two jobs for every resident in the borough."

Wow! We only saw the tip of the iceberg.

Amsterdam Museum, Kalverstraat 92, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Date: Sunday, 13th November 2016
Hot drink of choice: Cappuccino (score: 4/5)
Total mileage:
Bicycle: Lucy the Brompton

Bike Friendliness: 

This was our first occasion to need to lock up a bike somewhere in Amsterdam and was a real eye opener: there is very little parking infrastructure here (other than at train stations). Everyone just cruises up to their destination and leaves their bikes right where they stop. I suddenly learned the solution to that mystery "Why do Dutch bikes have 'cafe locks'?", followed almost immediately by the answer to that other perennial Dutch question "Why are so many bikes stolen in Holland?"


Other Observations:  

Researching average temperatures and rainfall stats for your chosen travel dates -- and developing OCD tendencies regarding checking weather forecasts -- may not help  you much. Average temps for November run about 10C (50F) with rainfall not too far off London's. Don't get complacent!  It was bl**dy cold the first few days. Just above freezing with persistent mist. We aimed to pack light but pack smart and I am pleased to say that, for the most part, it worked. But there were times that we were wearing everything we'd brought.

Het HERT, Cattenhagestraat 12, 1411 CT Naarden, Netherlands
Date: Monday, 14th November 2016
Hot drink of choice: Cappuccino (score: 5/5)
Total mileage: 52.5km
Bicycle: Lucy the Brompton

Bike Friendliness: 

See Ride #5 about parking! However, the cycling infrastructure for actually cycling places is amazing! Time and space constraints prevent me from going into detail but our trips to The Netherlands have, so far, been the only sources of personal experience of cycling without fear of being hit from behind

Other Observations:

I've posted my 'ride report' for the day here. My #coffeeneuring specific observations were my realisation (as we pedaled across a fairly monotonous stretch of flatland on the shoulder of an admittedly-not-very-busy road) that my glasses were so raindrop-splattered I could barely see and I could hardly feel my toes, which meant... Adam would be quite receptive to the idea of stopping and getting indoors for a totally coffeeneuring-friendly stop! 

Destination: Brasserie De Smuiger, Lagedijk 7-9, 1544BA Zaandijk, Netherlands
Date: Wednesday, 16th November 2016
Hot drink of choice: Cappuccino (score: 4.5/5)
Total mileage: 62.5km
Bicycle: Lucy the Brompton

Bike Friendliness: 

I know I am repeating myself here, but... there simply are no parking stands other than at train stations. I've stood outside supermarkets and hotels watching people on bicycles arrive and depart. I've yet to see anything provided (solid or otherwise) to lock up to. Metal railings are good, when you can get them. A lamp post will do in a pinch. But otherwise... it's that whole 'roll up and drop' approach. Cafe lock if you have a working one. 

Other Observations:

The sun came out! You have no idea how happy this made me.  

Also... I love polders

Windmills are pretty cool, too. 


I am very pleased to have successfully completed this year's challenge. More satisfying, however, is a feeling that I have finally figured out what this is all about for me personally and how to go out and ride my bike in the true coffeeneuring spirit. It's very difficult to do all 7 without Adam, so I'm also quite relieved to have worked out a strategy that lets me combine coffeeneuring with our usual touring-style of riding without putting unnatural pressure on him. 

I am struck by how the first 3 rides (all rural) were definitely "autumnal", then no. 4 in London was transitional, then the final 3 in the Netherlands were definitely "wintry"! All 7 days had a beauty of their own and I am grateful that I got on my bike and went for a ride on all of these days.

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