Vancouver cyclists' café offers different spokes for different folks

March 7, 2012

Head into the Musette Caffe, by back-alley entrance only, and don't worry about locking your bike outside. Double park it under the TV showing reruns of the Giro d'Italia.

Vintage wool cycling jerseys and European racing memorabilia line the walls of this cycling-themed café. Two customers in spandex and cleated cycling shoes play foosball in the back while people wearing business attire and holding helmets sit at the two long tables that fill the room.

It's 5 p.m. on Thursday and a commuter from Kitsilano chats with a downtown bike courier and a bike mechanic at one of the tables about an upcoming race over the weekend.

"Are we talking bike talk?" said a barista behind the counter, grinning. "Because that's why we have this place."

The café, located in a downtown alley between Hornby and Burrard, will cater to the daily commuters whizzing by on Hornby, now that it has a bike lane, or the weekend warriors who want to park their ride without carrying their own bike lock.

The owner, Thomas Eleizegui, hopes it will be a new hangout for cyclists – the first cycling-oriented coffee shop in Vancouver, where people can meet, pump up their tires, and grab a coffee.

"Cycling and coffee shops go hand-in-hand," said Kevin Noiles, who was wearing jeans and cycling shoes. "It makes sense."

Even the food is geared toward cyclists. David Vuket, a nutritionist and avid cyclist himself, will make homemade energy bars along with the soup, pastries and Nutella sandwiches.

A musette, the owner explained, is a small tote bag used to pass meals to cyclists during a race. The walls are lined with musette bags that he has collected over the years.

An Italian native, Mr. Eleizegui said that every coffee shop in Italy is a place where cyclists hang out.

"All my friends in Italy are laughing at me because there's nothing like this in Italy either. It just brings me back home, right? Because they watch a lot of races and they're pretty fanatical over there."

The space will eventually have bike locks available for outdoor parking that will be guarded by a security camera, and room for eight to 10 more bikes inside the café – a nice perk for racers who don't like parking outside for fear that their expensive bikes, or parts of them, will be stolen while they are inside. A single wheel for a high-end bike can cost around $1,000.

There will also be a bike pump and basic tools available to repair a flat tire. Eventually, Mr. Eleizegui said, a mechanic will be around on the weekends for minor fixes.

The owner is combining his expertise in style and cycling in this retro-styled coffee shop. Mr. Eleizegui has worked as a buyer in the high-end clothing business for 23 years, and he also built and managed a road cycling team out of West Vancouver for almost 10 years.

There is a custom-painted espresso machine to match the bike on the wall – Bianchi celeste green – which also matches the coffee cups.

A mix of friends and cycling enthusiasts showed up on the first day of business and said that Vancouver needs more spaces to gather, especially downtown. A grand opening is scheduled for April 1.

"The city will be evolving whether we like it or not – bike, walk, transit, that sort of thing. A place like this is really needed to bring that together in style," said Doug Gook, a passerby off Hornby Street.

In a city count, more than 50,000 people travelled on the Hornby bike route last August – the first summer that the lane opened.

Before that, businesses feared a loss in parking would result in fewer customers after Hornby Street was reduced to two driving lanes. But the Musette Caffe is planning to take advantage of the increase in bike traffic.

The owner has ambitious plans to turn the café into a cycling hub where new riders can learn basic road-racing techniques.

His dream, he said, is to sponsor a team with the café logo. He has 40 racing outfits on order to start the team and is looking for more women to join.

"My goal is to build a community. People don't know what to ask for when they go into a bike shop. We can help," Mr. Eleizegui said. "I want this place to be like a home, you don't have to be a cyclist to come in here."

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