The final weekend of the Coffeeneuring Challenge approaches, and as part of the final week festivities I took the opportunity to chat with four-time challenge finisher John of #BikeDC.
You may know John from Twitter (@dirteng) or through his blog, Portajohn. John used concepts from the Coffeeneuring Challenge and created a beer and bikes challenge known as the Brewvet. (The Brewvet is a springtime challenge so you have plenty of time to practice up for it.)
A cyclist, coffeeneur, and explorer, John loves to combine bikes and coffee whenever he can (unless he’s opting for a craft beer instead). We recently talked about the appeal and expansion of the Coffeeneuring Challenge as well as other bikes ‘n coffee-related topics.
1. You were 1 of only 12 people who completed the Coffeeneuring Challenge in its first year. What attracted you to it, and why do you think coffeeneuring has caught on like it has?
The coffeeneuring challenge hits a sweet spot for me – I am a very goal/task oriented person, and though I am reluctant to admit at times, I am an engineer. Adding a somewhat complex set of rules to structure the challenge endears coffeeneuring to my engineering heart/brain.
I moved to D.C. in the first year of the challenge, and was still finding my feet in the city– from a social side, from a “where to get the best _____” side, and from a cycling side. By the time fall rolled around I felt like I had enough of the basics down that I could easily balance exploring new locations with developing a deeper relationship with my local economy.
It would be easy to speculate why coffeeneuring has grown so dramatically in the past four years – but I have no idea. I suspect that some of the growth can be attributed to organically expanding social networks and word of mouth – but I think it goes beyond that.
If you believe that social media is any kind of bellwether for the larger social conscious, then there has been a large growth in what I would call a carefully curated “back to nature/simplicity aesthetic” amongst city-dwellers and suburbanites alike.
Beyond beards and plaid, I see things like gravel grinder/adventure biking, bikepacking, boutique camping gear, no fewer than two bike frame manufacturers who also stock hatchets in their online stores, and hashtags like #outsideisfree, #coffeeoutside, and so on. And what is more simple than a cup of coffee?
So, perhaps making your bike ride into an adventure (even if heading out for coffee doesn’t require a hatchet and 4-inch-wide tires), and particularly the coffee shop without walls concept has drawn people in. One trend also can’t account for all of the growth, though.
And one more reason, which leads particularly nicely into an answer to your next question…
2. What is the coffeeneuring landscape like where you live? How has it changed (if at all) since the first year of the Coffeeneuring Challenge in 2011?
The big bad “G” word – gentrification – has seemingly spread further throughout the region in the past few years. I think this lends itself to the opening of new coffee shops, which may be able to specialize or craft a unique experience.
Not only has the amount of coffee shops in D.C. risen in the past few years, but so has the amount of local coffee roasters. It makes for interesting times, with some new place always ready to explore on the horizon. Fortunately, there is only one place that I can recall that has closed in the past 4 years, and it was replaced with another (but decidedly lesser quality) coffee shop.
3. What ingredients to you think make a good coffeeneuring experience?
I strongly believe that there are no immutable requirements for a good coffeeneuring experience. Sometimes the coffee is horrible, but everything else clicks and it turns out great. That being said – it is helpful to have good coffee, friendly staff, a fun route to and from, and hopefully company that you enjoy.
Quite often a coffeeneuring trip is a moment to stop riding, relax for a few minutes, and think about where you just came from and where you are going. It is a chance to excitedly share your observations with a ride partner, an opportunity to refuel for the ride ahead (and sometimes reroute!), a wi-fi signal to share your adventure online. Those opportunities help to build good memories, and that’s pretty great.
4. I know you are a craft beer aficionado as well an avid coffeeneur. Do aspects of these overlap and, if so, how?
That’s a great question. Well, they overlap so well that I borrowed the Coffeeneuring concept to start a “Brewvet Challenge” two years ago.
Coffee and craft beer have remarkably similar paths – with respect to new places opening and a general rise in popularity. It makes a lot of sense, as much as one can fine tune a blend, a roast, or a preparation method that makes up the “simple” cup of coffee, a brewer can alter the grains, hops, and yeast that make up a simple pint of beer.
The variety and craftsmanship of the coffee roasters/makers and beer brewers is pretty amazing. Oh, and biking from place to place, well – that’s always enjoyable!
5. Do you have an absolute favorite coffee shop? What is it and why?
I’m glad to say that I do not have an absolute favorite coffee shop – If I did I think it would diminish the exploration aspect of the coffeeneuring challenge that I love so much. That being said, I have quite fond memories of many coffee shops or breakfast joints in many locales:
- Peregrine Espresso in Eastern Market is the first coffee shop I visited in DC. I distinctly remember that first visit, while planning our move here I grabbed a table, an amazing espresso and chocolate chip cookie. Out came my laptop and I browsed Craigslist for apartments.
- Cafe Rustica in Somerville, Massachusetts. The owner was always friendly. The coffee was never spectacular. But this spot had a strange charm that kept me coming back quite often when I used to live in Massachusetts. Oh, and the simply prepared bagel with a big slice of tomato and freshly cracked black pepper – perfection.
- City O’ City in Denver, Colorado. My first visit to Denver included a chance stop at this place, a breakfast joint in the AM and a bar in the evening. The breakfast burrito and coffee was a life changing experience. In 2013 when I had a chance to re-visit, the shop had been completely renovated, as had the burrito. I ordered two burritos, one to eat (washed down with numerous refills of coffee) and one to take back to D.C. for my wife. Yes, more of a food stop, but worth the visit.
- Cafe Kitchenette, Munich, Germany. We were lucky to undertake a wonderful adventure in 2013 – Oktoberfest with our good German friends, followed by a bike tour in France. Honestly, the coffee in France is all a blur – but our friends/hosts rented us bikes in Munich and pointed us towards their favorite breakfast spot. A multi-tiered German style breakfast (breads, jams, deli meats, cheeses, soft boiled eggs) was accompanied by some wonderful coffee. It was quite an experience.
6. You are 1 of only 7 people who have completed the Coffeeneuring Challenge every year. What keeps you coming back? Is it all the rules?
It is most certainly the rules. And the biking. And the community. And the coffee. But yes, mostly the rules. And adventure. And rules.
7. Tell us about your coffeeneuring bike of choice.
Though I own a few bikes, only one of them gets ridden on a regular basis, a 2009 model Surly Long Haul Trucker. It is my do everything, go everywhere, reliable and comfortable companion– equally suited for coffee, beer, ice cream and adventure of any sorts. I will admit though, I am strongly considering a “Shimergo” conversion.
8. What did I forget to ask you that I should have?
When is the “District of Caffeine: Bike rides and coffee drinks in our nations capital” book coming out? Seriously. Something like Hop in the Saddle). Not only would I gladly purchase a copy, I would be a happy contributor. (Perhaps a conversation for FridayCoffeeClub.)
Excellent food for thought, John. Hmmm…