Coffeeneuring is Coming: An Inside Look at Coffeeneuring in Milwaukee

After five years in existence, the Coffeeneuring Challenge is becoming a fall tradition. For most of us, coffeeneuring never truly stops, but there is something especially enticing about the cool fall air, crunchy leaves under our wheels, and rides to coffee (or other coffee-ish) beverages with friends.

This year, I talked with people in a couple of cities about their coffeeneuring exploits. The first is Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Five people finished the Coffeeneuring Challenge, including one dedicated five-year-old girl.

I wanted to find out more about the coffee scene there and learn more about what it is like to ride a bike in and around Milwaukee. Jason, Michael, Joe, and Sam graciously filled me in.

Sam also provided a beautiful coffeeneuring photo set, and all images appearing in this post are his. If you ever find yourself in Wisconsin, there is some fine coffeeneuring to be had. 

Coffeeneuring Milwaukee

Milwaukee, you surprised me, by having 5 people officially finish the 2015 Coffeeneuring Challenge. What makes Milwaukee a good place to coffeeneur?

Jason: This year was particularly easy, due to the unbelievably mild winter, but otherwise Milwaukee has a great handful of independent roasters in a variety of distances and more popping up every year.

Many of them are located on or near bike trails, which makes them even more of a destination. And of course, hot coffee is made all the better on a cold day.

Michael: For its size, Milwaukee has a healthy number of coffee roasters with cafes and also cafes without coffee roasters. In many parts of the city, there are 3 or more independent coffee peddlers (woah bike pun) within spitting distance of each other.

Biking infrastructure here gets better and better all the time, so it’s easy to cycle to different parts of the city to try out their concentration of cafes.

Joe: A good number of local coffee roasters and cafes, some good biking infrastructure and fall in Wisconsin is gorgeous!

Coffeeneuring Milwaukee

I was in Milwaukee for work during the summer last year and really enjoyed the espresso from the Colectivo in the Third Ward. I also purchased some espresso beans when I was there. So good!
As I was reading through submissions it appears there are several good independent coffee shops in town. What is the coffee scene like in Milwaukee these days and what are some of the best places to go coffeeneuring there?

Jason: Indeed Colectivo is great. They were among the first wave (if not the first) of independent roasters in the city, but stiff competition has given rise to superior products from lots of other shops.

I’d have to give a shout out to Valentine Coffee, where, inspired by the Coffeeneuring Challenge, we conceived of the Milwaukee Winter Bike Challenge.

Cedarburg Coffee Roastery has a great, meaty Sumatran coffee, though.

Michael: I’m an Anodyne die-hard. It’s my second home. My kids and I bike there a lot. They have a kids’ table and a bunch of toys to keep the kids occupied. Though to be honest, they recently installed a wood-burning pizza oven and the kids now prefer watching fire cook pizza super fast to playing with toys.

They also love Anodyne‘s hot chocolate (or “warm chocolate” as they insist on calling it) and array of vegan baked goods.

Joe: My sense is that for a city our size, we’ve got a very solid coffee scene. Two of our local roasters are over 20 years old (Colectivo, Stone Creek) and Anodyne is over 15.

Plus we’ve got some newer blood with the very well-regarded Valentine and Hawthorne Roasters too. Can’t go wrong with any of those locations plus there are a decent number of independent coffee shops in neighborhoods like Bay View and Brady Street.

Sam: I know a bunch of people who have very quickly graduated from just ordering coffee to making pour-overs and cold brew each week. I think having the great caliber of shops in Milwaukee has helped create a much more informed customer.

In addition to the steady growth of shops in the area, many have really stepped up to be community activators, places for meetings and music, events and education.

Coffeeneuring Milwaukee

What is the current state of urban cycling in Milwaukee and how would you describe the cycling community? During my visit, I saw several commute cyclists, but didn’t know how common that was.

Jason: Urban riding is on a slow climb up, but the city is generally stubborn about providing, maintaining and upgrading cycling infrastructure, which is the biggest impediment. It’s way better than it was 15 years ago, so I shouldn’t complain. I just wish they would move faster and think more innovatively about it.

The key to year-round cycling is layers and a tight seal. Block out any wind getting under your shirt and you’re golden. The #mbcwbc hashtag on Instagram is good inspiration, too.

Michael: I’ve been a daily, year-round bike commuter for six years and each spring I’m shocked to see how much more popular bike commuting becomes. At my work, we have a dedicated indoor bike parking area.

When I started, there was only one bike rack and it didn’t get filled very often. We’ve now expanded to 3 racks and once spring hits, they’re totally full most days.

Winter is another story. There are only four or five of us eccentric psychopaths who crave black ice and negative windchills. That said, I pass several other cyclists on my five-mile commute, even in the deadest parts of winter.

Joe: Jason and Sam are more involved with bike advocacy so they’re probably better judges of where we’re at than I am.

There are definitely more people bike commuting than there used to be when I started my off and on commuting over ten years ago. Our bike federation does great work and the city has been taking bike infrastructure more seriously.

As far as the overall cycling community, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the bike event that takes place in the neighborhood Sam, Jason and I call home, the Riverwest24. I guess technically it’s a coffeeneuring ride provided you take advantage of the free espresso shots from Colectivo on the route. I certainly have.

Year-round commuting is definitely picking up too. Jason and Sam run the Milwaukee Winter Bike Challenge as well. Personally, I pick my spots during the winter.

Sam: Bicycle commuting numbers have definitely been growing well but overall the bike culture is heavily fragmented. The past couple years have brought a couple of events/groups that try to bridge the gap but it’s tough to get a concerted push for advocacy or building infrastructure.

Also, the city hasn’t updated the bike route map in five years, and they also haven’t reprinted them, so that’s pretty lame. But we have a great Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator at the city now so I’m hopeful that the situation will continue to improve over the next decade.

Coffeeneuring Milwaukee

Which coffee spots in Milwaukee cater to cyclists, or are particularly bike-friendly?

Jason: Anodyne in the Walker’s Point has bike racks with mini coffee tables. Colectivo in Bay View has tons of hanging bike parking and they sponsor racing teams. Many participate in the Bicycle Benefits program.

Michael: Most cafes do a passable job, but I have to give kudos to my friends at Anodyne here again. At their newest location (not near my house), they’ve really given a lot of thought to bike parking.

They have several racks, and a few of them even have stands on the top where you can set your coffee when unlocking your bike. Now that is service!

Joe: Colectivo probably edges out the rest as the most bike friendly. Their French Roast is called Velo ( Stone Creek has a couple bike-named roasts too.), at least one of their locations has a bike parklet, they have bike pumps at their cafes, and their Bay View location has a bike accessories (tubes and such) vending machine. They used to sponsor bike teams; I’m not sure if they still do.

Coffeeneuring Milwaukee

In recent years, “coffee outside” (“coffee shops without walls,” as I like to call them) has gained popularity. How has it caught on in Milwaukee?

Jason: On its own I have seen a few people try to get this off the ground, but I haven’t actively participated in it. We help run a Bike to Work Week station in May that provides coffee, pastries–and on one day, even bacon.

We always talk about continuing this every Friday, but so far have yet to follow through with it.

Michael: I never coffee outside! Sounds like fun though. Sam, can you arrange that?

Joe: Not to my knowledge, but since I’m not much of an outdoorsman, I really haven’t done it myself.

Sam: Even as #coffeeoutside takes over the bike world I’ve seen no evidence of it in Milwaukee. I think the fragmented bike culture has a lot to do with that.

Few people plan events, even fewer attend them if it’s not a race or training ride. Casual and fun events are rare, unless they’re 95% college-aged-kids and beer is involved. It’s pretty frustrating, actually.

Coffeeneuring Milwaukee

I’d like to take a moment to give Michael’s daughter E- a shout-out. At five years old, E- was the youngest coffeeneur, and also the only girl in Milwaukee, to complete the challenge. Any plans to recruit more women and kids in future Coffeeneuring Challenges?

Jason: Coffeeneuring for us (Sam and I) was more about taking a break from advocacy and just hanging out and not working. Both of us are kinda workaholics. I would love to see more people coffeeneuring, but I’ll have to consider whether I want it to turn into another thing I need to worry about.

In a nod to the coffeeneuring inspiration, our Winter Bike Challenge includes coffee outside (Challenge #15) and there are several women who participated in this challenge. I have seen women from Milwaukee use the #coffeeneuring hashtag without participating in the challenge, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see this grow organically.

Michael: E- is so proud of her coffeeneuring accomplishment that she even bragged about it to Santa. It’s funny hearing a five-year-old say that she’s the only WOMAN in Wisconsin to complete the challenge.

My son is three and I hope to get him on two wheels this spring. Who knows, maybe he’ll complete his first coffeeneuring at four and show his sister up! We usually do our outings on Saturday mornings while my wife works, but I’d love to get her to participate next year, too.

Joe: We need to put a little more effort into recruiting, period. This year’s showing was just a happy accident!

I think we all more or less decided to do it independently and cobbled a ride or two together. Jason and Sam are plugged into the local bike scene so I hope we’ll improve on having better representation in general and more women as well.

Sam: There have been a few women-focused coffee bike rides in the past couple of years, and I expect it wouldn’t be too hard to get them on the coffeeneuring train. Like most things it’ll take a little organization to get the idea out to more people and encourage them to gather their friends and ride.

Coffeeneuring Milwaukee

What’s next for Milwaukee coffeeneuring?

Michael: More miles and more coffee!

Joe: We’ll try to do something a little more organized next year and make more of an effort to get people interested!

And while I prefer rides that just start from the house, I want to take one or two coffeeneur rides outside of the city to change things up a bit.

Sam: I would really like to see us get coffee shop buy-in with the idea, their social reach could be a great influencer. But I think my main focus would be on inspiring people to engage with their friends in the super-minimal planning necessary to complete the challenge.

I like the idea of having an Opening Week event, finding simple ways to prod people through the seven weeks, and then having a big ride to finish strong.

Our big finish ride at Hawthorne Coffee this year was really great, I want everyone, regular cycling or not, to get a chance at that experience.



  1. Great entry/article! I am excited for coffeeneuring too again this year. Just sucks that in my town, it has to be the same 7 places probably due to no infrastructure and no new coffee shops either.


  2. Seems like a lot of fun! One question: what’s coffeeneuring? I read the article twice and hate to admit I still don’t get it. How about adding something to the piece?


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