a cycling café on arran

velo cafe lagg

those were not the days of comfort, particularly during the winter months. to be more specific, between end october up until easter. those were the very months when a smidgeon of coffee induced warmth would have been more than welcome after the sunday ride. disappointingly however, though the perambulations belonged solely to the mighty dave t and yours truly, the end-of-ride salutations were brief, stood shivering outside the main gates at bruichladdich distillery.

the mighty dave lives in port wemyss at the southern end of the rhinns; i live in bowmore. as near as dammit, bruichladdich is the mid-point between both locations. so if we met each other outside the distillery, rode somewhere and ended up back at the blue gates, by the time we eventually made it home, we'd both have cycled an equal distance. that seemed the only fair way to do it. between easter and october, we could pop a few more miles south for a coffee at what was then known as the croft kitchen. but when debbie started selling coffee in bruichladdich and stayed open all year round, the decision wasn't a hard one to make.

velo cafe lagg

it is purely accidental that debbie's has ended up as the velocipedinal attraction it has become. we simply took advantage of a blank wall to festoon it with cycle-related memorabilia. the rest is local history.

now, however, the cycling café has moved from a period of idiosyncracy to that of commonality and onto verging on ostentation. rapha's pop-up on london's old street has subsequently become a string of cycle clubs across the world, not to forget the inimitable look mum no hands!. glasgow has siempre and edinburgh has ronde, to name but two north of the border, while the cyclists' association with coffee and cake has led to a proliferation of the blighters all across the land. and when i say "all across the land", i'm including the velo café lagg on arran.

not strictly one of the inner hebrides to which islay, jura and colonsay belong, arran pretty much shares a latitude with islay, but is separated by the kintyre peninsula. it has been frequently described as 'scotland in miniature' due to the north end featuring the peak of goat fell, at 874 metres, the island's highest point. the southern end, however, is a tad flatter, ultimately just like the highlands and lowlands of scotland.

velo cafe lagg

the isle of arran is close enough to the scottish mainland to be served by a frequent, 55 minute ferry trip from ardrossan, a ferry journey that has recently benefited from ret or road equivalent tariff, a government initiative that has lowered the cost of ferry travel on scotland's west coast. thus arran, as with islay, now receives a tad more visitors than was once the case. arran's proximity to the mainland encourages just a few more than islay and jura, though they have only a single malt whisky distillery at lochranza, managed by a former employee of bowmore distillery.

yet, while a proportion of those increasing numbers of visitors arrive on or with bicycles, you'd wonder why anyone would install a cycling specific café on the island. but someone has, and one of those someones is christopher hogge, so i posed the question to him.

"The seed of the idea to opening a cycling café was really sown in France, in the cafés of the Col du Croix de Fer, the Col du Galibier and Roubaix.
"A dozen or so like-minded cycling friends from Arran, Ayr and Cambridge would go and ride these cols and end up drinking strong coffee and eating good, simple food to get us on our way. We would at some point always say how it would be great to have a similar place on the island and turn it into destination.
velo cafe lagg "That conversation went on for roughly four years. Finally, this year, we did something about it.
"Velo Café Lagg is actually the old public bar of the Lagg Hotel, at Kilmory on the south end of the Island."

that the trend and demand for cycling cafés is alive and well and living in the firth of clyde is pretty much proven by the fact that arran's velo café opened as recently as march of this year. the car ferry arrives from ardrossan at the port/town of brodick, approximately fourteen miles north east of lagg.

though debbie's on islay currently sports a sizeable bicycle rack 'neath the ground floor windows and features the corner wall replete with all manner of attractive cycling paraphernalia, strictly speaking, it was never designed as a cycling café from the outset. the imposition of velocipedinal activity has been a (welcome) retro-fit. however, the very marriage of the words velo and café would tend to suggest that the example on arran was a bit more specific in its business plan. in which case, what does it offer the resident or visiting cyclist?

"We aim to be a destination café that is welcoming , as well as enthusiastic about what it is and what it does. A cyclists' café for cycllists, run by cyclists.
velo cafe lagg "We have tried to create a unique location that is more than just a café with a few bikes hung on the walls. We hope we are all inclusive and tap into the history and myth of the sport. Most of the mementos in the cafe are either ours or have been given on extended loan from my friends and supporters. We haven't bought things in to fill the space, apart from the flags and a few caps from Prendas. We have signed jerseys that we have picked up along the way, vintage mementos from local ex-racers, a wheel that we broke doing the Roubaix Challenge and the loo wall papered with pages from the Gazzetta Dello Sport and L'Equipe and more.
"We have really good coffee, great home-made cakes, home-made soup, local sourdough baguettes, home-cooked ham and local cheese. Peter and I are life-long cyclists, having both followed Le Tour for as long as we can remember."

from christopher's comprehensive description, it's easily apparent that this is hardly a group of folks jumping on what i might disparagingly describe as the band wagon. arriving in cleated shoes on a polished floor is unlikely to result in disapproving stares from behind the counter.

few and far between are the instances of modernity without their own attendant social media pages and in this respect the velo café is no different, sporting both facebook and instagram pages (we can't all be perfect). when perusing the latter, it is hard to avoid a short series inflected with the assos clothing logo, most obviously plastered all across a motor vehicle. does this mean that the velo café is geared (sorry) towards those inhabiting this end of the cycling spectrum, or do they offer an all encompassing welcome to anyone on two wheels?

velo cafe lagg

"Velo Café Lagg is really for all those who love to ride and I think that comes across in the way we present ourselves on Facebook and Instagram.
"We enjoy our 'Rider of the Day slot, as it really does tell the stories of those that pop in. Our youngest visitor so far was 13 and the oldest was well over 70. We get as many men as women and as many tourers as we do mountain bikers or roadies. There have been no fixies yet!
"I love the fact that some retirees have gone into their sheds and dragged out their old Geoffrey Butler bikes and popped in to say hello. There have also been some great characters who have dropped by; stories of racing on bamboo wheels and an ex-racer who actually rode in the 1984 Milk Race that visited Arran. He still rides the same bike and now lives round the corner from the café.
"What has also come across in conversation is just how deeply rooted and embedded cycling is in the west of Scotland. It seems to have transcended generations and continues to permeate today.
"The Assos connection comes via Peter, who has worn Assos forever and knows them personally. I, on the other hand, am happy to mix it up, but obviously more dedicated to This is Cambridge (I have known Andy for more than 30 years), but I'm also happy to wear Assos, Rapha, DHB etc., though I generally stick to Rapha pro-team bib shorts!
"Assos came to the café at the end of April, bringing their team car to support an 80km ride, incorporating 1200m of climbing. We also held an evening shindig where Assos' UK sales manager, Philipp Schwedthelm, gave a talk about the brand's history and their products."

velo cafe lagg

as i mentioned above, scotland's west coast islands have benefited in recent years from a substantial increase in visitor numbers, including those on bicycles. it has been more than noticeable on islay and jura, so christopher must surely have observed a similar trend on arran?

"Since moving to Arran in 2007, I have seen a massive increase in cycling generally. That may be due to various factors; Britain's track team successes, Sir Bradley's 2012 victories, Glasgow's 2014 Commonwealth Games, the Tour De France in Yorkshire, the Tour of Britain in Glasgow, Moffat, Dumfries etc.
"As you said, Road Equivalent Tariff has had a huge impact on the number of visitors coming to Arran and the isles. The number of cyclists is incredible. Arran often sells itself as 'Scotland in miniature'; an island loop is 56 miles, with over 1200 metres of climbing; we have three main climbs that really are challenging. Arran really is the cyclists' perfect playground, with many well established trail and mountain bike routes too.
"This year there will be at least three sportives, two triathlon weekends plus Grindura, an on/off road event. The only other Grindura event is held in California, so yes, remarkably, Arran is on the cycling map. We'll be helping out as a water stop/feed station for all of the above listed events. Velo Café Lagg really is almost at the end of the world, but thanks to social media, people now know where the end of the world actually is."

velo cafe lagg

cafés are perhaps not identifiable as the progenitors of an exciting future. once the art of a masterful double-espresso and moist carrot cake has been achieved, the principal challenge would surely be to maintain both those features. but given that around a decade or so ago, the idea of a cycling café would have been laughed out of 'the lion's den' by anyone with the temerity to ask for a few pennies more, perhaps the idea of planning for a more ambitious future is not out of the ordinary. in which case, what are the future plans for velo café lagg?

"Our immediate plans are simply to continue as we have started, to provide a real experience, a quality of reception as well as great coffee and good food.
"We are also hoping to do more café-centred ride-outs, plus a ride along the lines of the 'Ride of the Falling Rain, but ours will recreate the route of the 1984 Milk Race that was staged on Arran."

grindup arran

monday 22 may 2017

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