My search to find the perfect cycling cafe continues, as Alan Sugar would say, and this weekend Ride Velo discovered London's hottest new contender for the title at the appropriately named London Velo. Not, as some might expect, in Hoxton, Shoreditch or even Old Street, but in south-east London's Deptford.
Deptford is probably best known as the place where Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe was murdered in a pub brawl. Nowadays, home to salt-of-the-earth Eastend types and immigrants from the world over, Deptford is not known for its cycling scene. And yet when we visited on Saturday afternoon, there were bearded guys sipping savoy cabbage and parmesan soup from jam jars, and creatives on their lap-tops, taking refuge from the freezing drizzle and the noisy street market outside.
But London Velo doesn't sell cereal at £5 a bowl and certainly hasn't been the target of any negative press about gentrification in this run down area. In fact the local community seem to be delighted that the derelict former hair salon has been transformed into a warm and welcoming addition to the high street. 5* reviews abound on Google too and it seems that this cycle cafe has proved to be the perfect home from home for, not only cyclists, but artists, creatives, Mums and toddlers, Goldsmiths' students, music lovers and in fact anyone who lives in and around Deptford.
London Velo has only been open for seven months, but you would never have guessed it as LV has managed to carve itself a niche in the market so successfully. This is entirely down to a combination of excellent research and lofty ambition from owners Sophie and Steve McMillan. There is far more to LV than an excellent flat white and succulent brownies. "People have been really nice, giving constructive feedback face to face. I thought it could be a lot more scathing! People who live here really love it and the market is a brilliant market," Sophie told us.
Rather than start slowly and gradually build the brand, London Velo wanted to offer everything a cyclist could possibly want from the off. Not only do they welcome bikes into the shop, but they will service or repair your steed while you munch away at their locally-sourced all day breakfast. You can buy a fixie, commuter, road or even fat bike, along with their tastefully designed own brand cycling kit, or just a puncture repair kit.
But London Velo doesn't stop there... if you can't afford to buy they will rent you a bike for the day. They host events for local cycling club Dulwich Paragon and work in conjunction with London University's Goldsmiths' College Cycle Society. They organise their own club rides too and even have a monthly DJ night in their cycling themed back garden!
"We live locally in Brockley," explained Sophie who previously worked in retail at the V&A museum. "We fell in love with the building - it was a blank canvas and we took on the challenge. We started work in March, opened in late May and our mechanic started two weeks afterwards."
"We went to a lot of cafes when we were planning as we wanted to appeal to a broad range of cycling needs. My partner Steve did a ride in Amsterdam and was keen to research the local bike cafe culture there but was disappointed to see that cycling is such a normal, everyday activity that the bike shops were purely practical because everyone uses them. I cycle but I would describe myself as a fair-weather cyclist. Steve does a few sportives a year but we didn't want to be too exclusive. No bike snobbery here!"
So what does the future hold for the newest addition to SE London's cycling scene? Transport for London is planning to create a 'Quiet Lane' cycling route through the zone which is currently in the consultation stage. When it opens this should really boost cycle traffic in the area which (to be honest) I try to avoid cycling in, as the many HGVs on their way to the A2 are more than a little off-putting. Sophie and Steve want to build up the rides next spring and a quieter route out of the city would certainly be a help.
The couple are also working with cycle company Aprire on bike customisation. "We don't keep too much stock on site but we can adapt and customise bikes including paint customisation with a lacquered finish." They want to build up their website and sale of apparel and gifts, which have already proved very popular, with London Velo branded T-shirts selling out quickly.
But there's one asset that Sophie and Steve have yet to exploit - Maurice. "Maurice loves the attention," said Sophie. Customers have suggested that they put Maurice's face onto a T-shirt but Sophie said, "I'm not sure if we're going to do that!" What do you mean Sophie, surely that's a no-brainer - we think that 'grumpy dog' could go viral!