Saffron Walden is a terribly nice market town in Essex, most famous for its yellow cooking ingredient, and more recently Jamie Oliver, who hails from nearby Clavering; but unrelated, other than by food! Hardly surprising then that a new saffron-yellow cafe should open up just off Market Square, in between Starbucks and Costa Coffee. But what's stirred up the residents is that it's a cycle cafe, the inspiration for which was actually the maillot jaune, and not the local crocuses!
There are a growing number of cycle cafes popping up in towns across the country catering to the needs of you and me - road cyclists who need refuelling and the odd inner-tube. But what sets the Bicicletta Café apart is its reputation. Unusually for a new enterprise that only opened its doors in April last year, word got round pretty quickly that the owner and staff there were really friendly, very chatty and knowledgable about cycling too. Oh, and that they had a 'to die for' collection of Italian road bikes on sale as well - something else to salivate over in addition to the succulent carrot cakes. Well, readers of Ride Velo know how much we love Italian bikes... we had to go and check it out.
So what was the inspiration for the new café, business partners Chris Middleton and Niall Fitzgerald explain: "As keen cyclists we wanted to provide cafes that are a great place to hang out during a long bike ride – somewhere to have a coffee, watch some cycling and pick up spares, clothing and snacks to refuel. The town has been left a great legacy by the Tour de France 2014 and we’re keen to keep this alive."
Owner Chris, 48, is no ex pro or anything intimidating like that. He just got into cycling, like many of us, for the benefits of exercise: "I got to my 40s and you start to think about things. My wife and I both lost our parents early - I started cycling for the health side of it. I bought a good bike on the spur of the moment (a Trek 2008/9 carbon road bike from when they were still made in Wisconsin) with a really nice frame. Then I entered the Steeplechase sportive organised by Wiggle 5 or 6 years ago, and completed that - it was a great feeling! After that came Ride100 in 2013 and it's broadened out from there. Now I cycle 5,000 miles a year."
And it's not just Chris who got the cycling bug - his family are massive cycling fans now too. Here they are (pictured below) spectating at the Tour de France in 2014. Chris was lucky enough to ride the first Yorkshire stage from Leeds to Harrogate the day before the actual race in July, thanks to an event organised by his local club, Walden Velo.
During the Tour, Chris and his family met Andrew Talansky and Jack Bauer, domestique for team Garmin-Sharp, in Cambridge before the third stage. Jack went on to famously miss out on his breakaway ambitions during stage 15 when his legs gave up on him 50m before the finish line at Nimes in one of the most exciting sprint finishes of the Tour.
But back to the cafe... Chris had spotted the empty shop near Saffron Walden's main square two years earlier back in 2012 but didn't do anything about setting up the cafe until 2014 when a wave of cycling excitement took over the Essex/Cambridgeshire region, thanks to Stage 3 of the Tour. Keen to keep up the momentum, Chris decided to pursue his dream to open a cycle-themed cafe in the picturesque town, which is near his home in Widdington. He thought, "Let's give it a crack, even though I knew it had its shortcomings in terms of space."
Chris sought out the services of Justin Langshaw at Stamp Design in London and together with partner Niall, they came up with the branding, designed the kit, decided on the colours and had fun researching other cycle cafes; visiting the Rapha store, Look Mum No Hands! and the Velo House in Tunbridge Wells, amongst others. "We tried to pull in all the best ideas from the other cafes but to be different as well in terms of our branding and looks." Everything else is sourced locally; the coffee comes from Hot Numbers in Cambridge and the cakes are made by two ladies who live nearby. "We wanted to go locally for everything. We wanted to open up a place that would be good for the town."
The reason the café has been such a hit has to be down to the staff. Manager Peter Moore was picked for his catering talents having previously owned and run a restaurant in the French ski resort of Chamonix. "We were really lucky in finding Peter - he food he manages to create out of the tiny kitchen space is phenomenal. Sometimes we have 40 cyclists from the Walden Velo club rides turning up all at once and he manages to not keep people waiting. He's doing a great job, as is Assistant Manager, Sarah Paul. We're lucky we've got a really good team."
David Carter, who works weekends at the cafe, is also very passionate about bikes. "He's a great ambassador for the cafe, a great guy. He rides a vintage Colnago. We love the brand because of its heritage, and the C60 in particular, being made in Italy still, and hand-painted, we thought it was very very special." The cafe even have its own Colnago C60 demonstrator model that customers can take out for a spin! Unfortunately we didn't know this until after we'd visited...
So what next for the Bicicletta? Chris's personal ambition for 2016 is to cycle for enjoyment, rather than thinking about stats, a sentiment which we totally echo. As for the cafe; "we've got a really great team, a really good model, we're happy with where it is, if I'm honest. We're just going to press on with what we've got." And what they've got is a happy mix of cyclists and locals enjoying coffee and carrot cake, and more recently, healthy homemade vegetable soups and vegetable juices. Hot breakfasts are on the menu for 2016 too.
So if you're in the area, there are some stunning (and pretty flat) rides organised by Walden Velo on Sundays and Wednesdays in the locale, stopping conveniently in Market Square at the Bicicletta. Pop in and say 'hi' to the team - oh and don't forget to try out the C60. Chris - we'll be back to do the same...and that's a promise!