Was there something in the air last May? Two cycle cafés we visited (London Velo and the Bicicletta Cafe) launched then. And this Easter weekend we visited the The Freewheel on East Kent's coast, which also started rolling last spring. It's the only cycle pub we've ever heard of - although they serve plenty of cake and coffee too. We were attracted by the prospect of three of our favourite things in one place; bicycles, good food and a beer garden on a sunny afternoon! What's not to like? Ride Velo met owner Adrian Oliver.
We'd worked up quite an appetite fighting the motorway queues to get to the seaside for the Easter weekend. It was a glorious Good Friday and as we approached the coast and the Downs rolled all around us, we could see why this was such a good spot to open a cycle pub. It also happens to be bang on the National Cycle Network's Route 1, which runs all the way from Dover to the Shetland Isles along the North Sea. We didn't travel that far, but we did muddy our bikes exploring the creeks and inlets that proliferate along this stretch of the East Kent coast.
Sitting in the beer garden, along with scores of local cyclists, we met pub landlord (and owner) Adrian Oliver and asked him what prompted him to start a cycling pub when he'd never actually run any kind of hostelry before? "Well, it's a long story really, I was looking for a workshop - I fix things I don't sell things - and I found the ideal workshop here with this abandoned pub attached. I thought I could find someone to run the pub and just use the workshop for my business CyclingAge, but I didn't find anyone suitable. So in the end, I took on the whole project myself!"
Adrian Formed CyclingAge back in 2009 to deliver Bikeability courses to local schools. "We wanted to provide schools with a better Bikeability proposition, so we always start our courses by servicing all the children's bikes (and some of the teachers' too!). At it's peak we were servicing 3,000 bikes a year. My family know that I'm not a practical person, but give me a bike and I can investigate and solve the problem. When you're servicing that many bikes you learn fast!"
"From the Bikeability work we developed Dr Bike surgeries for local businesses and communities, fleet management and a mobile mechanic service. We formed a close working relationship with the University of Kent and now we have a workshop on campus, offering weekly Dr Bike surgeries for students & staff and we've built a hire fleet of 100 recycled bikes for students. This was all great, but we still didn't have somewhere where our customers could visit, hence the need for a new workshop!"
Ironically, the pub now takes up so much of his time that he's had to scale back the CycllingAge training and Dr Bike mechanics. And he was still hard at work on Good Friday, running around with a spanner and fixing customer's bikes. Adrian also plans lots of events to attract customers, cycling and non-cycling alike. On Easter Saturday he organised his second Bike Jumble Sale of kit, parts and accessories with up to 100 cyclists looking for a bargain. The pub also showed two nights of cycling films on its huge screen in the very comfortable looking 'workshop'. "I couldn't resist the alliteration: Friday Night Film Night at the Freewheel," Adrian confessed.
Monday night is Yoga night for cyclists. Does Adrian run the classes? "I wish I could bend that well! No, we've got a brilliant lady doing that who's also a cyclist." The Freewheel runs mechanics courses and recently was commissioned to teach wheel-building. Adrian employs a couple of on-site mechanics - Alexis who previously worked at the London Bike Kitchen, and Chris, who works in between stints singing for the Canterbury Cathedral Choir. He's never around on Sundays or Easter weekends!
The pub organise their own rides on Sunday mornings typically covering 25-30 miles of the great hill climbs and descents that the Downs have to offer. Does Adrian lead these? "No, I'm also a church organist, so on Sunday mornings I'm always playing!" A man of many hidden talents, clearly. Local cycling clubs have embraced the new pub too including Thanet, Canterbury CC and the Ashford Wheelers. As for Adrian, he likes a variety of riding: "More recently I've got into utility bikes; I'm getting back into road cycling; I love mountain biking - though my friends call me the 'screamer' because of the noise I make going down hills - as I get older I get less brave!"
Adrian has based himself in and around Canterbury ever since having his four children. "There's a great variety of cycling here and brilliant country lanes. You can really choose your routes. There's quite a lot of uphill for road bikes and hybrids and lots of mountain biking too. The NCN1 comes right round the back of us. We even get the odd German cycling tourist turning up and asking if they can camp in our garden."
So how many bikes does he own? "I don't know! I have a really heavy utility bike which was designed for delivering things like pizzas. It's a cargo bike but it has this massive hub (Nu Vinci) it's such fun! Also, I've been lent a modern steel bike by the Light Blue which I'm really enjoying riding." I know, Adrian, I was lent a Robinson by the Light Blue too and loved it!
For a man who's done so much, does he have any cycling ambitions left, we wondered? "I would love to do Eroica. I'd love to do the Tweed Run too. There's a group of cyclists from Lynsted who do their own version of the Tweed Run, they dress up in tweeds, cycle over here and drink too much beer! They have a great time, but I'd love to do the real thing but I think I'm going to be too busy."
Yes it sounds like Adrian is going to be kept busy. He's got the Freewheel's first birthday celebrations on May 2nd (May Day) and is planning his own range of branded cycle wear too - in orange and blue- his favourite colours. "They're the Dutch colours, and Holland is the best place for cycling," But the pub was actually named after a device designed by an American - Van Anden - who invented the Freewheel in 1869. "I'm essentially lazy, that's why I love the Freewheel so much." Really Adrian... we find that very hard to believe!