Cycle Cafes: Bikes On Board
What makes an enjoyable cycle ride? For Kitty Pemberton-Platt, what counts is community and good coffee and we find out why they are so important to her
By Amy Sedghi
Photography by Kitty Pemberton-Platt
Like tea and cake, crumble and custard or ice-cream on the beach, some things just go together. Likewise, cyclists and cafes are another one of these pairings that just seem to be drawn to each other. Whether it’s planning a route around a new cafe worth visiting, swapping recommendations of the bike-friendly spots that do great coffee or grabbing sustenance in a welcoming shelter, cafes are an intrinsic part of the cycling community. For creative, and avid cyclist, Kitty Pemberton-Platt, cafes have played a key part in her journey on the bike, and continue to do so.
“I’d say, second to the people, it’s probably been the thing that I’ve navigated cycling through,” she says, as the Hertfordshire countryside sweeps past us and our legs spin. I’ve joined Kitty on a celebratory ride to mark the launch of her latest book, Cycling Cafes – a collection of 22 of the best cycling cafes in the UK, beautifully photographed and accompanied by the personal stories of the people behind them. “Hearing about how and why they built it, the daily struggles… you just feel so much more connected to them,” she describes of the project that was two years in the making and saw her travelling up and down the country.
Finding Her Inspiration
For Kitty, it all began inside a building on Brewer Street, in the heart of London, nine years ago. “I’d just moved to London and I’d had a back operation the year before, so I was trying to find a group of cyclists that I could get back into riding with,” she reminisces. Kitty turned up at the Rapha Clubhouse to attend a Women’s 100 training ride and that’s when she happened across a group of women that to this day are good friends of hers. At 24, she was the youngest in the group of six that spanned 20 years and varying occupations, but they forged a close bond over riding together and catching up over a hot drink back at the Clubhouse. “We did our first 100 kms together, first 100 miles, our first mountains when we went to Majorca, and now we’re still friends, on and off the bike,” she shares. “That group of women genuinely were my life for three years.”
The Rapha Clubhouse – a dedicated space for cyclists in the heart of London’s bustling Soho area – gave Kitty and her pals room to meet, chat over steaming cups of coffee and forge lifelong bonds.
Although Kitty is fond of seeking out good cafes, bakeries and pit stops on her rides, cycling-specific cafes hold a special place in her heart – and are the focus of the 22 that make it into the book. “I think if you’re really excited about something – in our case we all love cycling – being around other people who are into that same thing is quite infectious,” she says.
“After 40 km of cycling through sun-dappled lanes and sweeping downhills, the group of eight of us (a small mix of the female cyclists Kitty has met over the years), sit around a wooden table outside the Spoke Cycles cafe.
Behind us, baby goats climb and tumble over wooden structures, while inside the barn where drinks and toasties are being prepared, is a treasure trove of vibrant cycling memorabilia.
All About Community
“When you walk in there, you just feel like you belong, don’t you?” muses Kitty as she splashes the cafe’s homemade hot sauce onto her plate of poached eggs, avocado and sourdough toast. “People go ‘how was the ride?’ – no one is going to ask you that in a normal cafe. Just the fact that everyone else loves the thing that you love is such a warm feeling.”
Originally from the Wirral, Merseyside, Kitty moved to London after studying design at Manchester. Sport and design have always been two great passions for her, so a job at Adidas after graduating was the perfect fit. From there, she moved onto cycling brand Rapha, before switching to creative agency, The Midnight Club, where she is now a strategy director. But alongside these roles, Kitty has always found further outlets for her creativity. With a strong eye for design, there are a number of passion projects on the go, such as her lifestyle brand, Aprés Sport.
Her talent at illustration has seen the 33-year-old receive quite a following in the cycling community for her candid and witty drawings, which depict the food, routes and stops she enjoys while out on her bike. Her first book, Eat, Bike, Cook, was a beautiful and fascinating collection of recipes, illustrations of food consumed by cyclists and tales from female riders, both amateur and professional. Kitty recalls the reaction to the book: “A lot of people said ‘this has been such a relief to see what people actually eat’, because there is so much advice online. “A lot of it is about macros – and that’s good if you’re a professional rider and you have to pay attention to that. But for the everyday person who’s working 9 to 5, just trying to get out on their bike and enjoy it… it’s much more of a general approach and you don’t have to be so hard on yourself to get it perfect.”
Again, she hopes her latest publication will inspire readers to remember the pleasure there is to be had on getting out on two wheels. “It’s about making cycling more enjoyable, fun and much more realistic,” she explains. Instead of the focus always being on performance, she hopes to inspire people to look through a different lens and see the beautiful – and satisfying – way in which food, cafes, community and cycling are woven together.
A glimpse of the sketches and arty photographs Kitty shares on her Instagram gives a real sense of delight at planning and documenting her adventures on the road. She describes days spent at Giro cycling cafe in Esher with a close friend as a “portal” through which they’d come up with new routes and expeditions.
When she raced as part of a team, cafes represented a debrief space for her and her team-mates. Her mum still has stacks of her sketchbooks, says Kitty, and her eyes light up as she talks of her love of drawing. A ride last summer, from London to Liverpool over a few days, featured a daily doodle of the distance and stops she’d hope to visit (including Musette – one of the cafes featured on today’s route).
What does she think draws her to cafes and makes them such a staple in the cycling community? She takes a moment to consider and says with honesty: “I think it was because I’ve never been motivated to keep riding because I wanted to get really fast… I’m not really a fast athlete. I’m much more about skill or endurance. I’m a team sports person because of all the other things a team sport gives you: friends, community, support.
It made cycling into a lifestyle because you got to do all the other stuff you like: eating, sitting with friends and coffee. I think if it had just been about getting faster and fitter, it wouldn’t really be the thing that drove me back every week.”
It’s this sense of human connection, shared passion of simple things such as a well-prepared coffee or thoughtfully decorated interior and seating, and being part of a community that brings cyclists to the doors of the cafes and keeps the owners putting in the hard work. As romantic as opening up a cycling cafe can seem to fans of the two-wheeled life, it’s a serious amount of work and can be challenging – especially in the current cost of living crisis, where many small businesses have seen running costs skyrocket.
We end our ride at Musette just down the road from Tring train station. It’s a hip yet cosy cafe where cyclists downing cans of Coke and devouring pastries sit next to families tucking into their weekend lunch. Referring to the cafe and others featured in the book, Kitty says: “A lot of them are one-man bands trying to do everything, so any little thing that you can do, whether it’s my book or telling a friend about a particular cafe – you want to help and support.” After an 80km ride with sunshine, chats and laughter plus some delicious food and drink in our bellies, it’s time to roll down the road to the train station and make our way back to London, where we’ll be sure to spread the word about the great coffee and delicious cakes.