It’s so easy to go to the same old places, do you know what I mean? When desperate for a coffee I’ll usually reach for a Starbucks or Costa. I’m a creature of habit and that’s not a great recipe for adventure. So I try to force myself off the high street, but not usually down under the railway arches. Which is where I found myself last week and where I found a quirky little business trying to steal a dime from the big chains.
Why not pop in somewhere different?
Bicycle cafe’s; could they be the next high street trend? Smelling of WD40 and cappuccino, they’re fascinating places, well perhaps if you’re a bit of a grease monkey. Luckily I am so when I stumble across the luminous green spokessigns outside Manchester’s PopUp Bikes, I just can’t resist popping in for a look.
But PopUp Bikes is not just a coffee shop. It’s one of a new breed of cycle hangouts to open up in British cities. On a busy main road, tucked into in a railway arch, this ain’t Starbucks. But that’s a good thing right? They’ve got a big enough grip on the world and on my purse.
The PopUp Bikes experience…
This Beano lined place is one of a kind. After a meeting in Manchester’s Angel Meadows, freed from paperwork and wondering if I’ll find my car again, I am lured in by the mixed menu of food, coffee and bicycle parking. It’s one unusual concept and once inside it’s stranger still. On one side there’s a breakfast bar, on the other there’s a living room. At the back there are dozens of bikes on scaffold racks and in the middle of all this is a guy mending a bike. It is just like home.
A pick and mix menu
I like the owner Dipak immediately. He bounces around the bar recommending unbleached tea and offering to fix me a surprise toastie. The menu above him is a bizarre mix of snacks and bike tune-ups, with a choice of full or half service for your bike or coffee, cakes and sandwiches.
I order a toastie and cup cake and we chat about the continuing British obsession with bikes while his assistant Jack tinkers around the bikestand in the middle of the cafe. Starbucks might ask your name but they’re not really interested in what you have to say. But Dipak is. We talk about coffee shops, about the bland dominance of the chains and money pouring into corporate coffers. But not here. As if to accentuate the point, Jack downs tools to put my cupcake in the toasted sandwich maker.
“That’s horrible, why do you keep doing that?” cries his boss. “This is the youth of today. Our future is in his hands!” he shudders. But I don’t mind. In fact I like it. I’m sick of the corporate chocolate twist.
A fake lawn and a toasted cup cake
The toasted cupcake is weirdly delicious. I relax on some Granny’s old armchair, my feet planted on a fake lawn and eat it with a hot cheese and pickle sandwich . Dipak’s leg is in a cast but it doesn’t dent his enthusiasm for cycling, or his new venture.
“Christmas Day last year saw me sat in the corner of the arch with straw models of the interior, and pasting The Beano onto the walls took me three days,” he laughs.
It’s clear this is a community not a corporation. “The local milkman brought his kid’s BMX in. Flat owners with no space to park a bike leave them here. Business people come by at 7.30 am before they go to work and the guys from the local museum phone before they come so we can open the doors and they can cycle in.” It’s all so much nicer than chaining your bike to a lamppost and praying it’ll be there when you get back.
Mending your chain, not part of a chain
And it’s not just about money, there’s much more to PopUp life, like providing a social space for the cycling community to meet and share ideas, and encouraging cyclists to share routes and skills with newbies. I do love a place with a bit of a social mission. I’m starting to wish I lived in Manchester.
But like I said, it’s no Starbucks. It’s the opposite of bland or swanky. You probably have to love bikes. You also have to like the smell of coffee mixed with grease. But I think it’ll take off. And Dipak is sure of it. “Fares are up and petrol’s up and people will find cycling more effective. Manchester will do what London’s done; there’ll be a big leap.”
A couple comes in with a bike and the guys head off to fettle their brakes and brew-up. I’m left alone to check out the board games, books and Beanos. I could spend an afternoon here and I know they wouldn’t mind.
Are you missing out on the indie experience while drinking corporate coffee? Where are your favourite unusual indie cafes or cycle cafes?