The café where everyone knows your game

13 02 2017

We all like to geek out from time to time.

For cyclists that can mean waking in the pre-dawn gloom to hunt down streaming feeds from bike races around the world because Eddy Merckx knows we don’t get those on mainstream TV. Or exchanging quips about the results from the latest World Cup cyclocross race.

Mario Bartel storyteller cyclist blogger

The winter snows still aren’t completely melted as the FRF gathers for a special Family Day ride to The Musette Caffé in downtown Vancouver.

Around here, some serious geek jones can be fulfilled by a ride to The Musette Caffé.

I’ve written about The Musette before. But that was when Vancouver’s favourite cyclists’ coffee shop was a hole-in-the-wall tucked into a back alley off a bike route.

In January, The Musette emerged from its secret spot to a highly-visible location on one of the main thoroughfares for bikes and cars into the downtown peninsula. It had been closed more than a year after the old site was bulldozed for a gleaming new condo tower, and the owners built out the new café. The wait was worth it.

The Musette has been a destination for Vancouver’s cycling geeks from the day it opened. The snacks are tasty and healthful, perfect fuel at mid-ride or as a post-ride treat. The walls are adorned with all manner of cycling bric-a-brac and memorabilia, from classic steel bikes to a collection of cloth musettes from various pro teams, to autographed pro team jerseys to route markers collected and kitchy souvenirs at the Tour de France and the Giro. There’s even bike racks inside the café so cyclists never have to be out of sight of their ride.

Mario Bartel blogger storyteller cyclist

The Musette Caffé has a gleaming new location but a lot of the old memorabilia is back, including vintage steel bikes, jerseys and posters.

The new location takes that cycling geek chic to a whole new level. The memorabilia is still plentiful, with new discoveries to be made every visit. But the café now offers a full immersion experience into cycling lore and legend. The outdoor patio is constructed of cobbles. The communal tables inside are made of wood reclaimed from an old velodrome track in Antwerp, Belgium. The banquette overlooking the main floor area is modeled after the open concrete showers at the Roubaix velodrome in France where the Paris-Roubaix spring classic race concludes every April; the race’s winners are commemorated on little brass plaques affixed to each “stall.”

Mario Bartel blogger storyteller cyclist

The banquette area of the café is an homage to the open concrete shower stalls at the historic Roubaix velodrome; the light fixtures even look like the shower heads.

The attention to detail is stunning. Interior pillars are wrapped with ad banners from the roadside of the Tour de France. Order number stands are modeled after number plates affixed to bikes at the Tour and the Giro. The impressive espresso machine has been painted with World Champion stripes.

Stepping into The Musette is like walking into cycling, and everything that is great and colourful and historic about the sport. And yes, there’s still racks to park your bike inside. Although it was so busy on our holiday Monday FRF pilgrimage, we had to lean our bikes amongst the dozen or so already parked outside.

Frosty first foray

15 01 2017

The last time I threw a leg over Lapierre was 57 days ago. That’s 1,368 hours off the bike. Too many.

When circumstances presented an opportunity today, it was time to end that slothful streak.

We’ve endured an exceptional winter so far; two months of almost daily rain was followed by more than six weeks of cold and snow and ice. It caught everyone off guard, especially road crews who’ve been playing catch-up ever since the first flakes settled on the pavement back in early December.

Mario Bartel storyteller blogger photographer cyclist

It’s been such an exceptionally cold and snowy winter, there are ice floes heading down the Fraser River.

In this part of the world, a snowfall is usually followed in short order by a thaw to wash the wintry weather away.

Not this year.

While we’ve had some moderate days in the past six weeks, they were quickly succeeded by long stretches of even colder weather that froze the slush and water in place. The consequence has been roadways and bike routes left a rutted, snowy mess. No conditions for riding, even when the sun was shining and the skies a brilliant, crystalline blue.

Mario Bartel storyteller blogger photographer cyclist

Even just a few metres above sea level, bike routes are still a rutted, frozen moonscape.

Also frozen out by the weather were the road hockey courts; we haven’t played since early December and a vigorous shovel brigade last Sunday proved futile.

But with warmer temperatures and heavy rain in the forecast for the coming week, the main roads mostly clear and our road hockey game still on ice, it was now or never to get in the year’s first ride, 15 days in.

The air is still frosty, cold enough overnight to freeze puddles into sheens of black ice; route selection was important. We couldn’t head up towards any sort of elevation as that would lead us into the maw of snow-packed side streets and bike routes rutted with bergs of frozen slush. We couldn’t go far because, well, almost two months off the bike tends to take a toll on fitness. We couldn’t be out for too long as our fingers and toes would freeze.

So a modest 37km jaunt along the river was the sum of our ambition; embarrassing in July, a triumph in a wintry January.

Mario Bartel storyteller blogger photographer cyclist

We’re cold, but for the first time in 2017, we’ve actually ridden our bikes on pavement!