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Coffee Talk with Emily Haddad
PHOTOS: Steven Nereo
In the nine months since it became a permanent fixture in the Bay Area, the Rapha San Francisco Cycle Club has become the go-to destination for the city’s cycling (and coffee) aficionados. Rapha recently caught up with SFCC store manager Emily Haddad to talk about the city’s cycling culture and a whole lot more besides.
OK, bike background. How did you get into cycling? What was your earliest memory or favorite bike from way back?
I was born and raised in Texas. I grew up on the beach but spent my formative years in Austin. My love of cycling, breakfast tacos and denim ‘jorts’ can all be traced back to that wonderful city. One of my earliest childhood cycling memories is getting chased off the local golf course by security guards (we had a penchant for jumping our bikes into sand bunkers). I got into cycling as an adult for more utilitarian reasons. I got a Masi commuter rig and soon realized two wheels was the best way to travel. It was a slippery slope; before I knew it I had four bikes and was working at a bike shop.
You previously worked at one of Rapha retail partners, Mellow Johnny's in Austin. How does the SF Cycle Club compare?
Mellow Johnny's was one of the best learning experiences I could have asked for. When I started working there I had lots of experience of technical clothing but very little bike knowledge. I learned so much about bikes and even more about business and branding. The customer experience at the Cycle Club is a mix of the best retail environments I’ve worked in. It’s a ‘destination shop’, similar to MJ's but with a much more relaxed environment than traditional bike shops.
Did you ever meet Lance? Just kidding, you don't have to answer that (but no, really, did you?).
Lance was a little busy with his other job (I heard he was pretty good at riding a bike) but he was around from time to time and he threw us some great parties at his ranch; the man makes a mean margarita.
Austin is renowned for a vibrant cycling scene that has grown hugely in recent years. How does it compare to San Francisco?
Austin's bike community is great because it is so fresh. Within the last five to 10 years the cycling scene has exploded. A huge number of people are getting into riding for transportation. It’s great to see the bike lanes filled with folks on their way to work in the morning. In San Francisco, everyone rides because driving to get around is absurd. The cycling community is extremely diverse. You don't have to worry about being pigeonholed as a commuter, a roadie, or a mountain biker. If you have a road bike, you probably also race cross and ride a mountain bike a few times a month.
The Cycle Club seems a natural fit for San Francisco’s cycling community.
Very much so. The Cycle Club is a unique space because we are so many things. Our cafe has become the go-to coffee stop for everyone on this side of town. The race screenings are a fun way to bring cycling fans together and allow some good-natured bickering over allegiances. The rotating art gallery, meanwhile, keeps the store fresh and also brings in people from the art and design community.
Tell us about some of the shows you’ve had there, such as Brian Vernor's NorthCal. Cyclocross or the Gage+Desoto exhibit.
Brian Vernor's show, Uncle Charlie's and Other Stories of North Cal. Cyclocross, was a huge hit. We originally approached Brian about putting together a show of his cross photography and he came back with the idea of a multimedia show featuring different artists and contributors. The amount of talent and historical content he was able to pull together was phenomenal.
The Gage+Desoto exhibit was awesome because it was a different take on an art show. Among other things, Mike and Brett make great cycling-inspired t-shirts. Instead of having them make a whole bunch of prints for the show, we decided to showcase their work in a medium it was intended for, i.e. cotton t-shirts. It was great fun and very Gage+Desoto.
What can we look forward to at the Cycle Club in the coming year?
We have some fun events in the works for 2012. The infamous Bike Snob NYC will be giving a reading as part of his tour for his new book. There are also rumors of a springtime Gentleman's Race in the Bay Area, one that will feature a new twist. The Tour of California is coming through the city again in May. It coincides with the Giro so it will make for an amazing month of racing.
We have also started doing a ‘Free Drip Friday’ for commuters. If you ride in on two wheels you get a free cup of French press coffee. We also have a ride that leaves the shop every Saturday morning, and which brings in regulars and tourists alike. Movie nights will start up again soon, as well, so keep an eye on our website and follow @RaphaCycleClub on Twitter to hear about all the happenings.
A big part of the Cycle Club’s popularity is based on great coffee. How has coffee culture influenced the way you think about the shop?
The Cycle Club is pretty unique because the cafe and retail space are virtually one and the same. All our employees have barista training as well as a natural love of cycling. That means they can talk shop with anyone. We want everyone who works here and everyone who comes in, to be as excited about their espresso as they are about Rapha. It’s amazing how many of our regular coffee customers have become cycling enthusiasts and vice versa.
What’s the most popular drink among cyclists that come in? A regular black coffee, or do San Franciscans prefer something a bit more decadent?
Free Drip Friday makes it a big day for regular black coffee. On all the other days it varies. An espresso or macchiato are typical pre-ride pick-me-ups. Post-ride cappuccinos are fairly common. We also do small French press carafes that are perfect for splitting with your training partner.
We hear you've had a few fantastic parties over that way; what can the Cycle Club offer by way of hangover cures?
We find simple methods work best. First, a big glass of water with a couple Nuun electrolyte tablets dropped in (thanks to Tyler, by the way, for the awesome custom boxes). Second, a mug of hot French press. Then a Pellegrino. Then an espresso. Then another Pellegrino. Repeat as necessary.
What have you learned about the coffee business, we know you can pull a great shot of espresso, was this something you learned working here or did you bring this skill with you?
I've always been a coffee enthusiast. Working at Mellow Johnny’s I was able to play around on their La Marzocco machine. Danielle is master-barista extraordinaire and working under his expert tutelage opened up a whole new world. Working with Four Barrel Coffee for the Cycle Club, I’ve come to realise how much there is to learn; at times it feels a bit like studying for a master’s degree in coffee. Every time I think I’ve got it, I learn something new. One of the most interesting parts of my coffee education hasn’t been making or preparing the coffee, it’s been about learning what goes into every cup. From sourcing to roasting and everything in between, Four Barrel has a passion about their coffee that is infectious. I find myself wanting to learn as much about soil composition in Africa as I do about latte art.
Historically, the link between cycling and coffee was established by pro riders in Continental Europe. The recent boom in cycling, however, seems to have brought out a new breed of coffee aficionados. Why is that?
I think that the connection between cycling and coffee is both simple and complex. A simple theory is that cycling requires fuel and coffee is a fuel that is hot, readily available and delicious.
The more complex theories are something I could talk about for hours. For example, coffee, at it's most basic, is fairly rudimentary. Same with bicycles. However, once you start enjoying coffee, and cycling, more, you develop a taste for the finer things. Personal preferences start to play a role. You don't know why, but you prefer Central American beans to South American, or pour-over to French press. People are becoming really passionate about coffee, just as they are about SRAM vs Shimano, or why steel is ‘real’.
Do these differences really matter? No. Truth is, you'll drink gas station coffee at a pinch. Or you'll ride your friend's 20 year-old Walmart bike while on vacation. But then, when you get home to your own coffee and your own bicycle, everything seems right in the world again. You just need to have that first sip, or ride that first climb, and you remember why you love Guatemalan beans and Double Tap so much.
There has been a conscious push at the Cycle Club to do more to promote women's cycling. Tell us about that.
I read recently that in order to judge the safety of a city's cycling infrastructure one only need look at the amount of women commuting by bike. If that's true, then the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is doing an incredible job. I see so many women cruising around town by bicycle every day. When I ride over the bridge into Marin, I’m always amazed how many women are out there on their road bikes. The racing community in California is so strong. These women are tough and fast and drop me on every climb. It's empowering and embarrassing at the same time.
Tell us about the ladies rides that you organise at the Cycle Club.
I've been doing women's rides out of the club once a month. It's a mellow pace – mainly for my sake – and we usually stop for coffee at some point. It's not only a great way to get some miles in but a good place to meet other ladies who ride. I find that, as a non-competitive cyclist, I have a hard time meeting other women who want to ride like I do. The women's rides have brought out all different levels of riders, which is exactly what I'd hoped for. I don't own a PowerTap or follow a training plan but I love riding and I love hanging out with my friends. Why not just combine the two?
Traditionally bike shops have a reputation for being unwelcoming, male-dominated places. How is the Cycle Club different?
In the past, certain bike shops had a vibe that used to put women off (and quite a lot of men, too). They were quite intimidating places but most women who come in to the Cycle Club are surprised by how mellow the environment is and how comfortable they feel hanging out. We’d still love to see more women riders stop by, though. Maybe, when I'm out riding, I should wear a sandwich board that says: “Hey ladies, follow me to the Rapha Cycle Club.”
What are currently your three favorite Rapha pieces and what are you hoping for in the coming season?
1) If I could justify owning the Wind Jacket in every color I would. It is the perfect Bay Area jacket. Warm but not too warm, it keeps that misty morning fog off you, and packs into a jersey.
2) Lately I have been wearing my 3/4 Bib Shorts and I love them. Women's-specific bibs are hard to come by, and these are cozy and comfy.
3) I also love the Knitted Hat. I am, as previously mentioned, always cold and it’s perfect for keeping my ears warm and happy. What am I hoping for in the Rapha Women's line? Bib shorts, bib shorts, bib shorts….and definitely some City Riding gear…