My father once told me that an effective means of finding where good, inexpensive food can be found out on the road is to see where truckies stop. It was through this method he managed to discover, amongst others, the irreproachable Cavan Road Steak Van. In my experience, I believe there is a similar relationship between cyclists and coffee – they love it, and the less hubbardy, the better/more boutique/ more hipster the coffee. The relationship seems obvious – espresso is molto euro, the tiny cups don’t look ridiculous next to the stretchy clothes and funny shoes, and caffeine has been shown to increases time to fatigue by almost 10%. A practical element can be found then. It is perhaps no surprise then that with the current rise in popularity of gravel grinding/all-road riding/sport touring and general fetishization of the ‘wilder’ elements of cycling, that the Coffee Outside trend has crept up on us. Originally popularised (at least in #hashtag form) by Ocean Air Cycles, it involves riding somewhere, whipping out the camp stove and the ol’ enamel mug, and brewing oneself a coffee. It can be done alone, or enjoyed with a mate – the weekly #larivercampcoffee meetups for example. Indeed, depending on who you follow on Instagram it can often feel near-ubiquitous.
I personally think this is popular for a few reasons beyond the cyclist’s affinity for the juicings of that naughty bean called coffee. First, it will involve carrying a little equipment and probably some food. The distances can vary from a trip to the local park to a spot by a pond up in the hills, but you’ll need to carry your stuff in something. This provides a great way to test or get some more mileage out of the rack, bag, or other carrying systems you shelled out for, and generally use all that touring/rando/bikepacking gear that doesn’t get the workout it seemingly deserves on the day-to-day commute. Combine that with having to plan and pack the supplies, and it sort of resembles preparing for an actual tour, if you squint. Furthermore, once you’re at your destination you’ll be preparing a cup of coffee at the very least. If you’re clever you’ll have brought a bit of food which may even require a bit of prep and cooking itself. Because of this basic level of self-sufficiency (and some of the kit involved), for a moment you may very well feel like you’re camping, even if you’re only making a coffee on your lunch break. As such, this Coffee Outside malarkey seems to contain the most basic elements of touring (or at least the accessories pertaining thereto) and camping (self-sufficiency, provisioning) and with that enough of a feel of adventure to keep life interesting. What’s more, to quote old mate Phill Henschke, “Inside hasn’t got shit on outside”.
It was in this spirit that I decided to enjoy the basic of the adventure cycling spirit and go for a coffee about half an hour out of the city. In my Swift Industries rando bag I loaded some coffee beans, a grinder, an aeropress, a stove and gas, a mug, a pot, a pocket knife, a croissant, some salami, some cheese, a tarp to sit on, and a plastic bag to carry out my rubbish (and indeed a heap of rubbish I found) when I was done. This may sound like a lot, but most of this stuff nests inside itself so it took up very little space. Indeed with some changes in equipment I could pare this down quite a bit. I picked a spot well-known as a great place to have a rest by local roadies – the pond at the bottom of Knotts Hill/Blockers/Deviation/Burdett’s Roads. For those that don’t know it, or may have simply ridden past it, it is a rather pleasant riverbank that sits a good few feet below the level of the road. It is well shaded, has a nice downed tree to sit on, and the creek tends to flow through all but the driest of seasons.
It is a great place to take a break, regroup after a descent, or get out of the heat. It’s also tranquil as all get out. I headed there in early spring so there was plenty of water flowing in the creek and the kookaburras were out in force. There are only so many ways one can document drinking a cup of coffee and I find none of them interesting, so instead I would put the focus on how much more enjoyable it is simply being outdoors, and taking the time to sit and exist in the environment one is surrounded by. You can watch the water flow by, win a staring contest with a magpie, ponder why that builder’s truck keeps looping around – the little things after all. This is what makes me enjoy these ‘rides’ more than anything else. It is a refreshing change to smashing out kays and allows one to enjoy similar terrain and sights at a more relaxed pace. What’s more, those that sit between instant coffee drinkers and those that own their own espresso machines probably have the equipment to do this already, making it a surprisingly achievable day out. One could possibly make the argument that these things could be enjoyed without schlepping the contents of a pop-up café up and down a hill, but then you’d just be going on a ride to sit somewhere nice. That’s fine – I’d just prefer to have something to drink while I do it.
Header image: source. All other images: Henry Veitch