The Buzz on Coffeeneuring: How to combine two of life’s pleasures into a bike riding challenge

By Nick Legan 

Who doesn’t like a midride stop for a tasty beverage? It’s an integral part of many bike rides, a highlight for some cyclists and the sole reason they ride for others. For fans of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, apple cider and well … bike riding, “coffeeneuring” may be your next favorite fall pastime.

Now in its seventh year, the “Chasing Mailboxes Coffeeneuring Challenge” is a celebration of caffeine, cycling and community. The challenge is simple. Between October 13 and November 19, get yourself, by bike, to seven different coffee spots on seven weekend days. Take a photo and document your time spent riding to and then enjoying a cup of joe. Go solo or form a team of fellow caffeine lovers. Submit your work for inclusion in the Challenge. While there are technically a few more rules, the point is to get out and enjoy two of the world’s greatest inventions: the bicycle and coffee.

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Coffeeneuring is the brainchild of Mary Gersemalina of Washington, D.C., an avid randonneur and blogger at Chasing Mailboxes. In 2011, after a packed spring and summer of training and difficult, long rides, she was speaking with a fellow randonneur rider when the idea of a prize for easy rides to the coffee shop sprang up. Gersemalina thought to herself, “why not?” and set about building a framework for what became the Coffeeneuring Challenge on her blog.

The idea is to celebrate easy rides, slow life down a bit, to sip and spin the day away. As Gersemalina explains, “There are plentiful rules, but it boils down to riding your bike to have coffee. With such short rides, it’s not that similar to randonneuring but its framework is a nod to it.”

“The first year, in 2011, 12 people did the Challenge. Then it took off. Last year there were 250 finishers who successfully submitted all the necessary documentation,” Gersemalina explained. While initially, the majority of participants were randonneur riders who followed the Chasing Mailboxes blog, word of mouth has grown it to include casual cyclists. Some of them are now learning about randonneuring, but Gersemalina readily admits that “coffeeneuring is not a gateway drug to long-distance cycling.”

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The Community

The emphasis is not on grueling rides but rather on sharing your caffeinated experiences with other like-minded cyclists. It is a wonderfully grassroots effort that is entirely participant driven and has transformed itself into an international online community of fellow coffeeneurs.

Social media has been instrumental in the organic growth of coffeeneuring. There is a very active Facebook group. Gersemalina adds that, “a lot of interaction happens on that group and through Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #coffeeneuring. It’s exciting to see the challenge unfold on the different platforms. It’s special to see how supportive everyone is of each other. People connect with each other through coffeeneuring. They can take their kids with them. Social media has allowed for the Challenge to happen every year and for cyclists to do it easily.”

Not all of the community is virtual or online. Gersemalina noted that the Washington Coffeeneurs did a meetup ride after the challenge was over to get to know each other better. She also mentioned that coffeeneuring enthusiasts have contacted her to meet up for a visit when they’re in Washington, D.C., (obviously to go for a cup of coffee). The Pittsburgh Coffeeneurs have built a large community around the concept, with shops hosting rides and providing coffee and donuts.

The Rules

While the concept of coffeeneuring is straightforward, there are still a number of rules that are updated each year. When asked about the reason behind such a lengthy set of guidelines, Gersemalina mentioned that many see randonneuring as “bike riding with paperwork.” As something so important in her own life, she wanted to pay homage to it with her Challenge. The rules were also necessary in order to build a framework that would allow participants to share their experiences.

Each year Gersemalina seeks input from past and prospective coffeeneurs on potential changes to the rules. She says that many of the rule changes come from suggestions.

“One of the suggestions was to make it less consumer based. To give people that option, you can brew your own coffee in seven different places. Someone suggested opening your house as a coffee shop, inviting people over. It really is about getting together if you want. You can also have a solitary experience, but ultimately you’re sharing it in some way,” she said.

Then Gersemalina took a moment. After a short pause she continued, “I added rules to create a framework. It was necessary. Other rules are almost there to see what people will do with them. It’s like an experiment. People have different feelings about rules. Some take great pride in following rules, by the book. Others look at those rules and see room for interpretation or see why the rules should be flexible. Seeing that in their write-ups and their posts is really interesting.”

For those less interested in a regimented approach, fear not. Earlier this year Gersemalina created the Always Be Coffeeneuring Club. It’s a way to be a part of a community without the documentation. Joining will cost you five dollars and that gets you a fetching patch. According to the club page on Chasing Mailboxes, the Always Be Coffeeneuring Club is for “members that know no coffeeneuring season. All seasons are your oyster, or something like that. … Coffeeneuring is your lifestyle.”

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The Buzz

All formalities aside, the idea of coffeeneuring is one that resonates with people. The Challenge is perhaps the least physically tasking cycling endeavor in recorded history. That’s the point: to slow down, take notice of life’s simple pleasures and to share that with other cyclists.

The resulting community is now an international one and that brings great joy to the creator of coffeeneuring. It isn’t just about a healthy caffeine buzz.

“We are creating a virtual neighborhood through this activity,” Gersemalina said. “Not only that, but in some communities we’re meeting up in real life. The focus isn’t on how far you can ride but on the overall experience. It’s a simple activity. It’s not about politics. It’s pure fun.”

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Opinion: Plenty of pie for all

Words: Anna Schwinn
Photos: Katherine Fuller
From Issue #37

Man, I love bikes. I love that I get to live and work in an industry that promotes a healthy lifestyle and enjoy the world through cycling. Smiles for miles. But every so often something starts a debate that highlights what a selfish and insecure community of enthusiasts we really are.

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Many of us cling to cycling as an identity, which is dangerous because we often define that identity in opposition to everyone else. We have subconsciously and consciously defined criteria for that “cyclist” identity because the harder it is to attain for others, the more unique we are for having it.

This exclusivity allows us to maintain our “special snowflake” status—because everyone wants to be special. We view the barriers that we had to overcome to gain that identity as the price of entry to our exclusive community, rather than as obstacles we could work to remove to make entry possible for others.

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There are plenty of obstacles that make it difficult for people to join this exclusive club we call “cycling,” without even getting into those obstacles involving social, gender or cultural factors. There are a number of people, especially on the small side, who don’t fit most stock sized bicycles, for example. Commuting by bike takes safe streets, infrastructure and an inherent know-how that isn’t always available or financially feasible.

If you have children, time is at a premium and safe transportation is critical. If you want to race a bicycle, you need thousands of dollars a year for equipment, race fees and travel. Finally, there is a base level of health and able-bodiedness that is required to even throw a leg over a bike, let alone commute or tour or journey into the wilderness on one.

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If you are fortunate enough to be able-bodied, healthy, have the resources to live in a safe place with a great cycling infrastructure and to work at a physically undemanding job, bully to you! But that’s unfortunately not what the landscape always looks like for everyone. We need to recognize that by being able to participate in this activity we are physically, financially and socially privileged—that is really our identity.

But instead of recognizing and working to equalize the landscape, we mock and shame product that isn’t geared directly towards us, as we also mock and shame those not like us by labeling them as “non-cyclists” or “cheaters.” This is especially problematic when we have these sentiments and work in the industry or on the front line in bike shops.

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A spectacular example of an unnecessarily controversial technology is the electric assist bicycle. These bikes have taken Europe by storm, allowing people to ditch their cars for a less expensive, healthier and more environmentally friendly alternative on the streets.

They also allow more people into nature where they may not have been able to push themselves before. The experience of riding is democratized and the implications are massive—so many barriers to riding would be removed for “cyclists” and potential cyclists alike.

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But the U.S. has been much slower to pick up the technology, partially because of the aggressive backlash of self-identified “cyclists.” E-bikes “aren’t real bicycles.” They will bring people into the activity that “don’t belong there.” E-bike riders are “cheating.”

Arguments like these are laughable because they come from such an obvious place of insecurity. And we’ve heard them before—they have been used to lash out at other technologies in the past such as disc brakes, hybrids, suspension and triple cranksets.

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If you find negative statements like these rolling out of your mouth, take a step back and ask yourself a few questions. What is it that is really bothering you about sharing road, trail or market space with people different from you?

For an activity that is so positively transformative, it’s a riot that we’re so overtly selfish about it. Who gets to determine what a “real bike” is? Who has the authority to determine who does and does not get to participate in cycling? By keeping our club closed we deny ourselves the rich and diverse community that we could have by expanding the experience, not to mention the political power and possibilities for positive change a more robust cycling community could bring.

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