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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Dad Bod: Uberparents

Words and illustration by Stephen Haynes

What’s the goal of being a parent? To see your kids get the basic tools they need to go off and try to succeed in life? What about your goals as a cyclist? To crush your personal best on Strava while commuting to work? Ask a hundred people these questions and you may well get a hundred different answers. What’s always fascinated and beguiled me is the inherent competition between both parents and cyclists when talking to other parents and cyclists, like there’s some abacus wielding surveyor tallying up all your notable contributions to both pursuits.

I’d grade my performance as a parent at about a C+ or B-; Proficient, with some room for improvement. I love my kids dearly, but the mental and physical energy it takes to parent is beyond explanation, and sometimes pizza and television is the break we all need from one another. I feel the same way about cycling. Yes, I love riding bikes, but I’d prefer to do a 4-mile ride to and from the grocery store than a 40-mile gravel ride any day of the week. Hell, I’d prefer to eat pizza than do either of those if I’m honest.

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Of course there are parents and cyclists who are the inverse of me; the yin to my cynical yang and I often succumb to idyll worship when in the presence of such uber-specimens. I can quickly feel like a lesser being when engaging in casual conversations with these folks, as the one-upmanship game goes on unabated. “Oh, your Jimmy is taking swim lessons? That great, my daughter just got her green belt in Krav Maga.” “Oh, you rode 10 miles yesterday? Good for you! I did a century before work this morning.” The underlying statement of course being “I’m better than you.”

Perhaps it’s my insecurity talking but sometimes I feel like I’m failing my kids because they aren’t getting MENSA-like scores on standardized tests, taking orienteering courses, or learning how to field dress a bull moose. Especially when the uber-parents’ children are doing these things and more. Instagram updates showing their prodigal sons and daughters topping out on their first solo-lead climb, Facebook posts proclaiming their little geniuses won the statewide spelling bee, Tweets announcing to the world that their beloved mini-me’s asked for a second helping of kale! It’s all too much, and it’s also a trap.

Being a good parent, in my opinion, means knowing when and where to push your kids. Similarly, being a good cyclist is based on pursuing what interests you about cycling. Both require you to foster the interest and bolster the effort with encouragement and, at times, tough love. The uber-parents and uber-cyclists of the world are a myth perpetuated by ourselves. Love what you do, love your kids and go enjoy both with the time you have. Also, eat more pizza.

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Opinion: Don’t even bother

I have some advice for keeping your life simple. Don’t ever spend two months pedaling your bike coast-to-coast—3,000 miles across 11 states with seven others who would become your some of your favorite people on this Earth, as I did in 2008. Don’t enter cycling events that will take you to places that are interesting (and some not so much) that you may not have otherwise had a chance to see, photograph and be affected by at a meditative pace. And definitely don’t ever ride your bike on an uncrowded dirt road—anywhere—innocuous though may seem.

If you never do these things, you will never know lust, one of the seven deadly sins. You will never know the primal desire for adventure on two wheels that makes you stick your butt in your desk chair by 6 a.m. so you can leave work early to drive 30 minutes just to ride 25 miles through two state parks, across unpaved roads among ancient, jagged rock formations that tourists travel far and wide to see, but hopefully not on a Tuesday afternoon. You’ll never find yourself stuck, unmoving, on a highway while an 18-wheeler burns after spontaneously combusting (I’m not making this up), pulling on your hair—hopefully only the grey ones fall out—because you need to pee, badly. That coffee you chugged all day to stay focused on your work isn’t going anywhere else.

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You’ll never get to the start of your ride, half-an-hour later than planned, but still full of joy and anticipation to be rolling out into a crisp, bluebird autumn day on that beautiful bicycle you lusted after for years but only got to own after one in your tiny size showed up on Craigslist. You brought lights, so maybe it won’t be so bad if you have to finish in the dark. So much for all of your meticulous planning.

You’ll never get simultaneous flats two miles into your ride and look down to discover countless thorns in your “gravel” tires (what fresh hell is that misnomer?), relegating you to a long, slow walk back to your car in slightly-too-small bike shoes that pinch your toes and heighten your sense of disappointment and despair. And you’ll never know the hollow despondency of the rush-hour crawl back home, not having seen either park nor worked the kinks from your mind and your legs but, hey, at least the local rock station is playing a Journey marathon. That’s cool.

If you never do these things, you will never know the restlessness that comes from days on end without putting foot to pedal. You’ll never know the fogginess of mind that can engulf you when you haven’t explored somewhere new, allowing both your wheels and imagination to wander, run wild and take you places that no life problem can touch.

Take my advice: Don’t explore on your bike. If you do, the desire to do more, and then more still, will never leave your system. You will not be able to unride “the one” outing that hooked you deeply and permanently. You will never want to stop.

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