2021 – quite the year. It’s never been truly normal in any way, yet it’s closer to what life was than, say, the latter half of 2020.

One bit of normalcy is the annual Coffeeneuring Challenge, and as it involves coffee and bicycles I’m a natural fan – and a natural participant.

And these 7 slices of normal bikes+coffee behavior were a soothing tonic. Some of them helped soothe frayed nerves from dealing with family matters. Others helped cleanse my mind from job search related stress. And others were just great as they had me riding with and seeing friends.

So I participated again this year. My goal was the same as in previous years: try new-to-me places. Travel made it tougher to pull off the challenge within its timeframe (18 October-30 November) but I managed to get it done. I also hobbled myself a tad by doing plenty of rides to old favorites like Vigilante Coffee and La Gelatteria. Still, it got done and here’s the summary.

Date: 18 October
Distance Ridden: 16.45 miles
Location: Blue Copper 2000, Salt Lake City, UT
Bike Friendliness: 6/10 (bike rack on sidewalk in front of shop; plentiful outdoor seating; public restroom; water filling station on counter; store fronts major arterial road and has no bike infrastructure)
Drink: espresso

Lesson Learned: This trip to Salt Lake City was to do heavy duty work on mom’s house and I’d left my older carbon frame road bike after my previous trip. The bike was my self care, as it was in fall 2020. I’d wanted to go to this place for a while and I was staying at an AirBnB a couple blocks from this place. So after a ride up City Creek Canyon I stopped here for some caffeinated refreshment – really great! I went here a few more times before returning to DC.

Date: 22 October
Distance Ridden: 10.76 miles
Location: Publik Coffee (Avenues Location), Salt Lake City, UT
Bike Friendliness: 8/10 (multiple bike racks in front of shop; 3rd Avenue has a bike lane; plentiful outdoor seating; free bidon fills; public restroom)
Drink: cortado

Lesson Learned: I had a lot of work to do on this SLC sortie so I fit in rides where and when I could. The Avenues neighborhood of SLC is full of steep climbs on the “letter streets,” which run south-to-north (the “avenue streets” run east-to-west and are far flatter). So a dawn patrol hill workout was a great fit. The Avenues feature lovely, older cottage houses in their lower reaches and larger, newer houses (many monstrous McMansions) in their upper reaches. This has created a lot of car traffic, but the city has made a lot of progress in slowing things down via raised crosswalks and stop signs, as well as with a robust bike lane network (sadly, none are protected). And I saw a lot of people on bicycles in this neighborhood, despite the hills. The number of e-bikes here is growing very quickly if my informal count of bikes is any indication. Publik’s coffee is always tasty and this Avenues location is fairly new – and already is a popular neighborhood hangout.

Date: 29 October
Distance Ridden: 17.77 miles
Location: Jack Mormon Coffee, Salt Lake City, UT
Bike Friendliness: 6/10 (bike rack on sidewalk in front of shop; one outdoor table; free bidon fills)
Drink: Clover brewed coffee (i.e. fancy drip extraction)

Lesson Learned: Jack Mormon Coffee is a true micro-roaster: they roast every pound of coffee to order, so things are super fresh. The name comes from a term for a member of the LDS Church who isn’t strictly adherent to their tenets. So-called “Jack Mormons” tend to engage in things considered “unsavory” by church teachings: smoking, drinking alcohol, swearing, and (most relevant to this challenge’s theme) drinking coffee. Coffee is covered under the Book of Mormon’s “hot drink” restrictions – hot drinks in the 1800s were mostly caffeinated coffee and tea. Jack Mormon Coffee was founded by a New Orleans native, “Boomer,” who married a LDS woman from Utah. They moved to SLC over a decade ago and set up this wonderful shop in what was a dry cleaner for all of my childhood years. Boomer’s grandson has developmental challenges and for a long time the shop supported the kid’s college fund (and it may still serve this function, though no longer overtly). Their coffee is truly awesome and I’m glad they’ve thrived. This ride also featured a few miles of gravel fire road riding and I was reminded that any bike can be a gravel bike. It’s good to get this reminder every so often: any road can lead to a great adventure!

Date: 30 October
Distance Ridden: 51.91 miles
Location: Three Pines Coffee, Salt Lake City, UT
Bike Friendliness: 8/10 (bike rack on sidewalk in front of shop; bike lane on Main Street in front of shop; plentiful outdoor seating; restroom for customers; water filling station on counter in shop)
Drink: latté (hot)

Lesson Learned: It’s tough to pull off integrating a streetcar/light rail system into an existing street grid, even if said street grid once had an extensive streetcar system. Especially challenging is keeping the streets safe for bikes and micromobility in a city where cars still play an oversize role in moving people. Yet SLC has pulled it off on Main Street by taking the remaining car lanes and decreeing them priority bike lanes where bikes get to dictate the pace. They’re not really woonerfs, but they work really well. It meant the ride to Three Pines was great – it’s a super coffeehouse for downtown SLC. Another lesson learned: my uncle was a phenomenal piano tuner, as my old Kawai grand (which was last tuned by Uncle Gus) was still mostly in tune – and it was last tuned by him over 40 years ago.

Date: 5 November
Distance Ridden: 3.01 miles
Location: Filter Coffee, Washington, DC
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (lack of adequate bike parking is not great, but owner is a daily rider and is working to fix; public restroom; bidon fills are free)
Drink: flat white

Lesson Learned: Rasheed, the owner of Filter, is a dear friend. His business started near my Dupont Circle home in a cozy space and featuring excellent coffee drinks (Rasheed learned the trade at Coffee Labs in Tarrytown, NY – another awesome caffeine purveyor). He enjoyed early success and expanded his business to include a location in Foggy Bottom and a location in Brookland, where he partnered with The Bike Rack for a “bikes and coffee” concept store. The latter proved a tough nut to crack, with Rasheed leaving this location less than a year after it opened (the bike chop folded a year later). In 2019 he shut down the Dupont location due to low traffic, focusing on his FoBo store. You could tell the two closures affected his mental state, and the pandemic sent it even lower as he had to close the one remaining store for over a year. During that time he completely renovated and expanded the space, and in late October he reopened. The smile on his face told the entire story: he’s happy to be back, and I’m happy to see my friend in a better place. And his flat whites? Still the best in town.

Date: 7 November
Distance Ridden: 46.94 miles
Location: Back Street Brews, Lovettsville, VA
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (small bike rack in front of shop and plenty of additional lean-to space; plentiful outdoor seating; restroom for customers; they’ll fill your bidons)
Drink: latté (hot)

Lesson Learned: try the side streets to find new coffee haunts! Typically when I ride through Lovettsville I stop at the 7-11 on the “squircle.” Lindsay introduced Marc and me to this lovely little place just off the main drag out of town and it was lovely! And we had a lot of discussion of lumps and bulges that ran exactly the gamut your mind may suggest – or possibly not.

Date: 14 November
Distance Ridden: 13.90 miles (0.7 miles are a manual Strava entry as I’d neglected to restart my Garmin after stopping at Hill’s Kitchen)
Location: Cameo at The Roost, Washington, DC
Bike Friendliness: 7/10 (lots of outdoor bike parking, but The Roost is on Pennsylvania Ave SE which is a really busy road and not particularly bike friendly; indoor restrooms and water fountains)
Drink: flapjack latté (hot, flavored with a maple-buttermilk infused syrup)

Lesson Learned: The Roost is a cool place! It’s a modern-day food hall, and sprite suggested we go here for some coffeeneuring. Cameo is a lovely place and a great concept, but they try too hard and charge too much for what they offer. The flapjack latté is a great drink in theory – a coffee equivalent of Hardywood Brewing’s “Christmas Morning” beer, in a sense – but in practice it was just… OK. I’ve had far better maple lattés at many places, and the espresso base wasn’t anything special. Also: the prices were really steep for what was offered: two drinks and two chocolate croissants cost over $20 – ouch.

TOTAL DISTANCE: 161.38 miles
TOTAL ASCENT: 25,381 feet

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS: Once again the coffeeneuring season proved rewarding. I rode a lot less, distance wise, for this year’s challenge, though I rode more in 2021 than I did in 2020 overall. Last year the entire challenge happened in SLC as I spent nearly three months there, whereas this year I was there for only three weeks of the challenge. And I kept to my personal goal of only going to places I’d never been to before (nope, I’d never been to Filter’s FoBo location before this year).