My bike: We cycle to bring customers coffee via cargo

Expansion down the road for Vancouver's Tandem Bike Café

Age: 41

Bike: CETMA cargo bike

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Time on this bike: More than three years

Favourite Bike Route: The Galloping Goose Trail on Vancouver Island

Quote: “Every day, Vancouver is becoming more and more bike-friendly. We’re excited to play a role in that evolution.”

For the better part of 15 years, long-time friends Clint John and Brett Summers dreamed of opening their own business.

“We first broached the subject in 1999, when Brett was working in the kitchen at Miriam’s, and I was across Denman Street at Benny’s Bagels,” John said. Over the years, the pair worked at various eateries and bike shops across the city, all while discussing the endless possibilities of combining their two passions under one roof: fine bicycles and good coffee.

They made their move 14 years later when they learned Connie’s Cookin’ — the combination grocery store and restaurant at the corner of Heather and West 16th Avene — was going out of business. Both John and Summers lived in the neighbourhood, regularly used the adjacent Heather Bikeway, and understood that this was simply too good of an opportunity to pass up.

cycling
Clint John outside the Tandem Bike Café. Photo Dan Toulgoet

 “We had to move quickly, as there was understandably plenty of interest in the space. But we approached the owner of the building with our pitch, and despite several other offers, he immediately said yes,” John remembered.

After the frustration of jumping through several hoops to convince city inspectors that combining bicycle repairs with food service wasn’t a threat to public health, the Tandem Bike Café opened its doors in July that year as the first of its kind in Vancouver.

“We knew that this was too complicated of a task for just one person,” John said, “so I took charge of the bicycle repair side while Brett headed up the café.” The two were immediately overwhelmed with the response, and during the peak of the summer season they now employ a dozen full- and part-time staff members.

John points to a dedicated customer base of commuters riding to and from downtown along the Heather Bikeway, who make a point of regularly stopping in for a coffee and a tune-up. The entrepreneurs even offer a few aptly named sandwiches, including the “I Brake 4 Brie,” the “Presta Pesto,” the “Turkey Tune-Up,” and the “Single Speed Salami.”

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The shop quickly garnered a reputation for being a cargo bike specialist, said John. “We use a CETMA Cargo Bike for our family’s day-to-day needs, so it is almost always parked on the median outside the shop.”

As a result, John found himself answering questions about the different types of cargo bikes, which — through word-of-mouth — evolved into him repairing and modifying various cargo bikes to suit their owners.

The inevitable next step was selling cargo bikes from their shop floor. John recently signed deals with Portland’s Metrofiets, Los Angeles’ CETMA, and Montreal’s Allo Vélo (distributors of TrioBike, Bullitt, and Butchers & Bicycles). Soon, he hopes to stock various models for customers to test drive, a task that is difficult in Vancouver despite growing interest.

By next summer, Summers hopes to assemble a custom-built cargo bike that will act a mobile café and take Tandem’s treats out to the city’s bikeways.

John foresees expansion, he said. “We basically outgrew this space the day after we opened.”

Chris Bruntlett is a co-founder of Modacity and is inspired to live a happy life of urban mobility. Find a cycling column every second Friday. Reach him at chris@modacitylife.com.
 

cycling
Bicycles parked outside the Tandem Bike Café. Photo Dan Toulgoet

 

cycling
The mechanic's bench inside the Tandem Bike Café, located on the Heather Bikeway. Photo Dan Toulgoet

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