Coffee and cycling go hand-in-hand like coffee and cake, which, incidentally, takes pride of place – handmade slabs of lemon and blueberry flapjacks, fresh raspberry and white chocolate chip brownies, and millionaire’s shortbread to name three options ready to tempt hungry cyclists – inside the glass counter at G!RO in Esher.
G!RO has been open only nine months, since September 2013, but has already taken its place at the heart of the community in this cycling-mad corner of Surrey, within a bike ride’s distance of the bright lights of London in one direction and the Surrey Hills in the other, seemingly at the epicentre of the UK cycling boom.
The cafe is a joint venture between Neil Goodman and Jordan Addison, who combined to turn a long-standing dream into a reality after becoming tired of ending their rides in the chain coffee shops found on High Streets up and down the country. It’s no surprise that cycling’s increasing popularity on these shores has been accompanied by a growth in café’s to tend to thirsty riders, be it London’s uber-cool Look Mum No Hands, Zappi’s Bike Cafe in Oxford, or Velocity in Inverness.
“Coffee and café culture has always been strong in Europe, particularly in Belgium, France and Italy, but in the UK when it comes to coffee shops then nine times out of ten you have the High Street and Costa and Starbucks, and cyclist’s often don’t feel comfortable in that environment,” says Goodman.
G!RO seeks to combine cycling, coffee and community in an environment as equally welcoming to lycra-clad roadies as families and passers-by, and that balance is vital to the cafe’s success, both as a business – attracting customers throughout the week – and as part of local life.
Walk in through the glass-fronted facade of what used to be a men’s clothes shop and G!RO is an immediately welcoming environment: there are benches for club mates to sit and discuss their ride, leather sofas are ready for cyclists to slump into and rest weary legs, and each table has a large bottle of water and glasses ready to quench the thirst of tired riders before they place their order at the wooden counter. There’s an clear cycling theme, with storage to park your steed, photography from Geoff Waugh on the walls, a television to show racing – “it’s bike racing or nothing. No Sky Sports, no Jeremy Kyle,” says Goodman – and cushions adorned with bikes – but it blends seamlessly into the background of what is otherwise a spacious but cosy coffee shop.
“We wanted it to be a place where people could meet and sit around in lycra and be comfortable, but if you wanted to come in with your laptop and do a day’s work, then you also feel welcome,” says Goodman. During our visit on a late Wednesday afternoon in early June, the lunchtime rush hour is over but several customers remain, tapping away at laptops.
“During the week it’s 70 per cent locals and 30 per cent riders, and at the weekend it’s the opposite, but we still get people who just come in for lunch or a coffee and a slice of cake,” adds Addison. “This morning we had a family come in because it was their daughter’s fourth birthday and she wanted to come to G!RO. It’s lovely, that’s really nice. It’s great to have that balance.”
That’s a balance Goodman and Addison have sought to achieve from the outset but this remains a cycling hub and the weekends are rider-focussed, with many group rides choosing to meet at the café on a Saturday and Sunday, along with G!RO’s own cafe ride on Sunday morning.
It’s where G!RO’s location on Esher High Street, part of the so-called ‘Olympic corridor’ pays dividends – the Portsmouth Road is a key thoroughfare for cyclists heading out into the hills. Goodman and Addison are both local to the area and knew it was a prime location for a cycling cafe. Before selecting the premise for G!RO they parked up outside on a weekend morning and counted more than one thousand cyclists.
“A lot of people do our group ride, come back and meet their family for breakfast, which keeps everyone happy,” says Goodman. G!RO organises weekly women’s rides, too, and a beginner’s ride will also start soon. Community is at the heart of G!RO and large chalkboard lists upcoming rides and events.
“The reason why we didn’t want to start a shop or a club is because we wanted everybody to be welcome,” says Addison. “If you’re not in it then it can be very intimidating. We wanted to use the cafe as a vessel to break down those barriers. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, it doesn’t matter what you’re riding, just come and they’ll be something for you to get involved in and hopefully progress on through.
“We’d like to focus more on cycle development rides, helping people get into cycling, and that’s something we’ll look to grow in the future and the current group ride is very much a mixed ability.”
Whether a beginner or old hand, most riders will return to G!RO for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. Top-notch coffee is vital, says Addison, and the cafe offers four drip blends sourced from a local roaster, as well as their own exclusive G!ROPRESSO blend. Homemade cakes are supplied by Pinnock’s in Ripley and fresh deli-style breakfasts and lunches are prepared on site.
Move to the back of G!RO and onto the raised mezzanine level at the back of the cafe and you’ll find a small retail area selling goods from Vulpine and Mission Workshop, as well as G!RO’s own range of custom kit, made by Sportful. G!RO is also the UK stockist of Argonaut and two of the American firm’s handmade carbon fibre bikes take pride of place in the cafe. There’s also a range of the consumable goods every cyclist needs, like multi-tools and inner tubes.
“We don’t want to compete with bike shops, because we’re not a bike shop, we’re a cafe with a retail element, but we get through so many inner tubes, it’s crazy,” says Addison.
“On our most recent shop ride nearly half the group was wearing our kit – and remember, we’re not a club, anybody can turn up,” he adds. “That’s not a mandatory thing, they chose to buy it and that’s very humbling.”
It’s a testament to the sense of community G!RO has built up in such a short space of time. With the Esher cafe such a success, thoughts inevitably turn to expansion.
“We’ve only been open half-a-year and it’s been a steep learning curve,” says Goodman. “We have visions of expanding and we have places we’d like to move into in the future but first we want to continue to grow here.”
Addison adds: “I’m immensely proud of what we’ve done in only seven months and once we get the balance right here, with the cycle retail, community and coffee, then we’ll have something to take somewhere else, but we’re still learning.”
Learning they may be but G!RO has quickly become part of cycling life in Esher and, whether you’re on two wheels or not, if you stop by you’re likely to find first-rate coffee, superb cakes and a welcoming atmosphere for cyclists and non-cyclists alike.