The Canadian city of Montreal is one of North America’s best when it comes to cycling. With a vast network of cycling lanes and as the host of two famous professional bike races, it’s no wonder the streets are filled with a diverse group of cyclists – even when the temperature plummets and snow starts to fall. It’s also where SmartHalo was founded and still calls home.
With this life on two wheels comes an ecosystem of bike shops, bike-sharing and now… bike cafes.
We wanted to know how and why three businessmen turned their love for cycling into a business, founding the globally recognized Le Club Espresso Bar.
3 MEN WALK INTO A CAFE…
It’s clear, on either a group ride from the cafe or a packed evening event, that all three founders are enthused by the sport and the community that surrounds it.
Laurent, one of the trio, used to manage one of the biggest mountain bike events in the region and has always had two wheels in his garage. For Guillaume and Alex, it’s a more recent love affair.
“Myself and Alex discovered road and gravel cycling in the last five years,” says Guillaume. “Since then, we’ve developed a deep connection and passion with the sport, and with the people and the community around it.”
And there is, of course, the connection to coffee.
Guillaume claims Laurent is the most passionate about coffee from the three entrepreneurs.
“[Through him] we discovered this world that’s quite complex and evolving rapidly. You’ve got coffee as a commodity, but you also have coffee as a… particular product like wine. With wine you can reach a level of complexity in taste and in smell — it’s the same with a coffee bean.”
But these three aren’t the only ones who have an affinity for both cycling and coffee.
“In the cycling world, the coffee culture has always had a presence. Either through sponsors of teams or big competitions. There’s a long list of heritage, influences and stories — it’s just great to be part of that.’’
THE X FACTOR
Based in a trendy area not far from downtown Montreal, the Le Club Espresso Bar opened its doors just under three years ago. The goal? To be the first cycling cafe in Montreal.
“We were inspired by some similar cities and companies around the world where there is a strong cycling community and coffee culture. New York, Girona, Vancouver and Nice… so we thought that there was a place for that kind of concept here in Montreal.”
But finding a balance between cycling and the world of coffee was important to the business, and perhaps a factor in its success.
“We cater to riders, and we wanted a space to host activities to grow that community. But then we’re also a classic neighbourhood coffee shop that caters to families and to anyone [else] who wants to hang out in a comfortable, calm and welcoming environment. This gives us the luxury of celebrating both our passions under one roof.”
Customers being served, before the pandemic
Drawing inspiration from Scandinavian design, Le Club is a light and spacious area— modern but inviting.
“We work hard to be as general and accessible as possible in the creation of the space and in the themes that we’re trying to portray,” says Guillaume.
Alex is the brains behind the space and a designer himself.
“A good example of the balance between clean aesthetics and cycling culture would be the bar itself. If you look closely, you will find that the colour of the lines are the same as the one you would find on the track of a velodrome,” he explains.
“The lines can also be found in the design of our logo and throughout our product. We strongly believe that the best aspect of cycling is its community. It’s for that reason that we always keep the lines together, like friends riding side by side. This is a central part of the idea of inclusivity that we strive for.
Cycling can look quite intimidating from the outside and we hope to change that by having a place where everyone feels the part, no matter their level or their interests.”
HOME SWEET HOME
Despite half the year being winter, Montreal is a thriving cycling city. While subzero temperatures may discourage many other North American cyclists, Guillaume believes that Montrealers have learned to adapt and take advantage of the warmer months.
“When it comes down to cycling, even though we have six months of winter, we also have six months of summer where, you know, people are out there and there’s always been a great community. People are constantly finding new ways of riding throughout the year. Being creative with indoor trainers for example, or organizing charity events for good causes. It always inspires us.”
Cyclist patrons enjoying the cafe, before the pandemic.
Montreal’s unique European influence is also, in part, responsible for the thriving bike community.
“I think there’s a nice culture in the city, an inclusiveness. There’s also a European touch that is unique to the province, which brings a great balance of life and comfort that few cities in the world seem to be giving.”
A PACKED CALENDAR
At the very heart of Le Club’s mission is to grow and support the cycling community, and it’s shown most clearly during their events. In spring, an extensive calendar of group rides start from the cafe, each one filled with cyclists of all abilities — sometimes with up to 80 riders.
This has a knock-on effect, as Guillaume explains:
“Sometimes it’s cold or it’s dark, [or] it’s super early… but suffering like that together brings a good feeling. And then you go share a coffee at Le Club before everyone goes off to work. Lots of people join these rides after they’ve just bought a bike and they quickly become really passionate.”
Patrons at Le Club, before the pandemic
“We see these characters coming back with their own groups of friends, sharing a coffee and sharing our community. So there’s sort of an exponential effect. These are ambassadors not only for the cafe, but also the sport.”
But it’s not just the ride program. The unique space also hosts parties and talks, blending sport and culture, playing to people’s passions and interests when weather keeps them locked inside.
An event at Le Club, before the pandemic
“We host evenings throughout the winter where people [can] share a story about an experience that they had either around cycling or coffee.
So, for example, one night we organized a talk where three speakers shared a bike packing adventure, and they all had little coffee moments in their stories.
The characters are there. The stories are great. It was an evening with beer flowing, quick bites and just a bunch of people that came to listen to these stories from around the world.
It’s free of charge. You can come in. Listen to these stories and share a drink. It’s one of the best things we do.”