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Culture: Eateries and Bars Add Bikes to Menu

Published November 18, 2011

By Toby Hill

FORT COLLINS, CO—No need to worry about locking up your bike if you pop in for a pint of porter or cup of joe at Cranknstein in Fort Collins, Colorado.

“We have indoor bicycle parking. People can literally ride into the place” through a front door that opens overhead, said Evan Rau, who owns the combination bike shop, café and bar with partner Susan Dalke, a longtime barista and coffee roaster whose roasting machine bumps up against the shop area where Rau wrenches on bicycles.

Biking has long gone with beer and coffee like fat tires go with swoopy singletrack. But Cranknstein belongs to a growing breed of bike-inspired businesses that cater to cyclists’ tastes without necessarily being traditional bicycle retailers.

Refurbished bikes are displayed for sale throughout the 3,700-square-foot space, where customers belly up for craft beer on tap from such Fort Collins brewers as New Belgium, Odell and Funkwerks; dine on appetizers and bagel sandwiches; or enjoy Dalke’s caffeinated creations with the pies, cakes and scones baked on premises.

Seating will extend back into the shop area once a final bit of construction is completed, making for a seamless blend of bike sales and repairs, bar and café, Rau noted as Cranknstein neared the end of its first month in business in September. “People will be able to sit on couches or at tables and watch their bikes get worked on,” he said.

And if a customer at the bar has a bike question at, say, 11 p.m., after Rau has closed up shop, no worries. “Most of the staff here is very bike savvy,” he said. “So if I’m not around and people have technical questions about bikes, they can get them answered.”

Meanwhile, you’ll find no rigs for sale at OTB Bicycle Café. But the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, restaurant and bar, which opened in January 2009, overflows with cycling culture. Bicycle-themed murals and sculptures as well as decorations made from old bike parts abound. The wall dividing the restaurant’s two dining rooms is constructed from discarded wheels. In the bathrooms, old bike forks and hubs have been repurposed as toilet paper holders.

Hanging over the bar is owner Mike Kotyk’s 1981 Specialized Stumpjumper—he and his wife are avid mountain bikers—as well as a 1980 Ritchey on loan from Maurice Tierney, publisher of Pittsburgh-based Dirt Rag.

Cyclists who stop in while riding the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail one block from OTB can use the café’s pumps and tools, stock up on tubes or buy lights, reflectors and other accessories. They can also order from a menu that includes such items as Single Track Fries, Granny Gear Salad, the Fixie burger, the Livestrong Club and the PTAG Turkey Burger, named after the Pittsburgh Trails Advocacy Group.

At press time, Kotyk was awaiting final approval to convert two car lengths of curbside parking in front of OTB to dedicated bicycle parking, with racks to accommodate 30 bikes.

“We try to be like a hub for cycling,” he said. “We’re in the bar district and right across the river is Duquesne University, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh—a lot of college students. So we like to think that in addition to catering to cyclists, we’re promoting cycling and living an active lifestyle and being healthier and more active individuals.”

Kotyk’s mission of bike advocacy extends to offering free space for cycling and trail group meetings, donating monthly to PTAG, sponsoring local road racing team Iron City Bikes and holding bicycle-themed art and photography shows. Also, all the café’s pinball proceeds—the president of a national pinball association based in Pittsburgh is a cyclist, and he rotates a collection of machines through OTB—go to advocacy group Bike Pittsburgh.

In Portland, Oregon, a fervor for cycling also infuses Hopworks Urban Brewery and its newer sibling, Bikebar.

“It’s always been part of our culture,” said Bruce Kehe, marketing director. “It stems from [owner Christian Ettinger’s] passion and love for getting out on his bike and encouraging others to do the same.”

Hopworks opened in March 2008 with parking for 60 bikes, a repair stand with tools and pump, light fixtures made from bike frames, and a display of 40 junker frames hovering over the bar. Riders needing to fix a flat can order up a tube from the bartender to go along with a Peloton Steak Sandwich, pizza or Derailleur Chicken Sandwich and one of brewmaster Ettinger’s several organic beers.

Ettinger opened Bikebar in June along a major bike commuting route known as the North Williams Bike Highway, ridden by an estimated 3,000 cyclists a day. The bar here also has a display of frames overhead, but this time they are the work of local framebuilders including Renovo, Ti Cycles, Strawberry and Quixote Cycles.

Bikebar does not sell the frames, but the display acts as a showroom, with QR tags on the frames that customers can scan with their smartphones to get information on the builders. Bikebar reserves several spaces for frames produced by students at United Bicycle Institute, located next door.

The bar’s selection of bottled beers is displayed in 99 cycling bottle cages on a wall, and customers can purchase tubes, energy bars or get a loaner lock from the bar if they forgot their own. Two energy-generating stationary bikes out front feed back into Bikebar’s electrical grid, speaking to Ettinger’s commitment to sustainability and green business practices.

Bike advocacy is an important ingredient for success at HandleBar, a bicycle-themed pub in St. Louis, Missouri, that celebrated its first anniversary in September. Owner Tatyana Telnikova said her business is active in local biking events, including alley cat races, bike polo matches and fundraisers. HandleBar also allies with Bicycle Works, which provides donated bicycles to youths willing to put in sweat equity fixing them up.

“I kind of fell in love with St. Louis riding a bicycle,” said Telnikova, a bike commuter originally from Moscow, Russia, who moved to her adopted city 12 years ago. “I’ve noticed more and more people riding in the streets over the years. It’s a patronage that I’m part of.”

HandleBar offers bicycle parking both inside and out. A giant penny farthing sculpture out front was made by Wheeler-Welding.com, a custom bike rack business in which Telnikova is a partner.

Cycling murals, chainring stencils, bike sculptures and wheels line the walls inside, where HandleBar serves pizzas (on St. Louis-style thin crusts), sandwiches, tacos and other munchies made with local products alongside a beer list that leans heavily toward such Missouri producers as O’Fallon, Perennial and Schlafly.

“We have special surprises for people who ride in. It could be a shot, a beer, a piece of candy,” Telnikova said. “But they have to show their helmet, so we promote safe riding.”

Bikes are strewn throughout the space, but most of them belong to employees and friends; HandleBar doesn’t sell bikes. It will, however, allow patrons to test-ride its penny farthing and tall bike—but only under close supervision and, presumably, if the customer has not indulged too heavily at the bar.

“The bicycle to me, and to all of us here, is a metaphor for locality. You’re more likely to know things about your community if you’re on a bike instead of a car,” Telnikova said. “And it’s just more fun.”

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