Lets face it most of us cyclists love a good cafe stop correct? A good catch up with friends and fellow riders while refuelling over a hot coffee and poached eggs on toast is our favorite here at BBHQ! Finding the right cafe can be an issue, not all cafes like a peloton of lycra descending on their establishment, or muddy shoes trailing over their clean floors, a tool we have used many times here at BBHQ for not only finding the right cafe but also exploring new routes as we find new places to stop is Cafe Network, so we decided to talk to them find out more about it, how it started etc and share it with you our members and readers!
Café Network started life in September 2015 after founder, John Bowerbank had been tasked by his club to lead some rides. Not wanting to stick to ‘the same old routes’, John went looking for new routes and with it, new café stops. As John did not have an extensive knowledge of his local area, he sought the help of others in identifying suitable cafes.
The idea for Café Network extended from this as John considered that, if he was having problems in finding good café stops, so must others. Based on this, he created a Facebook community page to receive recommendations. He looked at ways of reaching cyclists and he decided that Strava clubs would be a suitable starting point. He spent a good many evenings using the Strava search facility to locate clubs county by county and left a message on each one asking for café recommendations and giving the Facebook address for Café Network.
John wasn’t prepared for the response. Recommendations came thick and fast and John was struggling to sift through them all and put them onto a database so he enlisted the help of his partner, Heidi. Together, they dealt with the initial rush of recommendations but soon realised that they needed a better method of receiving recommendations that would be more ‘functional’ in getting the data onto spreadsheets. John created some forms using a company he found on the internet and instantly, some of the time pressures eased and the system began to take shape.
In a little over a week, John and Heidi had over 300 café recommendations. The next step was to get them mapped for all to see.
After experimenting with different map providers, John realised that the best free map facility was Google Maps and he started to build the map. At first he just used standard map icons but felt they were boring and looked for alternatives. He ended up designing his own map pointers which then became the brand logo for Café Network that you see today.
At first he used postcodes to place markers on the map but it was clear that these were not accurate, particularly in rural areas. John started studying hints and tips for using Google Maps and made some useful discoveries that vastly improved the accuracy and appearance of the map.
As the map grew, so more and more cyclists came on board and the likes on the Café Network community page carried on rising steadily over the weeks. As the frantic first few months passed, Café Network settled down giving John & Heidi time for ideas on how to improve the experience for cyclists. Spurred by lots of encouragement and requests from participants, John looked at other ways in which Café Network could help cyclists. One of the requested things was a website as it became clear that not all cyclists were fans of or used Facebook. John & Heidi taught themselves website building using online DIY websites and after more than a few false starts, created the Café Network website seen today (www.cafenetwork.info). Providing a contact page was probably the most important thing as many ore recommendations came in from website enquiries.
As networking produced more users and more recommendations, John created a Twitter account and discovered a whole new world of cyclists and the website became the focal point for all. John & Heidi then sat down and thought about the different types of cyclists each with their unique needs, from those just needing a fresh place to try locally to audax riders and of course cycle tourists. It occurred to John that a list of local bike shops might help where breakdowns occur far from home and he started asking the community for bike shop recommendations and then accommodation recommendations, both of which met with a great response
To further encourage participation and to help spread the word about Café Network, John and Heidi started posting on cycling club Facebook pages and this generated new interest and many more café recommendations. It was this that led John & Heidi to start including clubs on the map and the ideas of a café photo gallery and club logo gallery which are now a part of the Facebook page and website, as well as starting the Café Network Strava club which now has over 380 members.
Everything seemed to be coming along nicely and milestones were being reached. They had 1,000 cafes on the map, 2000 likes on Facebook, regular traffic through the website yet John still felt something was missing. One or two people had commented about an app that cyclists could use when out and about that gave them access to the map and possibly route planning. Now John would be the first to admit that he is not technically minded in the field of computers and mobile devices and as he searched the internet for inspiration, he came across a software company that offered DIY apps. After lots of tries and fails, John managed to create an app that mirrored most of the functions of Café Network including the map, the recommendation forms, and access to the various media areas of the community. It is available to Andoid and Apple mobile devices and can be downloaded from the relevant app store (and of course, it’s free!).
Today, Café Network has over 2600 cafes, 370 bike shops, 100 accommodation stops and 180 cycling clubs on its map with more being added each week. They have over 6100 likes on their Facebook page and the website has steady traffic on a daily basis. It is and will remain a free resource for cyclists and John & Heidi are grateful to everybody who has made a contribution to its success.
Strava Club: https://www.strava.com/clubs/162516