Last week, Emma Morano, the oldest person in the world, passed away at the graceful age of 117. She was believed to have been the last surviving person born in the 1800s. Having lived for over a century, she most likely witnessed a drastic change in modern society, specifically with respect to transport. The world has come a long way since the days when our great grand-parents used a horse and cart to get around. With huge advances in science and technology, the average person living in the 21st century now owns a car. That being said, our generation is slowly starting to realize that the automobile doesn’t make a lot of sense in an urban context. It isn’t just the smog or car accidents; in a city, cars aren’t even a convenient way to get around. In fact, a growing number of European cities are banning cars in certain neighborhoods. With so much traffic, construction and pollution, it’s no wonder so many urbanites have adopted cycling as an alternative way to get around the city. Imagine a place where cyclists can shop or repair their bicycles, all while enjoying a cup of coffee. Enter Allo Vélo.
If truth be told, we both have an attachment to cycling, having started early on in our childhood. As early millennials, cycling brings us back to a time before tablets and smart phones ruled the world. It was the 1980s and kids actually played outside. To us, riding a bike meant freedom and discovery. It also meant meeting up with our friends at the park to compare bikes and see who had the nicest set of wheels in the neighbourhood. That same passion for cycling and adventure is at the very core of Allo Vélo’s business model. Co-owner Lamar Timmins was a bicycle tour guide in Munich, Germany before opening the original Allo Vélo location in Saint-Henri 4 years ago. Together with his mother, Fiona, Lamar offers a unique customer experience where visitors can stop in for a tune up and enjoy a coffee while they wait. The shop currently imports high quality bicycles from Denmark and the Netherlands that are perfectly suited for city riding. They also sell transport bikes that have 3 wheels and allow you to bring your pet or child along for the ride.
Having recently relocated to Griffintown, the cafe is reminiscent of Montreal’s industrial past. Since 2013, the surrounding area has been undergoing a revitalization, with new condo projects popping up at every corner. Before it became the “in” place to live Griffintown was once a working-class neighborhood; populated by newly-arrived immigrants who were recruited by the area’s many industrial businesses. In fact, the abandoned factory facing Allo Vélo used to be a milk treatment center where actual cows could be seen walking in and out of the building (talk about mixing old with new!). The industrial vibe of the neighbourhood is also reflected in Allo Vélo’s interior decor. When stepping through the front door, the first thing you see is a small repair counter where visitors can request a bike tune-up or simply have a flat tire fixed. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the cafe offers a free coffee with every flat tire repair – this is a perfect example of how to turn a bad situation into a good one! To the left is a large showroom, where bicycles and cycling equipment are neatly displayed for sale. At the back of this room is a quaint sitting area where visitors can sit and enjoy a coffee made by Lamar on his retro Faema E-61 LEGEND; a throwback to the iconic Italian espresso machine which was originally introduced in 1961 when Faema was a big cycling sponsor. It should come as no surprise that professional cycling has a long lasting love affair with coffee. We have all seen pictures of professional cyclists leaning against a counter in the Tour de France sponsors area, sipping an espresso. This caffeine-cycling connection runs as far back as 1956 when Faema sponsored a professional cycling team that lasted until 1970. Among the athletes that rode for Faema was the legendary Eddy Merckx who won his first Tour de France in 1968. Faema is an acronym for “Fabbrica Apparecchiature Elettromeccaniche e Affini” but Belgian cycling fans said it stood for Faites Attention, Eddy Merckx Arrive (Look out, Eddy Merckx is coming!).
Not only does Lamar use an iconic Faema espresso machine but he also uses Faema coffee beans giving his visitors the impression that they are making a pit stop to fuel up on caffeine before continuing their cycling route. The selection of coffees at Allo Velo is simple, consisting mainly of 5 or 6 options and some cookies for hungry commuters. The coffee pleasantly surprised us, considering that Allo Vélo is more of a bike shop than a full-blown cafe. A notable mention must be given to the cappuccino foam, which could be eaten with a spoon (not something you see very often these days). While enjoying our coffee, we met a couple that had stopped by the shop to fix a flat tire. While we discussed their passion for cycling, we came to learn that they too had their own website which focused primarily on travelling and outdoor adventuring. We have always believed that cafes are a place to socialize, and this was a great example of how the relationship between cycling and coffee can bring many different sub-cultures together. Cyclists and Caffeine addicts unite!
We are living in the information age. A study conducted in 2011 showed that the average person takes in five times more information than they did only 30 years ago. With all of this constant bombardment on our brains, it is no wonder that so many of us are suffering from stress and anxiety. It’s easy to get caught up in the rat race and forget how awesome it is to just enjoy life. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that happiness can be found in simple things, like riding a bike, taking that first sip of coffee in the morning; or enjoying some bromance with a friend. While most of us won’t live to 117 like Emma Morano did, it is important to make the best of our time. In the words of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once in a while you might just miss it.”
David and Joey