If you took 100 mountain bike riders and asked them to recount their favourite memories, their top misty-eyed reminiscences of a lifetime in the saddle, you would get all sorts of weird and wonderful tales. Difficult rides tamed, nerves overcome, long rides through wilderness to safety, bad weather, good weather, sheep carcasses poked with sticks… it would all be in there somewhere.
But disentangle the details and you are sure to find a footnote in almost every one. A cafe stop at the start, middle or end of the day. OK, it occasionally might be a pub, it might be a friend’s kitchen, but somewhere through that day they will have stopped with their fellow riders for a break. They would have dropped helmets, peeled off outer layers and steamed gently while supping tea and laughing out loud through mud encrusted faces, under ridiculous hair. It is the law.
For many riders it has become an essential ingredient to their day out – no ride would be complete without a cake and coffee, a sit with friends to dismantle the day’s highs and lows. It is an extension to the day which would otherwise end in a wet car park, the last view of your pal being one of him balanced bare footed on his jacket, an obscene ballet dancer with shorts round his ankles, waving you off. Let’s face it, nobody wants that. Far better to take it indoors and end the day on a civil note, lounging in dry fleeces, backs to a roaring fire.

A cafe can be a haven of heat and comfort at the end of a hard winter’s ride, but it can also be a source of cold drinks and shade when you have come through a sweaty midsummer slog, a meeting point to spread the maps out before taking off or an emergency rendezvous if it all goes bad. It is all those things, so is it any wonder it has become so central to the mtb experience?
From a purely nutritional point of view there is nothing better than staggering up to a welcoming cafe, on the verge of complete bonk, only to check and realise that you DID slip that crisp tenner down the back of your Camelbak. You CAN have that date slice, you WILL shortly be feeling the warmth of a hot chocolate coursing through your veins. Drop the bike outside, push open the steamy door and fall into a seat for a slice of heaven.
We all know this, so where are the best cafes? Or more importantly, where are the best cafe rides?
To select the rides for this top 10, we called round some of the most notorious cafe riders across the country and asked for their top local rides. The criteria to be met were simple – it had to be a top ride worth travelling to and it had to involve a cafe somewhere along the way. And, of course, the cafe itself had to be a bit special, with a bike friendly attitude.
We started in the Lakes, the home of cafe riding culture of old, and went from there.