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Josh Crane spends his Wednesdays exploring the nuances of time and temperature in an industrial coffee roaster he sold his car to pay for. On Thursdays, he delivers that coffee by bike around the city of Boulder, Colorado, silently dropping off his goodies at businesses and residential doorsteps like a caffeinated version of the Tooth Fairy.
The Coffee Ride has been in business now for four and a half years, and while it can be said that Crane is one of the lucky few who has figured out a way to get paid to ride his bike, not many cyclists would find a lot of appeal in how he’s doing it. The bike he uses isn’t some fancy motor-assisted cargo bike, but a rickety old 10-speed. The coffee gets towed behind in a beat-up old Burley child trailer. Filling the main triangle of the bike is a plywood board emblazoned with The Coffee Ride logo, secured with a bunch of plastic zip-ties.
On really busy days, the whole rig weighs nearly 200kg. And Boulder isn’t exactly known for being pan-flat. But the way Crane tells it, he’s living the dream. And when you listen to him describe his routing in person, it’s hard to argue.
“I haven’t missed a Thursday in four and half years. I delivered in three feet of snow once, and I got passed by a cross-country skier in the middle of the road. A lot of people think that that would be the worst thing to go out and ride in that. But to me, it makes me feel human. I start dying if I’m sitting inside or sitting at the computer and not being fulfilled. It’s like those are the days that you know you feel alive.”
If nothing else, he sure is riding a lot. Crane says he’s covered nearly 15,000km since starting up his coffee roasting and delivery service, and that only includes the distance he puts in on that one day of the week. Other days are spent on mixed-surface group rides with friends, dealing with endless piles of emails, and various marketing and demo events around the area to help drum up business.
But it wasn’t always this way for him. And in fact, cycling wasn’t even his first love; it was soccer and long-distance trail running. But two big injuries instantly took both of those away from him. The first was a snowboarding incident that left him with a shattered hip. Six months later — and while seemingly well on the mend — he got “taken out really hard” and landed on that same hip during a soccer game, and woke up the next morning with a right calf muscle that refused to work. To this day, it remains eerily detached from the rest of his nervous system.
Crane had always enjoyed riding bikes, though — he even took a mountain biking class when he was a student at the University of Wisconsin — and it wasn’t long after his injury he realized that while he could no longer run, he could still pedal, lopsided musculature and all. This time around, the bike bug dug in hard and wouldn’t let go.
Eventually, it was all he wanted to do. He gave up his aspirations of going to medical school, quit his job working in a laboratory at the local hospital, and took a position as a photographer and ride organizer at Pros Closet, a local bike reseller. However, as so many other avid cyclists have discovered, working in the bike industry didn’t exactly equate to riding his bike all day, every day.
Worse yet, the coffee sucked. But as it turns out, it’s a good thing that it did.
“It was kind of the perfect storm of events,” Crane recalled. “I wanted to ride my bike more, so I started trying to work in the bike industry because it wasn’t happening enough while I was working at the hospital. But then it turned out that I rode my bike less. But a cool turning point was that we had really bad coffee over there, and it made everybody really grumpy.
“The best part of my day was riding my 15-minute commute into work, and bringing coffee in for everybody. I would make a Chemex for everybody, and I saw how stoked they were; it just made their day. So then I decided that I wanted to do this forever, for everybody.”
And that was his a-ha moment. He had already been roasting coffee as a hobby for a couple of years, but it dawned on him that bringing that sort of experience to more people could not only possibly be a viable business, but a way to get paid to ride his bike. And so he quit that job, too, sold his beloved Subaru WRX wagon, used the money to buy an industrial roaster, and The Coffee Ride was born.
On the surface, Crane’s business solely revolves around delivering freshly roasted coffee beans by bike. But Crane actually likens coffee more as a time machine of sorts. It’s not the flavor of the coffee itself per se, but rather the experiences that people associate with it that he’s after.
“Our senses of taste and smell are also some of the easiest ways for your brain to reflect back on memories. That’s how it is with coffee. To me, the Coffee Ride is fun, adventure, stopping four or five times on a six-hour ride for coffee with friends, laughing, just having a childhood experience on a bike. But it could be a bike ride, going camping with your kids when you woke up in the morning and made coffee over a camp stove or a fire, or you had a rad time climbing the Flatirons here in Boulder, and then came back into town and had a cup of coffee, and said, ‘Man, I wish I could live here, but whatever.’ But you can get that feeling. It’s pretty cool.
“If I could recall their favorite group ride with a cup of coffee, that’s my goal. It’s to get somebody stoked and give them a 30-second break from their computer, or from whatever gnarly thing they have going on in their life. I feel like I have the potential to give that to somebody.”
After several stressful years of just trying to make ends meet, Crane’s business is finally in the black, he’s expanded to mail-order subscriptions, and he’s even renting his own space (he was previously sharing). And naturally, what better way to reward himself for the effort than a new bike?
“I sold my Subaru to buy a coffee roaster, and now my coffee roaster bought me a new bike. It’s pretty rad.”
Crane doesn’t remember exactly the first time he met local frame builder Peter Olivetti, but he knows it was on a group ride. And he didn’t really like him at first.
“He’s almost annoying because he’s so excited about bikes. The first time we rode, he wouldn’t shut up. I half-wheeled him just to make him breathe hard so he’d stop talking. But it’s cool. After I got to know him, he just wants people psyched on what they’re getting and what he’s doing. I appreciate our friendship so much just because he is this genuine dude who wants only good things for everybody. We get along because that’s all I want to do with coffee.
“So we started riding bikes, and he always had these sweet bikes,” Crane continued. “But he didn’t even tell me what he did for a really long time, until maybe a year later when I asked him about his bike, that was the first time that he’d told me he built it himself.”
As it turned out, Olivetti was searching for a couple of brand ambassadors for his own fledgling business, and Crane was in the market for a new singlespeed ‘cross racer. Another perfect storm.
“I was looking for two folks to ride bikes for me in the fall,” said Olivetti. “I really wanted people that were generally good people and personalities; I didn’t really care if they were uber-racer folks, more like ambassadors than anything else. Per the bike itself as a frame, I really wanted to build some legit Euro-style cross bikes. Sure, you could ride it as a gravel bike or whatever, but really it’s meant to handle tight turns, high barriers, and other technical features.
“The tubing is primarily all Columbus Zona, but I bought out the last of the True Temper heat-treated 35mm down tubes that have a 0.7/0.6/0.7mm butt profile. I really like that tube for these bikes because, while not the lightest, it’s way durable and a bit stiffer than a 0.7/0.4/0.7. People abuse their bikes regardless of whether they even realize it or not, and in a ‘cross-style bike that is probably exponential, so I figured that was a good way to address one of the more battered tubes in the mix.”
Crane openly admits that while he’s happy with how The Coffee Ride is progressing, he’s still not exactly rolling in cash, so just paying for the frame itself was a stretch financially. Instead of having a specialty painter do the finish work, he and Olivetti decided to use the novel Spray.Bike range of aerosol dry matte acrylic powder coat paints. Little coffee-bean masks were cut by Aaron Barcheck of Mosaic Cycles and Spectrum Powder Works, and with the help of a few friends, the duo rattle-canned their way to a custom finish.
“The Bean Bike paint would have cost like $800 or something ridiculous to do if we went for it,” Olivetti said. “Instead, it was $50 worth of bean masks and $50 worth of rattle cans. And probably too much of our own time.”
From a distance, the finish looks superb, what with its clever green-to-tan-to-brown fade, meant to represent the coffee roasting process. But look even a little bit closer, and there are plenty of imperfections. The underside of the down tube has a wealth of rock chips, the edges aren’t exactly super clean, and there’s a big rub mark on the right side of the down tube from Crane’s knee during one particularly slushy and muddy mixed-surface race called Old Man Winter.
Some might look at all of those things as imperfections, but to Crane, it’s character. And just as he hopes to achieve with his coffee, what’s more important to him than the bike itself, or how it looks, are the experiences it can provide him. For Crane, each little ding, scratch, and rub represents some big ride, or a special day in the saddle, or something else he’d rather remember vividly than polish away. In fact, he even plans to clear-coat the entire frame soon to seal everything in as-is.
“How many beautiful sunny-day rides do you go on with your friends that you hardly remember?” he said. “It’s always the days when the wind is blowing at 70mph and you’re just grinding, or you got hailed on, or you’re trying so hard that your eyes are sideways and your legs are knocking the paint off your bike because you’re going so hard. Those are the things that stick.”