Anne Sauer, a small-business consultant based in Alameda, inadvertently assembled a devoted group of cafe goers after she asked a few friends to cycle with her to West Oakland’s Kilovolt Coffee in spring 2021. She had just moved to the East Bay from San Francisco and was searching for ways to replicate the accepting, queer-friendly bike community she had enjoyed in the city. What initially began as an early-bird motivator has, according to Sauer, turned into an “anti-depression ride” and colorful way to support small business along the way.

Two years later, Coffee Ride is an organized, well-oiled machine. There’s now a Slack channel with about 30 members, and the destination of choice is planned weeks in advance. Sauer advertises every trip with punchy graphics on her public Instagram where she includes each week’s meet-up location and coffee shop.

“We do go back to favorite spots, but we’ve visited a huge number of community-owned and family-centric businesses,” said Sauer. “We’re not an institution, it’s a personal network…There’s no obligation to come every week. The fact it’s every Friday makes it easier for people to show up when they can.”

Anyone can participate in the 7:30 a.m. rides, which typically have eight to ten participants. Trips range from two to four miles and are intended for all ages and experience levels; they’re also  “no-drop,” which means they’re paced so no rider is left behind. The starting place for each ride alternates between a BART station, typically in Oakland,  or at Snow Park at Lake Merritt. 

For Heather Hryciw, a regular since 2021, the rides are a “mood-lifter” and have deepened her sense of community. “I feel more connected to Oakland as a result of it,” she said.

Kristen Leckie was inspired to join as an opportunity to bike with others during the most challenging days of the pandemic, but the people kept them coming back. 

“I wanted to get more biking in, but then I realized the community has been really important,” said Leckie.

Research has suggested  that cycling can alleviate mental health symptoms and is viewed by many as a mood booster, as Hryciw noted. Experts also say that exercising in public spaces – such as roads, parks and beaches – increases social connections, sense of place and reduces stress through the release of hormones like dopamine.

“During our research, we’ve found that spaces that are welcoming to bicycles and pedestrians are effective in improving happiness and mental health,” said Eshan Ranjbar, an assistant professor of urban design at Tarbiat Modares University in Iran where he studies the relationship between mental health and city infrastructure.

According to Ranjbar, cycling allows people to feel more connected to their community because they take routes they otherwise wouldn’t encounter when driving, and are in close proximity to other people. 

“Everyone needs to have social relationships, and pedestrian urban spaces can provide that,” he said.

There are structural and cultural barriers to accessing these benefits, though. Cycling can be dangerous on heavily trafficked streets without protected bike lanes, and Oakland’s roads are particularly unsafe for Black and brown residents who, according to data from the city of Oakland, are twice as likely to die from pedestrian collisions than other racial groups. Comprised of mostly women, nonbinary, and people of color, Coffee Ride is intentional about bridging access and giving life to traditionally underrepresented bikers.

Longtime Oakland resident Jackie Gross tried a number of popular cycling groups in the area before discovering Coffee Ride about two years ago. It took a few tries before Gross, a Black woman, found the right crew for her, but she’s been a member ever since.

“I really treasure the fact that Coffee Ride was started by a queer person, is very welcoming to women and all other genders, and that there’s space for us to be all of those things at the same time,” Gross said.

Coffee Ride has been fruitful for Carter Lavin, too, as he continues to navigate trepidations about meeting others as the pandemic continues. A political organizer, Lavin has cycled for decades and frequently joins East Bay bike groups. What he enjoys about Coffee Ride, though, is the group’s goal of bringing business to independent coffee shops in the region, fostering an atmosphere that gives him enough of a push to try something new.

“Oakland’s got a million things,” he said, and noting that it’s easy to stay within one’s comfort zone. But Friday mornings give him an excuse to enjoy a coffee shop he might not have heard of before.

Two people seated at table
Xochi the Dog, Cafe owner Antoine Fouster and his mother, Tae Ha, who helps him operate the shop. Credit: Nadia Lathan

One such destination is East Oakland’s Xochi the Dog (1038 E 21st St.), which serves up traditional cafe offerings with a Spanish bent, including items such as horchata lattes and mushroom empanadas. The shop sits squarely in the middle of a residential neighborhood just outside Lake Merritt and replaced what was previously a vacant mixed-use building. It opened in November 2020, during the height of the pandemic, and has primarily relied on word-of-mouth to attract patrons.

“The act in itself brings awareness,” owner Antoine Fouster said after Sauer posted about a ride to the coffee shop last year. “That’s 20 more people that know about us that may have a chance of coming back again or bringing someone else with them.”

Sheila Hollander, the owner of vegetarian coffee shop Petit Cafe, also launched her business during the pandemic. Petit Cafe opened at 411 30th St. in February 2020, shortly before indoor dining was prohibited, making it far harder to establish customer connections.

“We opened our doors exactly one month before we had to shut our doors,” said Hollander.

“I was touched and overjoyed that they chose our cafe as a destination,” said Hollander. “It was definitely a feel-good day for all of us.” 

Those interested in joining Coffee Ride can contact Sauer through her Instagram page for more information about upcoming rides. Rollout is at 7:30 a.m. every Friday and riders can bring their own wheels or rent a Bay Wheels bike.