By Travis Duncan
To look at Chris Witt, a relaxed man enjoying his espresso in a tie-dye shirt on a weekday, you’d never guess that it was only a short time ago he was a hard charging senior manager leading a $50 million electronics division.
“I flew 100,000 miles a year for 11 years straight to meet with customers in China, Berlin, or someplace else,” Witt said. “I was everywhere else and my kids were growing up here and I was missing it.”
So three years ago, Witt went on a 15-month sabbatical from his job at Agilent. He stayed at home raising his two daughters while his wife pursued a degree at Colorado College.
“That year-and-a-half of being a mom and being local was the best time of my life,” he said. “I started thinking about how to shift to a business career that was more present here.”
After a night of conversation and a few glasses of red wine with cyclists at SRM Training System in the Springs, Witt’s idea for a bike/coffee shop started to take shape. Cafe Velo, situated just off the Santa Fe Trail up the road from New Life Church, began as a dream and a dirt floor back in January, and opened its doors only a few months later. The store’s location next to the trail makes it a convenient stop for those wanting to meet up for a training ride. Witt and his brother-in-law, James, a 19-year-veteran of the bike retail industry, said they chose the location strategically.
“After we started to really look at where different bike shops were positioned in town and what their strengths were by location, it struck us that between Woodmen and Castle Rock and even almost Denver, there’s a shortage of serious bike shops,” Witt said. “But this has been a high growth area of the Springs and there are lots and lots of cyclists here. We decided we wanted to be on the north side of town.”
Witt described the shop as being founded on three key tenants. “We wanted to try to achieve an environment that defies some of the bike shop stereotypes,” Witt said.
“A lot of times, bike shops can appear to be a little bit unapproachable. People may feel intimidated to ask questions. We wanted to infuse the bike shop with a coffee shop that has a very friendly attitude that’s unimposing for the first-time rider or first-time triathlete. We wanted to create a space where they feel safe about asking things.
“The second stereotype is that bike shops inherently get really cluttered and crowded. There’s all these great products you want to bring in. We wanted to have that nice selection and those products without the place getting so jammed and crowded. We built a storage mezzanine and have a lot of our back stock up out of sight.
“The third thing we want to exploit are the potential synergies between the café space and the bike shop space. We want local triathlete coaches to lead their runs or rides from here and afterward hold a clinic. When we do have a big ride come through, this place fills right up with 20 - 40 people. We wanted to have a space for that.”
With the help of James and coffee guru Doug Stephens, Witt has achieved that ineffable blend of hip and approachable. Café manager Stephens helped me choose the form of caffeine I’d be imbibing, eventually selling me on the lighter espresso blend from Ozo’s coffee roasters in Boulder, describing it as having a citrusy middle and a deep, almost chocolate-like quality. Just hearing words like that used to describe coffee was like a little symphony to my ears. Minutes after finishing my drink, the multi-talented Stephens could be heard with an air gun in the back of the store, putting together some new equipment for the shop. In addition to the coffee beverages brewed on the top-of-the-line Synesso machine from Seattle, the Cafe Velo menu also features smoothies and acai bowls, menu items that Witt’s wife included as a nod to her home state of Hawaii.
Training rides, clinics, and even races are beginning to increase at Cafe Velo. The first annual Cafe Velo Tri-Lakes Time Trial hosted by CP Racing last weekend had more than 240 riders participate, with a few big names from the cycling world in attendance, including pro women’s cyclist Evelyn Stevens. Tomorrow, the Colorado Tandem Club is even meeting at the shop for a ride (information below). These kinds of meetups keep increasing, Witt said, pointing out that Cafe Velo currently has a Thursday evening training run and Friday evening bike training ride with Nichole Drummer of NEO Endurance Sports & Fitness, a weekly 4.5-mile tempo run with Lee Gardiner from Trismarter, and upcoming sessions on training and nutrition with Austrian triathlete Michael Weiss.
They even recently signed on as the official cycling shop for Lifetime Fitness.
“We’re going to start to fill in the gaps [between other training rides and clinics] with Cafe Velo lead rides,” Witt said. “Some of those would be exclusively for Lifetime Fitness. They’re looking for mountain rides and they sponsor the Leadville 100. James and I did that last year. We have a couple go-to rides, a 65- and 85-mile ride we do right out of here. For folks looking to build endurance for Leadvillle, you‘ve got to layer those rides in, so that’s something that’s coming in the next few weeks.”
Colorado Tandem Club ride (20 tandem couples are already signed up!)
When: Saturday, May 12 at 10 a.m.
Where: The ride starts at Cafe Velo, ¼ mile north of the intersection of Voyager Parkway and Interquest Parkway. Tandem riders meet at 10 a.m. with feet on pedals at 10:30 a.m. This ride will include a loop of the Air Force Academy, a tour of the cadet chapel, and some shopping at the USAFA Visitor’s Center.
Riders are coming from as far away as Fort Collins and Grand Junction. This ride is sponsored by the Colorado Tandem Club coloradotandemclub.org.