Coffee, Community, and Cycling en Deux Langues

Every weekend, a road cycling club out of Le Peloton Café in Paris hosts group outings that attract dedicated riders, new cyclists, and visitors speaking a mix of French and English. The goal is to make cycling accessible to everyone and to explore the forests, valleys, and villages around France.
© Janelle Sweeney

The best way to explore Paris and surrounding Ile-de-France is by bike. Along white gravel paths in the forest of Fontainebleau, through the gardens of Versailles, or up to a fortress perched above the Chevreuse Valley, cycling offers an intimate exploration of the region, entirely self-propelled. But “cycling can be a very intimidating sport for beginners,” says Christian Osburn, co-owner of Le Peloton in the Marais. “On a group ride, you see people wearing matching gear with expensive bikes. We wanted a place that was acceptable for people just getting into it.” Osburn, who is often spotted pulling espressos still in his bike cleats and bibs, moved to Paris twenty years ago from Florida. He and co-owner Paul Barron, who hails from New Zealand, opened the café in 2015, expanding on their city bike tour business, Bike About. From the start, community was a central focus.

Sara Callon, 32, moved to France from Ohio in 2015 and started visiting Le Peloton in the summer of 2020, in search of human connection after the first lockdown. “After watching so many cyclists meet at the café pre or post ride, I signed up for a social beginners ride on a bike rented from the café and was hooked,” she says. Laura Fromm, 34, who now rides regularly with Le Peloton Cycling Club, also discovered cycling when she arrived in Paris from California in 2019. “I moved to France to embrace the challenge of assimilating to a new culture and language, but never imagined that this decision would also introduce me to cycling,” she says. “Moving to a foreign country put me in a posture where I was more willing to accept challenges as invitations to expand my perspective, even on my own capabilities.”

Six months after she moved to Paris, Fromm found herself on a 300-kilometer ride to London with Osburn and several other regulars at the café. She was new to the sport, with a bike much too small, but she fell in love. Now, she rides a sleek black Canyon and is outfitted with a meticulously researched cycling kit, color-coordinated from her Gore-Tex jacket to her merino socks. Fromm has adjusted well to life in Paris and speaks fluent French, but she enjoys having a piece of her home country at the café. “There’s a certain comfort in knowing that in the center of France’s capital, I can walk to Le Peloton anytime and be sure to have a conversation in my native language,” she says. The multicultural, multilingual aspect is appreciated among many café regulars, who say they feel like they are stepping into a coffee shop in Portland or Brooklyn, Osburn noted.

© Janelle Sweeney
Le Peloton Café founders Christian Osburn (left) and Paul Barron. © Janelle Sweeney/My Paris Portraits
© Laura Fromm

A Welcoming and Diverse Community

Pierre Supau, 30, born and raised in Paris, enjoys the international atmosphere. “That’s what we enjoy at Le Peloton. People from many different cultures, including the United States, Latin America, and Europe, come together around a common passion: cycling and nature, and also a bit of coffee!” Supau first visited with his wife, Lili, who is from Turkmenistan, and they immediately connected with the team at Le Peloton, who proposed that they join a weekend ride. “We ended up riding 70 kilometers with a great team, who was very welcoming and very diverse,” he says. “Now, whenever we’re in Paris on the weekend, we ride with Le Peloton. It’s become our cycling club. I even bought a jersey with the café’s colors.”

For new arrivals to Paris, the café can also help with adjusting to life in a new country. A 24-hour, ultra-endurance ride around Mont Blanc with 10,000 meters of climbing was an easier challenge for Aaron Kroger, 33, than moving to Paris. Kroger arrived in France with his wife Anna in 2021, never having visited and not speaking a word of French. “Cycling was a huge part of my life in Los Angeles, and I was worried I would struggle to maintain that with all of the barriers I created for myself by taking on this move,” he says. When Kroger discovered Le Peloton, he found a welcoming international community who shared his passion. He even convinced a few Peloton riders, including Osburn, to ride from Paris to Mont-Saint-Michel in June 2022 – a 370-kilometer ride they completed in one day! “The café has a focus around road cycling, but not in the traditional elitist ways that are far too common. They keep the concept of community at the core.”

© Laura Fromm
© Janelle Sweeney

During cycling season, Le Peloton plays live streams of major races like the Tour de France, Paris-Nice, and Paris-Roubaix from a projector mounted on the brick wall in the center of the café. To continue to foster cycling culture, Barron and Osburn also partner with other organizations. In July 2022, they helped kick off the Tour de France Femmes, the first since 1989. Main sponsor Zwift hosted a group preview ride starting at the café the day before the stage race began. “It was really meaningful to be a part of the first women’s Tour in thirty years,” Osburn says. A group of riders from the café later rode the last stage, which ended with an iconic final climb: La Super Planche des Belles Filles, in the Vosges Mountains. It was a welcome challenge after the relatively flat terrain around Paris, and the club hopes to organize more mountainous adventures, in the Pyrenées or in Provence up Mont Ventoux – another renowned cycling destination.

Every June, Le Peloton also holds a 100-kilometer charity ride for World Bicycle Relief’s Pedal to Empower initiative to get more women and girls on bikes, especially in developing countries. “Once people have access to bikes, it has a dramatic impact on their daily life,” Osburn says. “It’s easier to get water and food and to travel. It’s a great way to bring the community together for a great cause.” This year’s route, on June 3, 2023, goes from Paris to Fontainebleau, with groups of different paces. The ride is open to everyone, even those who have never ridden 100 kilometers. “Cycling makes living in a metropolitan area like Paris sustainable,” Fromm says, “and the community I cycle with makes it meaningful.”

Article published in the June 2023 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.