Rapha North America in the mud

Tillie is on the road again at the cyclocross, with a special guest barista

‘Cross’ keeps creeping into the summer months. Some leap in, shedding bibs and jerseys for skinsuits, longer lunch rides for ‘openers’. We’re well into the established season now, though, and as the last leaf falls on the real road season and the days shorten there is no denying it: it’s time for our full attention to shift to cyclocross.

We packed up Tillie, our mobile cycle club in the United States, at the Worlds in Virginia and have sent her and a guest barista on the road to the cross races this season. Gloucester has come and gone and up next is and Cincinnati on 31 October – 1 November, Northampton on 7 – 8 November, New York on 14 November, then the national championships in North Carolina on 9 – 10 January.

For the next few months, Mukunda Feldman will pilot Tillie to the races and pull caffeine shots from the La Marzocco GS/3. Rapha caught up with Feldman in Richmond during the world championships to talk cross, Jeremy Powers (his old roommate) and why coffee is a “noble” beverage.

Tell us how you got into bike racing? 
I got into bike racing late, at 18 or 19. I raced for a bunch of years, ended up moving to Northampton to go to school and moved there because of the vibrant cycling scene in the Pioneer Valley. I lived in a house with a bunch of racers and raced there as a Cat. 1 on the road and in elite cyclocross for a long time. At the same time I ended up dropping out of school and opened a coffee shop. And that started to vie for my attention more and more.

And so how did you get into the coffee game?
I started working at a coffee shop when I was 15. I was just really into it. Learned about it, worked there for a year or two, travelled around a little bit and eventually came home and got a job working at the roasting company [Barrington Coffee Roasting Company]. It’s owned by two guys, two good friends of mine and I was their first employee. I roasted coffee and managed production for them on and off for more or less nine years before I left and started opening up retail stores.

It’s a lifetime pursuit at this point. What’s kept you sticking around?
There are few things that I’d call a noble beverage. Things like scotch or whiskey. You eat or drink something and it speaks of three main things really clearly: the place it was grown, the people who cared for it and processed it and also the tradition. Wine is like that, coffee is like that, scotch is like that. That’s what makes it really compelling. So that’s part of it. The other really exciting part is that coffee is ultimately a service business. So when we do coffee, or perform a service in the cafes, we have the ability to really positively impact people’s lives. I believe that in the 30 or 40 second interaction, where you have a really kind interaction with somebody, then you hand them a beverage that is of real quality and has exceptional taste, that can make their day. Even though we’re not changing the world, our customers are. Between my six shops we see a couple thousand people a day, and if we’ve improved their day a tiny bit and they’ve gone off and done something, or been kind to somebody else in a way they might not have been, that’s what keeps me in it. That’s not why I got into it, but that’s what keeps me in it.

Photo: Meg McMahon

And you’re close with Jeremy Powers, yes? 
Jeremy [pictured above winning in Gloucester two weeks ago] was the original JAM funder. Al (Donahue) and I were roommates 20-plus years ago. Jeremy moved in with us and we three all had a lot of fun together for a lot of years. When Jeremy moved in with us he was a Cat. 3 on the road. He was a good mountain biker and getting into cross racing. We all became good friends and have stayed really close ever since.

What’s the JAM Fund seek to do?
The JAM Fund has the goal of lowering the financial barriers to cycling, and really to bicycle racing. Cycling is a super-expensive sport. Kids who have financial need definitely struggle with equipment, coaching. We do that a few ways. We raise money through events, private donations and we run an elite racing team that races and wins UCI races in cyclocross. We also give out cash grants and coaching and equipment grants to young riders who demonstrate some need but aren’t quite ready to race at the elite level. We participate in our local cycling committee and are really committed. We know that to develop and create a professional cyclist and to create real, true, ambassadors of the sport, lifelong professionals, it takes a community. It takes a unique place to live. So we’re committed.

See the Rapha Mobile Cycle Club Tillie’s full schedule here »