Lattes served in big Mason jars: Check.
Free Wi-Fi and vinyl spinning on the countertop: Yep and yep.
The coolest coffee-and-bike promotion in Bike City U.S.A.: Oh, yeah.
Last month, Courier Coffee Roasters began offering anything on its downtown Portland menu for free to bicyclists who performed the gravity-rebelling “track stand” longer than anyone else had on the sidewalk outside.
“The challenge is to stay upright and completely still on your bike for as long as possible,” manager Tyler Hauptman said. “We figured it would be a quick, fun thing, where people would stop coming by once the record passed 25 minutes.”
Last week, a 19-year-old Portland Community College student went a calf-busting 30 minutes and 1 second. And the bicyclists — and the crowds that gather around the latest contestant — keep coming.
As the funky little coffee stop has learned, the track stand is no longer an acrobatic act performed by just track racers and bike messengers.
For many urban cyclists trying to maintain their momentum between traffic signals, track standing has become the ultimate test of balance. It’s a technique that bicycle riders use to stay upright and virtually motionless without putting their feet down.
Unlike tall bikes and bike stereo systems, the track stand is also a bike-culture craze that both two-wheeled commuters and every motorist who has ever grumbled about bikes blowing red lights can love.
A cyclist trying to perfect his or her track stand likely gets just as much pleasure out of stopping as going, said Mike Cobb, a Portlander who won the track stand titles at the 2003, 2005 and 2009 Cycle Messenger World Championships.
Cobb, the only track stander to make it to the no-hands and no-feet stage of a championship event, said he adopted the maneuver as a way to “earn respect from everyone else in traffic.”
“One of the most conspicuous ways to be respectful is to actually stop at red lights,” Cobb said.
Track-standing is gaining popularity around the world. From Yokohama, Japan, to St. Petersburg, Fla., it’s easy to find someone playing Track Stand Twister — a bicycle version of the classic game — on any given weekend.
But commuters in Portland, where a new Census Bureau survey says nearly 7 percent of residents bike regularly to work, are more likely to see the practice in daily traffic than they would in most U.S. cities.
“It looks pretty cool when you come up to a red light and see a bike rider just sorta frozen there,” said Peter Jin of Beaverton.
Jin, who drives to downtown Portland daily, said he frequently sees bicycle commuters track standing with varying degrees of success rather than stopping with a foot on the pavement. “At first I thought they were riding a new type of bike or something,” he said.
Actually, anyone on any type of bike can perform a track stand for at least a few minutes with enough practice.
An incline is usually the best place to execute a basic track stand. Cyclists place their pedal arms at 3 and 9 o’clock, then turn the front wheel to the side of the front foot and stand up.
With even a slight slope in the street, riders can pedal forward an inch and coast backward an inch, giving the illusion of remaining upright and still at a stop.
“I practice my track stand several times each day,” said Portland bicycle commuter Heather Andrews, who rides a 1970s Centurion. “Stop lights and stop signs, but I can’t do it for long. So if I know I’ll be there for a while, I don’t do it.”
During a discussion about track standing on Twitter this week, Portland designer and Web developer Reid Parham insisted that even the most-seasoned practitioners fall over occasionally. “Those who claim otherwise are liars,” he tweeted.
Located on Southwest Oak Street, kitty-corner to Powell’s City of Books, Courier Coffee’s logo features a knight’s shield with a bicycle in the middle. All of the store’s employees are bike commuters but don’t claim to be anything near track stand aces.
When a bicyclist rolls up to the front door to take the challenge, Hauptman grabs a roll of blue masking tape. He rubs two pieces of tape onto the sidewalk out front — one an inch behind the back wheel, one an inch ahead of the front wheel.
Once the track stand starts and the digital stopwatch is rolling, the wheels can’t roll past the pieces of tape.
“A lot of people come by and try it but wind up getting wobbly and flailing around as they try to stay up,” Hauptman said with a laugh.
Hauptman keeps the hand-written tally of high scores on a piece of cardboard near the espresso machine.
“Cole” won the first free coffee Oct. 12 with a 1-minute, 10-second stand. Within a few days, the best time jumped to more than 7 minutes.
Since then, the tally has slowly climbed. Daniel Lurvey is in a balancing battle with a cyclist known simply as “Jeezy.” After going back and forth, Lurvey’s 30 minutes and 1 second had been the top score for nearly a week as of Tuesday night.
“I’m sure someone will break it,” says Lurvey, a lean computer sciences student who calls track standing his form of meditation. “And I’ll have to come back.”
Lurvey, who practices with his friends in and out of traffic, said his calves start to cramp up after about 25 minutes. “But the biggest challenge is trying not to get bored,” he said.
There’s some debate about whether its better to use a fixed-gear bike or a bike with gears to track stand. Lurvey uses a fixed-gear bike, which he says allows him to perform a track stand without using a slope. “I can use the back pedal to move backward,” he said.
Hauptman uses his Twitter account to let people know when the track stand record has been broken at the coffee shop. On the official scorecard, a guy named “Joel” has 10 hours, 4 minutes and 32 seconds.
“Oh, that’s Joel,” Hauptman said just before closing on a recent afternoon. “He’s the owner. It’s a joke.”
Someone walked in asking about the contest. A barista shouted out the time that he would have to beat, adding, “We have bikes if you want to try it.”
The customer decided against it and paid cash for his java jolt.
— Joseph Rose; Twitter, pdxcommute