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Eleven Speed Coffee: Hand-delivering beans by bike

B.C. small-batch roaster pushes pedals to power business

11 Speed coffee

Coffee and cycling often go hand-in-hand, but rarely are they so closely connected as they are with Eleven Speed Coffee. The Victoria-based small-batch roaster doesn’t just carry cycling in its name. Founder and owner, Kyle Denny, still personally delivers the majority of orders by bike.

Big miles over big business

That beans-by-bike plan keeps Denny and Eleven Speed’s one part-time employee busy crisscrossing the city’s streets, bike paths and lesser-known trails in all weather, year-round.

“In the summer we’ll do up to 400 km a week,” Denny shared when I caught up with him on the patio of Whistle Buoy Brewing. He adds that instead of the expected and practical cargo bike his employee mostly rides a singlespeed while he sticks to a small roster of cross and gravel bikes. “I kind of like having my backpack on, bashing through the woods,” Denny explains. “The cargo bike changes the whole vibe.”

For the first three years, every local Eleven Speed delivery was done by bike. Often with Denny lugging 30 kilos of beans on his back to far-flung customers in Langford or Metchosin. It wasn’t until the beans started landing on shelves of local grocery stores that he had to bring in four-wheeled modes of transport.

“We can usually cover it by bike,” Denny says, “But, if I’m going to Root Cellar, I’ll have two big bigs and 100 kilos of coffee.” In that case, an EV helps those larger orders remain zero-emission deliveries.

If the beans-by-bike business model doesn’t seem like the most efficient system, Denny isn’t bothered. After 20 years working in coffee, the first 17 in a more corporate environment for a major brand, the pace of his craft roaster, or “very-small batch roasting” as Denny calls it, suits him just fine.

“People always tell you to do what you love. I love riding bikes and drinking coffee, and I’ve put these together.” Denny explains, adding “I love the cycling community in Victoria, and that community is where Eleven Speed came from.”

Two bags of Eleven Speed Coffee
Not all Eleven Speed roasts are bike-themed but several of the staples are

Single-origin start-up

Eleven Speed started in 2017. That was just enough time to get off the ground before the pandemic hit. After a steady start, the business took off when cafes closed and coffee drinkers were staying at home.

“I’d slowly been building and growing and gaining customers but it was at that place where I wasn’t sure it was going to work,” Denny recalls. “Delivering by bike, or by mail, is what got me noticed at first. Then people started telling their friends and it ballooned. I probably quadrupled my business in a couple of weeks.”

That growth continued, with Eleven Speed doubling sales every year ever since. But it would be a huge disservice to call Eleven Speed’s loyal following a fluke of the pandemic. His enthusiastic involvement in the local community was already building a solid base of home brewers.

Eleven Speed at the races

Denny is enthusiastically involved in all corners of Victoria’s cycling community. He hosts a weekly mixed-surface group ride called Scotch CX. He also supports local (and local-ish) racers with a steady supply of beans. And the chance to win a bag of Podium Espresso or “Last Not Lapped!” blend adds motivation at events across the province, from Cross on the Rock to Basecamp Gravel, alleycats, ButtCat CX rides and Rob Britton’s “Last Ride.”

“Kyle has always been a great supporter of cycling on Vancouver Island and especially to young and up-and-coming riders in the community. I think he knows just how important coffee is in our lives and has always been very giving in that sense,” says local Vicotria pro, Rob Britton.

Denny’s supplied Britton with beans in the past, but also supported events like The Last Ride, which Denny donates prizing to and also helps out at as a leader of the short course event. Eleven Speed also offered a pound of coffee every week for Britton’s Strava-based Lockdown Challenges at the height of the pandemic. “It was a win-win all around,” Rob adds, “It got people out riding their bikes, kept them caffeinated and hopefuly at the end of the day more people are buying Eleven Speed beans and supporting another great local business that supports the sport we all love”

Coffee fuelled community

All that support can add up for a business that is based out of a one-kilo roaster in a garage. Denny, though, doesn’t bat an eye.

“That’s just part of the core of our business. I love to be a part of the community, I really like the bike community in victoria and everything that goes on, especially the really grassroots stuff that goes on,” Denny explains. “Being involved with prizing, or just helping out with routing and support riding, that’s huge. And it’s fun! I get to go ride out in the woods and wear my kit.”

So, while the pandemic may have accelerated Eleven Speed’s growth, Denny was already rolling with a loyal base of home brewers. It’s this commitment to coffee and community that is keeping the momentum going.

11 Speed coffee
Denny putting his Swiss Cross through the paces at a muddy Cross on the Rock event in Nanaimo

Eleven Speed’s 11-speeds

As for the name, when I asked if it had more to do with cassettes or guitars, Denny gives a wry smile. “There is a little bit of both in there. I love the movie and the riff on ‘take it up to 11’ and being ‘one better.’” he says, adding there were also more practical considerations. “10-speed coffee was taken and 12-speed was just a dirty rumor in the back closet when I started. All my bikes were 11-speed. And it just floats off the tongue nicely. So it half fell to me, but it works really well.”

What does Denny ride to deliver your Eleven Speed? Currently, a trio of bikes are on rotation to help cover the significant mileage. A Stompeur, which he describes as “really unassuming, like some doufus dad-bike, but so fast.” Then there’s a Ritchie Swiss Cross that he was convinced to buy after borrowing it for a local race. “I was going to buy it until Jerry from Straight Up told me the price. So I ended up with a shitty bike. I had that for month before I was like, ‘Nah, screw that!’ and went back and bought the Swiss Cross.” Finally, there’s a Specialized Stumpjumper that “needs to be retired very, very soon,” for days where Denny’s path between deliveries trends more towards trails that tarmac.

Asked if he thinks he’ll tire of the small-business hustle or endless miles in winter, Denny doesn’t even hesitate.

“I’m so excited about some new coffees coming that I can barely sleep. Sure there’s PST filing and all that, but this is just so much fun. When I still have that excitement five years in, that’s what keeps me going.”