Morning coffee tastes better after a bike ride.

While some might consider those priorities backwards, the En Plein Air Coffee Club presents an intriguing approach to greeting the day. As organizer Whitney Ford-Terry explains, it’s “an informal gathering of folks who like to ride bikes, drink coffee and play with camp stoves.”

While the beans are donated by Black Coffee Roasting Co., the décor depends on the combination of Ford-Terry’s imagination and Missoula’s landscape. She starts at 8 a.m. from downtown’s new Art Park at the corner of Pine and Pattee streets. Then whoever shows up with a bike and coffee gear rambles off for a 15- or 20-minute ride to some scenic spot for brew and conversation.

“You never know who will come,” Ford-Terry said. “Last week, we had four people. The week before, it was me and a buddy. The week before that, it snowed.”

But last year on one of the unofficial rides, 15 people showed up. On one ride, somebody added a camp skillet to the portable kitchen and served breakfast.

While Ford-Terry hauls the donated beans and a hand-turned coffee grinder, everyone else is expected to pack their own production method. Wednesday’s ride featured two kinds of gas canister stoves and Ford-Terry’s collapsible alcohol burner for heat. Coffee came from an Aero Press espresso maker, a spiral-wire pour-over setup and a classic cowboy coffee attempt (dump grounds into boiling water, wait, strain through teeth).

Toffer Lehnherr just moved his family to Missoula from Minneapolis a few days before his first ride. The bike atmosphere made a crucial influence.

“We wanted to raise the family in the mountains in a small town,” Lehnherr said. “When we considered Missoula and saw FreeCycles and Adventure Cycling and looked at Higgins Avenue and all the bike infrastructure devoted to it, that made the decision.”

Similar riding clubs exist in Santa Barbra and Los Angeles, California; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle. The bigger cities often draw riders to a communal meeting place, while Missoula’s will have a fixed start but change destinations.

This week’s ride went down the boulevarded lane of Pine Street, along the little connector path between Madison and Van Buren avenues, over the Van Buren footbridge, and then west on the MacDonald Riverfront Trail to the Clark Fork Natural Area by Orange Street Bridge.

“Sometimes I get the impression that everyone in Missoula’s secretly an Olympic athlete — ‘Oh, I just finished my 50-mile morning run,’” said Ford-Terry, who has seen her share of remarkable riders at her day job at Adventure Cycling. “This is just a way to mix in recreation and positive things in everyday life. Ride and make coffee. I want to see more of that.”

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.