Coffee is synonymous with cycling. It’s the perfect accompaniment, whether it’s a quick pre-ride shot of espresso to get the legs pumping, a mid ride indulgence with a slice of cake, or a warming mug to welcome you home from a cold winter ride. And coffee companies have over the years been quick to associate themselves with cycling, right back from Faema’s sponsorship of the all conquering Eddy Merckx team in the 1970’s (coffee machine manufacturer) right through to modern day incarnations such as Trek-Segafredo (coffee roaster & distributor). The two things are intrinsically linked.
It could be argued that both coffee and cycling have one other thing in common. Both have become cool. Both have stepped out of the shadows over the years. Coffee shops are the mainstay of British High Streets the length and breadth of the country, with 2.25 billion cups being drunk worldwide per day, overtaking tea in recent years (2.16bn). Whilst cycling … well it’s the new golf! British interest has grown exponentially since the Beijing Olympics through to present day, with a production line of role models of both genders trailblazing the way for others to follow. Dominant track performances, and Grand Tour victories have taken over the British consciousness, and cycling has grown from what was a niche sport to the mainstream.
Caffeine does give clear and obvious benefits. It’s a mild central nervous system stimulant, proven to make us more alert and perk us up when feeling tired or lethargic. It enables us to exercise harder for longer. It encourages our bodies to burn fat as fuel. It can even reduce feelings of pain and fatigue. Research has shown that drinking coffee helps to reduce blood pressure and reduce blood fats. All in all it’s a pretty impressive substance. No wonder then that cyclists and the cycling industry have been drawn to it for decades. The benefits of caffeine are now widely promoted by sports nutrition manufacturers with caffeine now a staple part of energy drinks and gel supplements. We just can’t get enough.
But can too much be a bad thing? Well technically yes – 400mg a day is the recommended safe amount. To put that in context, an espresso is approx 185mg, whilst a brewed coffee is 100mg, and if you have to reach for the instant (please don’t!) then that equates to approx 70mg. Calorie content is another consideration, especially if you are working on improving performance. It’s worth remembering that the benefits come from the caffeine, not the 200ml of milk, or the sugar, syrup, cream or marshmallows we add along the way. Many of the milky frothy style coffees popular today are high in calories – they may be a reward for some hard earned miles but a poor choice when faced by your local Barista and your whole ride could be in vain. The typical flat white would constitute 140 calories, a cappuccino about the same, whilst a latte would be approx 220 calories, and a mocha approx 290 calories if you skip the whipped cream! You might want to go easy on the cake too!
Different coffees suit different stages of the ride. Pre-ride it’s best to keep it black – a single or double espresso – a kick start of caffeine at a very low calorie level (espresso contains only 2 calories). Mid ride a bit of sugar and extra water may help with hydration and energy levels. And at the end of the ride – well that is the time for a more milky coffee. Not only will the caffeine perk you up but the proteins and fats in the milk will help your muscles’ recovery from the days exertions. Follow the above as a guide and you won’t go far wrong.
Not only is coffee consumption growing but coffee culture is also. Cyclist specialist coffee shops are en vogue. A haven for cyclists to meet, join group rides with designated leaders, share stories and routes, watch the latest racing, indulge in a bit of retail therapy or even get running repairs to their bikes. The best of them push the boundaries of experience – film nights, quick-fire dating, quiz nights and special guest appearances from cycling celebs. They become the go-to coffee stop for a broad spectrum of cyclists, young and old, amateurs and pros alike. They build strong loyalty among their local scene. It’s a business model that works. The loyalty means these coffee shops can successfully extend into other product categories. An enviable proposition.
More traditional coffee shops have started to embrace the growth of cycling too. Gone are the days when owners wince at the sight of cyclists precariously cleat walking across their spotless floors, or moan at us for parking our bikes in a haphazard manner. It’s a word of mouth thing. Cyclists talk – a lot. We share our experiences, both good and bad. If we find a good cafe that makes us feel welcome, we’ll spread the word. And that’s good for business. Them and us can live in harmony, both enjoying the Sunday social as much as each other. One counting the calories, whilst the other counts the pennies.
So why not venture out and support your local coffee shop? Stretch out your rides to include a stop off. Indulge in a cuppa and relax. Enjoy your own brief moment of ‘tranquillo’.