Cycling and coffee: why are they so good together?

Forget EPO, the number one cycling drug is what the US Food and Drug Administration lists as 3G6A5W338E. Everybody else calls it caffeine.

Caffeine is a crystalline xanthine alkaloid, a go-longer stimulant that’s bitter but, when extracted alongside aromatic oils, is yummy, too. Critically, caffeine is a performance enhancing drug that’s no longer prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency. WADA set a limit of about eight shots of espresso per day, but this limit was removed in 2004.

Thanks to recent high-profile drug busts, cycling has never been cleaner, but it would be an incredibly dirty sport if caffeine ever found its way back on to WADA’s Prohibited List. Cycling and caffeine go together like fish and chips, Fred and Ginger, Wallace and Grommit.

Plenty of cyclists imbibe caffeine via tea and flat coke, but most get their fix from what a certain tax-dodging caffeine corporate calls ‘coffee-based beverages’.

The traditional cyclist-and-coffee money shot is the pro on a bike leaning against a counter in the Tour de France village depart sponsors area, sipping a freebie espresso. But pro cycling’s link with caffeine runs far deeper than that. Italian espresso machine manufacturer Faema sponsored a pro cycling team in the 1960s in order to promote its innovative machines. Faema’s E61 espresso maker introduced features still found on espresso machines today, such as the delivery of pressurized water through a mechanical pump at approximately 9 bars.

The Faema team – founded in 1956 and which lasted until 1970 – had star riders such as king of the classics Rik Van Looy, and Giro d’Italia winner and world champion Vittorio Adorni. The legendary Eddy Merckx rode for Faema for his first dominant Tour de France victory in 1968. Faema is an acronym for Fabbrica Apparecchiature Elettromeccaniche e Affini but Belgian cycling fans said it stood for Faites Attention, Eddy Merckx Arrive (Look out, Eddy Merckx is coming).

In the 1990s, the business cooperative Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia sponsored a Latin American cycling team. The Cafe de Colombia team’s Luis Herrera won the Vuelta a España in 1987. In the 1990s Saeco, Italian maker of a home espresso machine, sponsored a pro cycling team headed by sprint star Mario Cipollini.

Today, many pro cyclists are coffee connoisseurs. As this picture attests, Sir Chris Hoy travels with a rather large espresso machine.

Italy-based US pro cyclist Ted King told BikeHub:

“Cycling and coffee simply go hand in hand. The first few hours of a ride are fueled by the morning cup. Easy coffee shop spins are the standard on the cruisy days, no matter if you’re in America, Australia, Italy, Spain, or Belgium. From the amateur through to the professional ranks, seeing a sleek, road bike parked outside of the bike shop just makes sense.”

The worlds of cycling and coffee also collide in the growing number of bike cafes in the UK. In Bristol there’s Mud Dock cafe and bike shop, opened in 1994, and in London there’s Look Mum No Hands and Lock7.

But for the most complete fusion of cycling and coffee you can’t beat the Velopresso, a pedal-powered espresso trike. This was produced as a graduation project by two design students from the Royal College of Art in London. Amos Field Reid and Lasse Oiva now aim to put the British-built trike into production.

Reid said: “Velopresso was conceived against the backdrop of a global renaissance in cycling culture that is being driven by the desire for more sustainable cities and lifestyle. The urban coffee scene is also expanding and diversifying, including a convergence with cycling culture.”

Check out our earlier list of the 20 twenty cycling cafes in the UK.

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