Grab a coffee, it’s a long story…

Coffee and cycling. You hear them mentioned a lot together. And not just by us here at Cycle Coffee Society either as we make another perfect brew with our Il Magistrale Cycling Coffee beans. A quick look around the sport of cycling, at the mainstream cycling media, and especially cycling social media and you see endless mentions, comments, and posts about ‘coffee this’ and ‘coffee that’… 

But why? Where did it start, why has this love affair between the hardest and most beautiful sport in the world and a bitter-tasting hot drink endured the way it has?

It does seem rather odd that a hot beverage, that requires some skill and, in many cases some fairly clever machinery to produce should become the favourite drink of cyclists, you’d think we’d collectively champion something easier to make and convenient to consume, given our penchant for being outdoors. 

Well, let’s look at the history books…

Back in the early days of competitive cycling, when rules were a loose collection of ideals, rather than strict sporting laws, races were incredibly long and tough. Deliberately so, because cycling was a spectacle more than a sport, the public wanted to see men suffer, like really suffer, so only the fittest, maddest and fewest reached the finish. Even the ‘father of the Tour de France’ Henri Desgrange wanted it that way – a race so unimaginably tough that only one person would finish… Along with stages that would be almost 500 kilometers (300+miles) in length, he even stipulated rules like riders had to finish with the same clothes they started with. Given many stages had to begin in the dead of night, such was their length, riders would often need extra jerseys, heavy woolen overcoats, and raincoats – remember there was no Gore Shakedry or Castelli Gabba…

To get themselves through brutal stages that were double in length to what we see now, on heavy bikes with tall gears  – if you were lucky enough to have gears – and on roads that little more than gravel tracks and pave farm lanes the riders would use drugs. Proper, hardcore drugs. Mostly, very unprescribed amphetamine, swallowed on the go, often by the handful. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the ‘warmed up’ riders could charge along in warped oblivion at average speeds that aren’t so far from those we see today.

Clearly, that was wrong. Kids, drugs are bad. From physical, ethical, and humanitarian standpoints. It took a while to clean the sport up, but we’re pretty much there in 2021. That said, pro racers and amateur riders alike still like a little stimulus for their blood – to widen the eyes and make those muscles twitch and a healthy dose of caffeine is just the ticket – and there’s no better tasting delivery method for caffeine than our long-term love, coffee. 

Get to a stage race about an hour before the start, and you’ll find small huddles of riders in the VIP zones sipping small espresso from the sponsor marquees. It’s a chance to mingle with mates from other teams, shoot the breeze, put the world to rights, talk about family, holidays, pay, or where you’ll be moving to in next the transfer window ( odd as it might appear, pro racers don’t often chit-chat about the nitty-gritty of racing, with each other. Five hours a day going full-gas on the pedals, cheek by jowl, soon extinguishes that need). 

Once on the bikes and in the race, hot coffee isn’t a very easy or useful drink for a racing cyclist to use. Though a hot (actually warm) tea is sometimes dispensed by the team cars on very wet and cold stages. But the need for the stimulation benefits of caffeine remains. So teams sponsored by energy food companies have taken to adding caffeine to their energy gel recipes. Riders can now easily whip a caffeine-enhanced gel from their jersey pocket, tear the top off with their teeth and blast the giddy goodness straight into their stomachs and onwards quickly into their bloodstreams. 

There are rules of course about how much caffeine (and therefore the number of pre-race espressos) is permissible in the bloodstream of a rider – before it constitutes blood-doping. But for non-racers and wanna-be racers, like you and me, it’s not a problem, two espressos before the ride, stop for a cake and a Capuccino (or two) mid-morning, and after a hot ride, a chilled Frappe to finish is the perfect coffee-fuelled ride. Never mind another after dinner…

So, it’s a long-burn love affair, steeped in history. We’re glad to be a part of it. So glad, we named ourselves Cycle Coffee Society.