For many cyclists, coffee is the elixir that keeps them going. Club rides often start from cafes and they usually head out to coffee shops for a stop too. There’s a social aspect to this certainly, it’s something everyone can buy and then sit around chatting for an extended period of time. There are also physiological reasons why a pre-ride cup of coffee is also something that can help your riding. Cyclists are already prone to getting obsessive over small details. So we can get sucked into the world where measuring out a specific weight of beans and then waiting out a set brewing time is a pleasure. This is visible at all levels of the sport, from the best pros to the humble Sunday rider.
Caffeine and Cycling: The Science
There are plenty of scientific studies about the effects of coffee and caffeine on cycling. They’ve generally continued to see performance advantages of around 1-3% for riders. There’s no set agreed upon amount to have before riding yet, with studies varying the amount of caffeine used. A Birmingham University study has shown that 5mg per kilo of body weight was enough caffeine to give riders an advantage in a 45 minute time trial. Whilst a different study found that consuming 2mg per kilo of body weight produced no advantage.
Working out how much mg of caffeine is in your cup is a tricky business. Tests by Glasgow University showed espressos from high-street chains can contain up to 300mg but others only 50mg of caffeine. A regular mug of filter coffee usually has around 140mg of caffeine according to government sources but once again, this can vary. A relatively new study in 2020 found that, despite caffeine tolerance being known, the effects of a caffeine boost isn’t affected by the amount you regularly have. Previous advice was that caffeine supplements and coffee were best used in moderation. A lower base level or tolerance would give the best effect for race days.
The same study highlights the benefits to cyclists for consuming coffee and caffeine 30 minutes to an hour before riding. It suggested “that the energy-enhancing benefit of coffee occurs as a result of caffeine antagonising the adenosine receptors and leading to pain suppression, reduced fatigue and improved neuromuscular performance.” That means you can reduce your perceived effort and can ride harder for longer.
It’s not just with cycling in mind that having a regular cup of coffee can help with. According to the Harvard Medical School, “Studies show that the risk for type 2 diabetes is lower among regular coffee drinkers than among those who don’t drink it. Also, coffee may reduce the risk of developing gallstones, discourage the development of colon cancer, improve cognitive function, reduce the risk of liver damage in people at high risk for liver disease, and reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease.”
Pro Cyclists and Coffee
There was a time where caffeine was thought so effective, that it was banned in large amounts for pro riders. WADA banned high levels of caffeine from competition between 1984 and 2004. Caffeine consumption is still monitored by WADA, even though it isn’t banned. Pro riders are often seen on social media sat around a coffee shop table. Some former pros have even gone on to create their own coffee shops. Simon Gerrans and Christian Meier created the Service Course, now with locations across Europe. Because of the amount of coffee cyclists drink, they often are super particular about how they like it. Splashing out on fancy coffee machines at home. Lex Albrecht is a pro cyclist that has devoted a lot of time to coffee on her blog.
The connection is so strong that there have been plenty of teams through the years whose main sponsor were coffee related. Faema were one of the first, starting in 1955. The legend Eddy Merckx rode for the team between 1968 and 1970. The Cafe de Colombia team raced throughout the 1980s. Their highlight was Luis Herrera winning the 1987 Vuelta a Espana. Saeco were the obvious coffee sponsor cycling team for my generation. They rode between 1996 and 2004. Their great lead-out train powering Mario Cipollini to many victories. Caffita also part sponsored Lampre in 2003 and 2004. The Trek-Segafredo team represent coffee in the current peloton. Segafredo have been part sponsors since 2016. I’m sure there are one or two others I’ve missed too!
What to Buy?
Pact’s cycling themed pack is the Gran Fondo. A dark espresso that can be ground to fit all machines or contraptions like the Aeropress. Tasting notes include raisin and dark chocolate.
Geraint Thomas has lend his name to the Gran Fondo and I can confirm it packs a punch when drank in the morning before a ride! Pact also offers coffee subscriptions for a regular bag to be sent to your home.
Price as of April 2021 – £11.95 for 250g
No cycling themed coffee at Presto Coffee, but if you’ve made it this far then you know that’s kind of a gimmick anyway! The Rocket Roast is the closest match to the Gran Fondo from Pact. A dark espresso with hints of dark chocolate and fruit. It’s only sold as beans, so a home grinder is a must.
Price as of April 2021 – £13.59 for 1kg
If dark coffee isn’t your thing, then the medium roast is a great alternative. A little bit lighter, the dark chocolate tasting note is still there but the sweetness of almond is present too. This coffee comes ground so no need to invest in a grinder yet!
Price as of April 2021 – £7.64 for 500g
In the interests of balance, this is the lightest roast shown here is the Santa Anita from VeliK. The lighter roast allows more flavours to come through. The tasting notes include vanilla, citrus and tropical fruit, with caramel and toffee too. The lighter roast means that it that won’t knock your socks off when you have your brew in the morning. The pack can be bought as beans or ground into a grain ideal for any coffee maker type.
Price as of April 2021 – £7.00 for 250g