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Dear Frank: Coffee stop

Frank Strack
13 Apr 2016

To stop or not to stop? Frank Strack ponders the question of mid-ride coffee stops - while sipping on a doppio espresso

Dear Frank

When out for a long ride with my friends, they always insist on stopping for coffee, sometimes twice. They say it is an essential and traditional part of the riding experience, whereas I see it as a waste of time. What does the Velominati say?

Dan, by email

Dear Dan,

Time, if you haven’t already noticed, is an asshole. It appears that its only purpose is to relentlessly carry on and make us get older and slower. I got a little older while writing that. The irony is not lost on me. 

I live in Seattle, one of the big technology hubs of the world. Maybe you’ve heard of some of the companies that were founded here: Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks to name a few. The first two place distracting technology at our fingertips; the third helps us be more distracted, faster, for longer. Believe me when I say I know a thing or two about faffing, doing too many things too quickly, badly, all at once. Life can do this to us.

Cycling is not one of those things. Cycling is a time to be civilised. We kit up, we prepare our machine with care, and then we set out upon the road. We may very well drop the flashlight as we explore the Pain Cave to venture into the darkest corners of suffering and self-discovery, but we drop it with dignity and when we let our pleas to the sweet baby Jesus escape our lips, we do it in a most civilised manner. 

We are not savages, we are Cyclists.

Savages come in all shapes and colours, but they hold various characteristics in common. They drink beer from the can, for instance. They order coffee ‘to go’. In a paper cup. 

Some things are simply not done in a civilised world. Espresso should always be served in a small porcelain cup. It should always be sipped in an unhurried manner. A proper espresso is one ounce of beautifully dark fluid that should take no less than a quarter of an hour to consume. A doppio espresso should be consumed in almost double the time, although it is permitted to throw back the last quarter ounce with dramatic flair, with the express purpose of emphasising your companion’s overly rushed espresso-drinking technique. 

I have tried many times to unwind the history between cycling and espresso, to no avail. The closest I can come is that both are civilised activities that appeal to similar personality profiles. Also, caffeine has a mild performance-enhancing effect. Personally, I like to have an espresso or two in the morning prior to a ride, skip breakfast, and go out to meet the Man with the Hammer. The caffeine jumpstarts the metabolism, and the denial of food brings the suffering so much the closer. Hunger knock in training is an amazingly beautiful thing to experience. Assuming you’re a masochist. Which, if you’re reading this, you probably are.

On social rides, I usually plan a cafe stop midway through the ride. It is great for allowing groups to rejoin, to recuperate, build friendships and talk crap. It also tends to be a great reminder of how uncomfortable it can be to put a clammy helmet back on your sweaty head. (You did take your helmet off, right? And hang it from your stem, right?)

Group riding is helpful for many reasons, but many riders train alone for a large portion of their base training for the simple fact that when you ride alone you aren’t tempted to stray from your plan or, in your case, Dan, stop for coffees.

While I wouldn’t classify a cafe stop as a waste of time, I do agree that every break you take also upsets your rhythm, making the ride less productive from a training perspective. I can’t imagine a group ride where two cafe stops are necessary unless the second one is at the end of the ride and you misspelled ‘pub’.

I suggest you do your serious training solo or with your club and use your cafe cruiser friend runs for the fun, enjoyable, social rides that they deserve to be. Vive la Vie Velominatus.

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