There was an article sometime ago in Bicycling magazine that first alerted me to this idea, and I’ve seen references a couple of times since then. Basically, the idea is that endurance sports – like cycling and marathon running – release certain chemicals in the brain. This will come as no surprise to many, as frequently cyclists will cite occasions of becoming grumpy, lethargic or downright hostile if they are not able to get out and ride regularly. Sound like the same things that happen to regular beef aficionados when they don’t get a night at the pub? Not a coincidence, says some research. Some of the same chemicals released by endurance athletics are also released into the brain by alcohol consumption. Of course, the cyclists and runners get it without fear of hangovers and DUIs!
So maybe there is good science behind the beer drinking connection. But what about coffee? My answer – logistics.
First off, caffeine has some very obvious and noticeable effects on athletic performance. Enough so that it was once banned and tested for as an illegal substance when used during athletic competitions. In fact, WADA, or the World Anti-Doping Agency, are considering adding it back onto the banned substances list. And who doesn’t want a little extra kick that is both social acceptable and doesn’t involve a blood bag?
That doesn’t feel like the whole story, though. I believe the crux of the caffeine connection comes from the dynamics of group rides. Groups need places to meet and the two most common meeting places for random groups of folks: pubs and cafes. While drunken and hung over cyclists may explain Mr. Attack-at-weird-places-and-blow-up, or Mrs. Don’t-talk-to-me-when-I’m-pedaling that sometimes show up for the group rides, alcohol consumption is generally frowned upon by the serious group ride leaders. That leaves coffee shops as the next most reasonable alternative as meeting places for group rides.
Get enough cyclists with their lycra kits showing up at your cafe repeatedly, and eventually sponsorship deals will be discusses. And – given that cyclists are often compelled to talk about the amazing products and services of their sponsors, it stands to reason that sipping the java would become an integral part of cycling as a whole.