Cycling's obsession with coffee, and my tales of car bombs and unlicensed emeralds

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Bogota, Colombia. Not Bogota New Jersey, or Bogota Tennessee.




The wait is over everybody. I'm back from Colombia, and I must say that I was flattered by the large number of people who came out to the airport to greet me. You really shouldn't have...although I'm glad you did. After such a trip, it's only logical that I'm bursting with stories that I'll be sharing with you over the next few weeks or even months. After all, it was Colombian writer Grabriel Garcia Marquez who titled his autobiography "Living To Tell The Tale", so who am I to disagree? As always my time in Bogota was both fun and eventful. As such, many memorable moments were had during my travels. Here are just a few mental snapshots of my trip:

Riding a borrowed bike over the recently covered-up crater left by a car bomb one day earlier.

Riding the same borrowed bike through a mass of hundreds of riot police as they prepared to take on anti-bullfighting protestors.

Eating three times my weight in fried plantains. In two days.

Being measured by an elderly frame maker in the same contraption as three Colombian presidents and one Formula 1 driver.

Having that same kind and elderly frame maker accompany me to the bank while I withdrew the small down payment for a custom frame. His reason for coming with me? So that I wouldn't get robbed on my way out of the bank.

Meeting a few of Colombia's cycling greats, and hearing one of them say "That's me with Fausto Coppi", as he quickly flipped through a stack of old pictures.

Hearing a description of how you can get unlicensed emeralds onto a plane by putting them inside the top tube of your bike. This description was stated in the past tense, and was part of a story...so don't get any ideas about my reasons for traveling to Colombia.

Seeing numerous new, unopened boxes of 1960's and 1970's Campagnolo parts, and then realizing that as much as I honor the sport's past, once I start buying that stuff...I'll be on my way to becoming one of those people that does Civil War re-enactments in period garb.



So while I sort through all the memories of this latest trip, allow me to tell you about yet another thing that I thought about during my travels to/from Colombia. Today's story goes a little something like this:

As I settled into my seat on the flight back from Bogota a couple of days ago, I closed my eyes in an attempt to drown out the sound of the chatty American missionaries behind me. As is usually the case for those of us with above-average intelligence, such pensive moments are usually spent contemplating life's big questions. On that day, the big question swirling around in my head was this:

Why is coffee so tied in to cycling?

Look, I know what you're probably thinking. You're probably thinking that that is not one of life's big questions, and that as a Colombian citizen I should probably know the answer to it. You're probably also wondering why I'm so short, and why the New York Times always uses such unflattering pictures of Greg Lemond, and why my wife is watching every single episode of Dynasty online (particularly when we all know that Dallas was way better). Well, allow me to answer your questions one at a time.

Question number one, coffee and cycling:
I know that this is not one of life's big questions, but can we both just pretend it is so that the premise of this post doesn't seem so flawed?

Question number two, why am I so short:
Why are you asking me why I'm short, let me ask you...why are you damn tall? Everyone knows that road bikes look their best when their size is in the low 50's, its not my fault that yours looks like a stretched out monstrosity made out of tent poles.

Question number three, NY Times and Lemond's unflattering pictures:
The reason why The New York Times uses unflattering pictures of Greg Lemond has to do with a longstanding conspiracy against celebrities that were ever spokespersons for purveyors of fourth rate, pseudo-Mexican food.

Question number four, why does my wife watch Dynasty:
I wish I knew. Seriously. I can't figure this one out.






With those pressing issues out of the way, let's get back to the bigger question, the only one that I feel I can safely tackle in this forum: Why is it that cycling in the United States is so connected to coffee? Why do cyclists have their own blends of coffee? Why does the US cycling federation sell coffee? Why do group rides begin at coffee shops? I ask this partially because that's simply not the case in Colombia. In Colombia, one of biggest coffee producing nations in the world, coffee (particularly within the context of cycling) is but an afterthought. Do people drink coffee before they ride? I guess some people do, but many also go to the bathroom before they ride, and toilet paper is not a crucial part of "cycling culture" because of it. For god's sake, even the concept of "cycling culture" doesn't even exist in Colombia...so I'm still having trouble understanding all this. Sure, there's the fact that coffee has caffeine, and that can be good for riding your bike. Rides also often take place early in the morning, and that's when many people drink coffee. I also think that perhaps many people who ride bikes in places like the United States are so obsessed with Italian cycling culture, that they try to emulate every aspect of it, including small cultural details that have little to do with cycling...like Italian's taste for coffee.




"How do I say 'Campagnolo products which are mass produced in Italian factories have soul, while Shimano products which are mass produced in Asian factories do not' in Italian"




Maybe, just maybe, in some cases cyclist's love for coffee has to do with the famed Cafe De Colombia team, but I doubt it. I mean, Quick Step has been a sponsor of a cycling team for many years, and I have yet to see local cyclists go (Lady) ga-ga over their new Sculptique™ laminate collection, regardless of how realistic its Earthen Maple finish is. So while I'm aware of the fact that I have above average intelligence (an online IQ test told me so), I have to say that I'm at a loss as to why people who ride road bikes here in the US (and perhaps other places) see such a connection between cycling and coffee. Perhaps it's just as simple as people liking the taste of that foul beverage...but the sheer percentage of cyclists who drink, talk about, and idolize coffee is completely disproportionate. It almost seems so random that it could be replaced by anything else. Why can't the connection be between cycling and say, eating papayas, or gargling with Marshmallow Fluff?


While I'm at it, I think I should also mention that I fail to see the strong connection between cycling and beer...but I guess I can blame that on the Belgians too (as I often do). I must also admit that since I don't drink either coffee or beer, I'm rather unqualified to give a ruling on either issue...and yet I'm writing a whole post about this. But I guess not knowing about something has never stopped me from writing about it, cycling in general being a prime example of that. Still, since I was born and raised in Colombia, I feel that I'm entitled to act as an authority on the matter. And I will. So I will now tell you from intimate knowledge how nearly every single Colombian citizen drinks their coffee, so that if you must drink the stuff...you'll at least drink it properly. The rich and the poor, the young and the old...they all drink their coffee in Colombia in the exact same way. So from this day forth, I hereby order that all cyclists who are obsessed with coffee drink theirs in the same manner as all Colombians do, which is the following:

Boil one cup of milk (or soy milk)
Once it boils, add one spoonful of instant coffee and two of sugar. Stir.



Colcafe brand instant coffee, the overwhelmingly preferred brand of choice throughout Colombia.



If you're a coffee snob, and you're going to complain about how instant coffee sucks...just remember: I'm from Colombia. I know about these things. You're not from Colombia, so you don't. Look, chances are that you're drinking coffee in the way that you do, and in the quantities that you do because of Italians...so why not prepare it in the way that Colombians do? Trust me. I'm an expert.