It’s the mid-ride café, 50 miles in to a big day on the bike. You have a beautifully manicured coffee in one hand, a big ol’ slice of cake in the other, and your shades propped on your head like a pro.
You’re heading, in be-cleated shoes, to the corner table.
The floor is tiled.
Your legs are a bit wobbly from riding hard.
There are many ways to look like a fool in a café; the very fact that you’re dressed like a cyclist in a public place is your starter for ten. But for shear slapstick embarrassment it is very difficult to beat the cycling-shoed-slip-on-a-shiny-floor.
If you are riding alone that day you are the laughing stock of a room full of strangers – though they’ll probably snigger, feign concern, and save the roaring laughter for later.
If you are with a group of mates the roaring laughter will be immediate and prolonged. You are about to become the butt of their jokes for many years. If one of the group happens to be a blogger, you have just gifted them with a trove of material to facilitate your online humiliation.
You should do your best to laugh it off, and take it on the chin, and then immediately sell your bike on e-bay and quit cycling for life. You cannot come back from that. Find a new hobby.
One that involves sensible footwear and carpeted surfaces.
Indoor bowls, perhaps.
Whose round is it anyway?
It’s your round in the café. You know it is, I know it is, even the serving staff behind the counter know it is.
Maybe not mathematically, in pounds and pence, but we’ve all being keeping a mental tally. We can all feel it’s your round.
If you listen closely enough you can hear it in the awkward pauses as we place our orders. You can see it in the clumsy delaying tactics as wallets are dug from pockets.
So do the decent thing – mine’s a flat white and a millionaire shortbread, same as every time.
In fact why not make it two, and even things up a bit.
Coffee and lemonade
If I’m lucky enough to be cycling in the mountains of France, there’s an above average chance that it’s the summer, and the weather is hot. This is the beauty of those countries that are not windswept islands in the north Atlantic.
So, the mid-ride café stop features coffee, of course, because that’s the whole point, but also lemonade. You gulp the crisp, cold, sugary stuff to quench the thirst, and the coffee is your reward.
But there is a problem.
Contrary to the received wisdom of some, France is not a country that serves up near-universal high-quality coffee in its cafes.
You’re thinking of Italy.
There is a coffee that you find in many a French cafe which a regular riding partner of mine has christened ‘industrial sludge’. It is wrong in several different ways. The colour, temperature, flavour, texture.
It has a kind of sludgy granularity that hangs around in your mouth and reminds you that the cycling in Italy is also excellent.
You still buy coffee, because it’s what you do, and sometimes it’s good. And if I’m honest, it’s still a better bet than the Cumbrian Cappuccino.
Just don’t expect miracles.
Or, as they might be saying in Italy: solo non aspettatevi miracoli.
(Images: cafe via pixabay.com|coffee ring cyclists by imgkid)