There's a fine old Tour de France tradition that I doubt survives in this pinched age of "nutritional supplements" and "fluid intake": parched, desperate riders would stumble into a café to raid the bar, then hop back on their bikes to divide the spoils – wine, beer, maybe even some water. The patrons would be left to invoice the Tour for their losses. (There's some lovely footage of just such a raid in 1962 at http://tiny.cc/ 6kvql – it's around the 4:50 mark.)
I suppose I could try to pull the same trick on my Sunday-morning ride, but I can't see myself making off with a pot of tea and a scone from the Tudor Rose café in Westerham. In any case, my cycling chums and I have malt loaf, bananas and bottles of "isotonic" drinks stuffed in pockets and cages. Yummy, yummy...
But you know what? Cyclists don't have to eat and drink like this. Away from the rolling lanes of Kent, where midlife crises are measured out in discarded energy-bar wrappers, there are new cafés catering to cyclists, inviting them to stop, enjoy some decent food and drink, and in style. Look Mum No Hands! is one such establishment.
It's certainly in the right spot, sandwiched between two post-war office blocks on a nondescript stretch of Old Street, central London, livened up by the parade of cycle tribes zipping between the West End and Shoreditch: the Pashley-riding ladies about town, the "fixed-gear" indie kids, the aspiring racers in Lycra. And when you walk in, it's hard to believe that this handsome mix of bar-café-bike workshop, all housed in an high-ceilinged room, hasn't been a London cyclists' fixture for years.
The trio who opened the place earlier this year, Matt Harper, Lewin Chalkley and Sam Humpheson, have said they wanted the atmosphere to be as inclusive as possible. They've succeeded – in the adjacent courtyard there are plenty of racks to lock your bike (and given the neighbourhood's reputation for bike theft, I definitely would lock). Inside, the counter service is friendly-casual, and the décor what you might call "cycle chic internationale": eight or 10 blonde-wood tables and chairs on a parquet floor, vintage and contemporary cycle-themed prints on the white walls, naked bulbs dangling from the high ceiling, a bookcase featuring cycling literature, from stylish journals to techie manuals. And bikes, of course, lots of bikes, stuck on walls, in the window, propped up here and there.
The evening my friend Kevin and I visit, LMNH! has, it must be said, all the buzz of a puncture. The previous evening the café had hosted a local cycling club's packed film night (the venue has a projector), the staff look a little bleary behind the food counter, and there are few customers.
Chalked up on boards above us are the usual suspects at this end of the market: pies, salads, cheeses, platters of cured meats, smoothies, shakes, free wi-fi. We go pie: Kev the chicken, ham and leek; me the Mediterranean vegetable and feta, each of us opting for a hefty side-salad of coleslaw, potato salad, feta and some green leaves (£7.95). There's the suspicion that an avalanche of accompaniment disguises some god-awful bought-in stodge – but not in this case. Decent, light pastry, good fillings – and reheated without the tell-tale signs of a microwave mauling.
The beer, too, is served thoughtfully, with iced glasses: for me, Bath's Dark Hare Ale (£3.60), for Kev, a Vedett lager (£3.60). There's also wine: I have a slurp of respectable Domaine Py Merlot (a bit steep at £4 for a small glass?). There are two or three other reds and several whites, and half-a-dozen international beers that reflect whatever big road race is taking place around the world. But the bar is only licensed until 10pm, and anyway, riding at night through central London is iffy enough without a skinful. (It is too late for either of us to risk a coffee but I have it on sound authority that LMNH! is justifiably proud of its Americanos, espressos and lattes.)
After a generous square of spiced apple cake (£2), surprisingly moist after a day on the counter, Kev and I saddle up and pedal away, happy. Look Mum No Hands! may be a stylish café stop rather than a destination as yet, but it's the café stop that London cyclists have deserved for years.
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good , 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets
Look Mum No Hands! 49 Old Street, London EC1; tel: 020 7253 1025 Open 7.30am-10pm Mon-Fri; 9am-10pm Sat; 10am-10pm Sun. Two courses with beer: about £30 for two
More cyclists' sanctuaries
Glentress Forest, Peebles, tel: 01721 721 736
A no-nonsense menu of nachos and fry-ups, coffees and cakes awaits those who need refuelling at the end of a long day on the dramatic off-road trails of Glentress Forest in the Tweed Valley
Café St Germain
16-17 Crystal Palace Parade, London SE19, tel: 020 8670 3670
Dozens of road riders descend on this south London café each Saturday and Sunday morning – lovely croissants, nice coffee, served by efficient, if bemused, staff
The Dropoff Glyncorrwg Mountain Bike Centre
Glyncorrwg, Port Talbot, tel: 01639 852 005
A fab and stylish licensed café that serves entirely home-made snacks and hearty meals to the happy cyclists making their way around the beautiful pines of Afan Forest Park