8 Tips for Managing the Dreaded Mid-Ride Bonk for Cyclists

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Ben Jones

Health, Other


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There you are, pedaling away with the wind in your hair, feeling like you could conquer the world on your long-distance road cycling adventure. You’re making good time, enjoying the scenery, and then, it hits you – the dreaded bonk. Suddenly, you’re left feeling weak, dizzy, and wondering if you’ll be able to finish the ride at all. We’ve all been there, and today, we’re sharing eight tried-and-true tips to help you manage that pesky bonk and keep your wheels turning. So let’s dive in, shall we?

Recognize the signs

First and foremost, it’s crucial to understand the early indicators of a bonk. As a cyclist, I’ve experienced this unpleasant phenomenon more times than I’d like to admit, but each time, I’ve learned a little more about my body and how to recognize when I’m heading for trouble.

Common signs of an impending bonk include:

  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Disorientation
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating

By learning to recognize these symptoms, you’ll be better equipped to address the issue before it worsens, allowing you to salvage your ride and your sanity.

“Listen to your body. Do not ignore what it’s telling you. If you learn to understand the signals, you will ride better and faster.”

Jens Voigt, professional cyclist (source: Bicycling Magazine)

Pro Tip: Keep a mental or physical checklist of your personal bonk symptoms, so you can quickly recognize when you need to take action.

Key points:

  • Pay attention to your body’s signals
  • Learn to identify the early signs of a bonk
  • Act swiftly to address the issue
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Fuel up properly

One of the primary causes of bonking is running low on carbohydrates, your body’s primary source of energy during exercise. Think of your body like a car – without enough fuel in the tank, you’re not going anywhere. To avoid this situation, ensure you’re consuming enough carbohydrates before and during your ride.

As a rule of thumb, aim for 30-60 grams of carbs per hour of cycling. You can obtain these from a variety of sources, including energy bars, bananas, or even a good old-fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“The key is to practice consuming a variety of fuel sources to figure out what works best for your body.”

Monique Ryan, MS, RD, sports nutritionist (source: Triathlete Magazine)

To fuel up properly, you need to consume sufficient carbohydrates regularly. Here’s how to do that:

  • Plan your pre-ride meal: Ideally, eat a meal rich in complex carbohydrates and moderate protein about 2-4 hours before your ride. This will give your body enough time to digest the food and store the carbs as glycogen. Examples include oatmeal with berries and nuts or a whole-grain pasta with lean protein
  • Snack smart: If you’re unable to eat a full meal or you’re still feeling hungry, opt for a light, carb-focused snack 30-60 minutes before your ride. Good options include rice cakes or granola bars
  • Hydrate consistently: Make sure you’re well-hydrated before your ride by drinking water or electrolyte drinks. Continue to hydrate throughout the ride, aiming for 16-32 ounces (500-1000 mL) of fluid per hour, depending on your sweat rate and the weather conditions. My go-to strategy is to set a reminder on my cycling computer or watch to drink every 15 minutes. This way, I’m never caught dehydrated

Pro Tip: Experiment with different carb sources and meal timings during training rides to find what works best for your body and energy levels.

Key points:

  • Consume 30-60 grams of carbs per hour of cycling
  • Stay hydrated with water or electrolyte drinks
  • Find the best fuel sources for your body
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Adjust your pace

Sometimes, the simplest solution to managing a bonk is simply to slow down. When you start to feel the onset of a bonk, reducing your speed or intensity can help your body recover and utilize its energy reserves more effectively. Remember, there’s no shame in taking it easy – after all, cycling is about enjoying the journey, not just reaching the destination.

During a particularly grueling ride last summer, I realized I was pushing myself too hard and could feel the bonk creeping up on me. By dropping my pace for a while, I was able to regain my energy and finish the ride strong.

“Pacing is a crucial skill in cycling, especially during long rides. Riding at the right intensity will help you conserve energy and avoid bonking.”

Joe Friel, renowned cycling coach (source: TrainingPeaks)

Pro Tip: Use a heart rate monitor or power meter to help you find the optimal pace for your body’s energy levels and prevent overexertion.

Key points:

  • Slow down when you feel a bonk coming on
  • Pay attention to your body’s limits
  • Find the right pace for your energy reserves
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Take short breaks

Even the most seasoned cyclists need a break now and then. Brief stops to stretch, rest, and refuel can make all the difference when it comes to fending off a bonk. Use these breaks to take in more carbohydrates and hydration, as well as give your muscles a chance to recover.

For instance, on a recent century ride with friends, we made a point of stopping every 25 miles for a quick refuel and stretch session. Not only did this help prevent bonking, but it also made for a more enjoyable and social ride overall.

“Rest stops aren’t just for refueling. They give you a chance to regroup, stretch, and mentally reset.”

Christine Rosenbloom, PhD, RD, nutrition consultant (source: Bicycling Magazine)

Pro Tip: Plan your route with designated rest stops (and bathroom breaks!) in mind, and give yourself permission to take breaks when needed.

Key points:

  • Stop periodically to stretch, rest, and refuel
  • Plan breaks into your route
  • Allow your muscles to recover
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Consume quick-energy foods

In the world of long-distance cycling, having fast-acting carbohydrates on hand is like having a secret weapon against bonking. Energy gels, chews, or bars are easy to digest and can provide a much-needed boost when you’re struggling. Stash a few of these in your jersey pocket or saddlebag so you’re always prepared for a mid-ride pick-me-up.

One of my personal favorites is honey packets – they’re easy to carry, all-natural, and provide a quick hit of energy when I need it most. Experiment with different options to find what works best for you and your taste buds.

“It’s not one size fits all when it comes to sports nutrition products. What works for one cyclist may not work for another.”

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, sports nutritionist (source: Active.com)

Pro Tip: Test out different quick-energy options during training rides to find what works best for you, and stash a variety in your cycling kit for ride day.

Key points:

  • Carry energy gels, chews, or bars
  • Experiment with different quick-energy sources
  • Keep your energy-boosting snacks accessible
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Implement deep breathing techniques

When you’re in the throes of a bonk, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. To help combat this, try focusing on your breath. Slow, deep breaths can increase your oxygen intake, helping your body better manage the energy demands of your ride.

During one particularly challenging climb, I found myself struggling with both fatigue and panic. By consciously slowing my breathing and focusing on each inhalation and exhalation, I was able to calm my nerves and power through to the top of the hill.

“Deep, controlled breathing can help reduce stress and anxiety, which in turn can have a positive effect on your cycling performance.”

Dr. Alison McConnell, breathing expert and author (source: Road.cc)

Incorporating deep breathing techniques into your cycling routine can help you manage the stress and anxiety that often accompany a bonk. Here’s how to make deep breathing a part of your rides:

  • Practice off the bike: Get familiar with deep breathing techniques by practicing them during other activities, such as yoga, meditation, or simply sitting quietly. The more comfortable you are with deep breathing, the easier it will be to use during a ride
  • Use a breathing pattern: When you feel a bonk coming on, try inhaling for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of four, and then exhaling for a count of four. Repeat this pattern several times to help calm your nerves and increase your oxygen intake
  • Focus on diaphragmatic breathing: Engage your diaphragm by breathing deeply into your belly rather than your chest. This type of breathing allows for greater oxygen exchange, which can help improve your energy levels and overall cycling performance

Pro Tip: Practice deep breathing techniques regularly, even when you’re not cycling, to make it easier to incorporate them during a ride.

Key points:

  • Focus on slow, deep breaths during a bonk
  • Increase oxygen intake to manage energy demands
  • Practice deep breathing techniques off the bike
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Ride with a buddy or group

There’s strength in numbers, especially when it comes to cycling. Having fellow riders around can provide motivation, support, and even a bit of friendly competition when you’re struggling with a bonk. It’s all part of the etiquette of road biking. Plus, your cycling companions can share extra food, drink, or assistance if needed.

I’ve had countless rides saved by the generosity and encouragement of my cycling friends, whether it was sharing a much-needed snack or simply offering a few words of support. Don’t underestimate the power of camaraderie on the road!

“Cycling is a team sport. There’s nothing like the support of your fellow riders to help you push through tough times on the bike.”

Peter Sagan, professional cyclist (source: Cycling Weekly)

Pro Tip: Join a local cycling club or group ride to connect with other riders who share your goals and can help support you during challenging rides.

Key points:

  • Seek motivation and support from fellow cyclists
  • Share resources and assistance when needed
  • Enjoy the camaraderie of group rides
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Train for endurance

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the key to managing bonks and improving your long-distance cycling performance is consistent training. Gradually increasing your ride distances and incorporating interval training can help your body become more efficient at managing energy stores and reduce the likelihood of bonking on future rides.

Consider working with a coach or following a structured training plan to help you build your endurance and stamina. As you progress, you’ll find that not only do you become better at managing bonks, but you’ll also enjoy your rides more and achieve greater satisfaction in your cycling accomplishments.

“Endurance is built through consistent training that challenges your body and allows it to adapt. Progression is the key to success in long-distance cycling.”

Chris Carmichael, cycling coach and former professional cyclist (source: Carmichael Training Systems)

Follow these tips to develop a well-rounded training program:

  • Start with a solid base: Begin by increasing your weekly mileage at a comfortable pace, aiming for a 5-10% increase per week. This will help your body adapt to the increased demands of long-distance riding
  • Add intensity: Once you’ve built a strong base, incorporate interval training sessions into your routine. These high-intensity workouts can help improve your body’s ability to utilize energy stores and recover more quickly from efforts
  • Include hill work: Hill repeats are a fantastic way to build strength and power while also improving your endurance. Find a hill with a moderate gradient and ride up it at a steady pace, then recover on the descent. Repeat this several times during your workout
  • Prioritize recovery: Remember that building endurance also means allowing your body to recover properly. Schedule rest days, easy rides, and cross-training activities into your training plan to promote recovery and prevent overtraining

By following these tips and maintaining a consistent, well-rounded training program, you’ll be better equipped to tackle long rides and manage bonks more effectively.

Pro Tip: Mix up your training routine by incorporating hill repeats, interval sessions, and endurance rides to build a well-rounded fitness foundation.

Key points:

  • Gradually increase ride distances
  • Incorporate interval training for better energy management
  • Consider working with a coach or following a structured training plan
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Bonking is an inevitable part of long-distance road cycling, but with these eight tips in your arsenal, you’ll be better equipped to manage it and keep your wheels turning. Remember, knowledge is power, and the more you understand about your body, fueling, pacing, and training, the more enjoyable and successful your cycling adventures will be. So gear up, fuel up, and hit the road with confidence, knowing that you’re ready to tackle whatever challenges come your way.

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