Beating the Cycling Bonk 11 May 2019

Our cycling blogger re-lives his experience of a ‘cycling bonk’ slap bang in the middle of a Peloton. Read for his tips on where he went wrong in training and how you can beat the bonk.

It was a glorious morning, the sun was perched on the horizon, the cliffs and hillsides sparkled with the morning dew as the retreating sea mist gave glimpses of the intimidating climbs ahead.  I had been looking forward to this cycle for a few weeks now.  Part training run, part Strava fuelled competitive challenge.  The Giro d’Italia had visited the coast only a few months before hand and this ride was a homage to this great institution.  That morning I wasn’t just competing against myself, no! I was pitching myself against the pros if only metaphorically, but more importantly I had my Strava friends to contend with, the kudos of commanding the ‘King of the Mountain’.

Two hours into the cycle I was positioned perfectly in the Peloton, I had been drafting for the past 30 miles, some of the guys had been extremely kind and worked hard to give me the best possible chance at cracking this climb.  What could go wrong?

As we left the town and headed towards the ascending tarmac, the mood within the group altered.  Body positions changed, eyes focused, backs straightened as the action of changing Group Sets travelled through the peloton in a wave of mechanical sound.
Just as Germany’s Kiel mutiny began as a shock sailors’ rebellion and eventually sparked the German Revolution. If you ever experienced what was to follow, and the chances are that you will, as I was, be equally unprepared for the mutiny of your own body and the rebellion that follows, in other words, for bonking.

In the world of cycling, a bonk, is not a good thing.  In my experience it began with the mutiny of the legs, the muscle-glycogen bonk.  Brain function normal, heart rate a steady 120, but the legs had nothing.  The middle of the peloton is not a safe or sensible place to be when this strikes and that is where I found myself.  Next stage of the rebellion was the blood-glucose bonk, the brain begins to wonder and as I awoke from the short trance I suddenly lost my balance, to right myself, I hit the brakes.  And you never hit the brakes! The bike wobbled, I felt the compression of bodies and carbon behind me.  I swung to the right; I heard raised voices, and braced myself for the impact.  A sudden gap appeared but I couldn’t move, by now my body and mind had hit the metaphorical wall.  The group swept past and as I raised my head to see the flashing red lights of the back rides I struggled to unclip.  There was nothing in the tank, I simply fell to the tarmac and slowly found the safety of the kerb.

This bonk wasn’t just a result of training errors, it was also a result of nutritional errors.  In the world of cycling, there is a saying ‘if you’re hungry, it’s too late’.  Modern approaches to healthy living suggest the best way to consume your meals is small and often, as we move away from the three large squares a day approach.  This could not be truer with regards to cycling, the best way to avoid ‘a bonk’ is to eat little and often during your bike ride and crucially make sure you eat before you feel hungry. Ideally ingesting about 100-250 calories of some form of high carbs every 30 minutes, even in the first hour of your ride is perfect, however this will vary depending on fitness, weight, age etc., but it is a good guideline. Whatever you choose to eat, the main thing is simply not to forget! You may think you’d never forget to eat, but you might be surprised at how easy it is done when lost in the ride.  Hitting PBs, keeping a good average pace, chatting with your colleagues.

It takes time and practice to get into the habit of eating whilst cycling.  It is important to try a variety of products and brands to find what suits you.  But always remember the consequences of forgetting to fuel properly is the difference between being beaten by the mountain or being King of the mountain and as for the kudos, well there’s always next time.

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