This is me back in 2010 about 300 miles from home at what ended up being the somewhat premature end to the first proper bike tour I’d attempted; you’ll notice I’m not doing so well.
All joking apart, by this point, I was quite seriously exhausted both mentally and physically; the reasons for this were many but essentially fall into 3 categories which apply to all forms of cycling:
- Fitness – As you may be able to tell from the picture, I wasn’t in the worst shape of my life ever and really wasn’t carrying all that much extra weight, my legs were strong and I had plenty of stamina. Or, so I thought. As it was, I really hadn’t done any training for the tour other than the occasional ride in the evenings; worse still, I was staying away from home during the week, indulging every day for over a year in a Hilton breakfast and the very best food & drink Nottingham had to offer that I could afford with my expenses.
- Equipment – Again, on the face of it, I had all the gear; but it turned out I also had no idea. My custom built Graham Weigh cyclocross was super light and I was towing along the legendary BOB Yak single wheel trailer. The problem was, I was running road gearing on the bike and I bought all of my camping gear in a mad half hour rush on the Saturday; we left on the Sunday. I had a HUGE 2 man tent weighing in at over 2.5kg, an equally huge sleeping mat at just over 1kg, one of those single burner stoves that comes in a plastic case (I have no idea how much that thing weighs!) and so on and so forth; you name it and it was at least twice the size and twice the weight it ideally should’ve been.
- Fuel – This is actually the one thing I did get right; every morning we ate porridge for breakfast, snacked on bananas, malt loaf, fruit & nuts, baguettes and the like throughout the day and feasted on hearty, healthy food in the evenings. We also had energy drinks on the bikes constantly to replace the salts and electrolytes we were sweating out in the heat. There was even a Kendal Mint Cake or two nommed along the way when the going got really tough.
They call it ‘bonking’ when your mind wanders off somewhere else and you get a song stuck in your head for hours and hours or you focus on your left knee then your right knee then your left knee, right knee, left knee, right knee… It’s unpleasant, I tell you and it can be downright dangerous too because when your mind starts wandering, so too can your bike and, before you know it, you’re trying to figure out how you ended up in that ditch at the side of the road.
In one particularly dark moment, I remember nomming a whole chocolate covered Kendal Mint Cake, washed down with half a bottle of Gatorade atop a long, steep climb we later realised we shouldn’t have made. I was bonking that day, bonking hard.
So, how to avoid the dreaded bonk? Well, it’s really quite simple and, again, it breaks down rather nicely into 3 categories:
- Fitness – Train, train, train. You may think you’re fit right now and, indeed, you may have a good level of underlying fitness but commuting to work and back with a clean shirt and a fresh pair of boxers is just not the same as climbing a hill with all you need for a week’s camping. I put a minimum of 75 miles on the clock every week just by commuting but when I come to tackle a 30 mile run into the local hills at the weekend, I find it a bit of a struggle. A lot of that is due to my body becoming conditioned to storming the 7.5 miles to work as fast as possible which is really good for building muscle but does little to build fitness and stamina and almost nothing in the fat burning department. Longer, slower paced rides (which is the style you want to develop for touring) will help shed the pounds, build stamina and you can enjoy the countryside too!
- Equipment – Think! Do you really need to take that? Really? On the 2010 tour, I was so desperate to save weight, I was throwing away my socks every day after wearing them! For the 2011 tour, in addition to a minimum 20 mile a day training ride, I’d also replaced almost every piece of camping equipment I’d bought the year before and every single thing that went in the trailer had to earn its keep. Believe me, you’d be surprised by how few clothes you actually need when you need to pedal them around with you!
- Fuel – An old friend of mine who’s a personal trainer used to tell me “My body is like an engine and the food I put in it is the fuel” and, do you know what, he was dead right too; feed your body well and it’ll serve you well, feed your body badly and you’ll suffer. You want to focus on getting slow release energy foods into you at the start of the day; things like muesli, porridge oats, bananas and the like are the best. If you’re heading out in the afternoon, a good bowl of beetroot soup for lunch will set you up really well for many hours in the saddle. In-ride snacks should be oaty flapjacks, malt loaf, bananas (is there anything they can’t do?) and, if you really need it, a sugar rush from some Kendal Mint Cake or an energy bar but, with a sugar rush comes the inevitable crash so do use with caution.
And so, there it is. Chill out a little, don’t sprint away from the lights so quickly and don’t feel too bad about dropping another cog on a hill climb. Get the right food inside you and, if you’re going to be out for a while, take the right food in your pockets. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make sure you’re fit enough to do the kind of riding you want to – it’s supposed to be fun, remember and, contrary to popular belief, bonking is not fun.