Bananas and Bonking

There is a rule of thumb in my cycling club, you can gauge the distance and hardness of a ride from the number of bananas protruding from the jersey of certain members. On Sunday’s club run, if anyone looked at my jersey they would be in for a nasty surprise. Getting my gear ready that morning I made a shocking discovery; there was only one, smaller than average, banana in the house.

For a club run I usually fuel up on a large bowl of muesli, a larger mug of coffee and a banana. For the road, I take more bananas, a muesli bar and squash.  Besides the nutritional benefits of easily digested carbohydrates and potassium, I like bananas for cycling. They are easy to pull out from a jersey pocket, easy to open and easy to eat. Finally, in case of a  fuel emergency, I will tuck a gel into the leg of my shorts.

I decided to save my one banana for the ride and make up the deficit with extra muesli bars.

Sundays route saw us head northwest on a lumpy 57 mile route, with over 500m of ascent, from St Neots to Thrapston. I tucked into my first muesli bar just before Raunds. By Thrapston I was getting the first warning signs that all was not well. My legs started to feel weak so I ate my banana. Crossing the A605, we picked up a tailwind which helped the group keep a good pace on the 2 mile drag up to Clopton. I sat in the bunch conserving my strength. I wondered with increasing pessimism how I could hang on when the pace inevitably picked up as the terrain levelled off.

The next 3.5 miles of decently surfaced, flat, tail wind assisted road were hard. After a mile, my legs had nothing further to give. I dropped down to the small ring so they could keep on turning. It was not a cold day, but for the effort I had been exerting and the layers I had on, I didn’t feel warm. The signs were there, I was bonking.

I could just about draft the group on the flat, but the route soon turned lumpy and I slid straight off the back. They guys waited for me, but I was never going to keep up with them, so I watched them ride off and considered my options.

I still had some food and my gel. This was a fuel crisis so I ate the gel. Next, I thought about route options. I figured that if I used a couple of gravel tracks as shortcuts I could cut the distance home to little more than 10miles. All I had to do was live with my mind for the next 45 minutes.

Ride a bike alone and your mind will drift. It is important to keep mental discipline, especially if you have bonked, otherwise the wrong train of thought can turn an unfortunate situation in to a disaster. On the road your body can weaken and make even an easy ride hard, but if you give in you are defeated. My situation was not that dire, but I knew I could make the miles home easier, and perhaps try to enjoy them, if I kept my mind focused and occupied.

It is a long time since I bonked on a club run. I don’t know if bananas or energy bars would have made a difference. The previous Friday I had felt a little under the weather, so perhaps there was an underlying cause. Nevertheless, on the day I bonked, I rode without my full complement of bananas, so inductively reasoned, my confidence in bananas remains intact. Next Sunday I will make sure there’s a  surfeit of bananas in the house. I will also push the muesli bars to one side and reach for the box of energy bars. Just in case.


About richardjostler

Data Scientist working at Rothamsted Research
This entry was posted in bananas, bonking, Club cycling, Cycling and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Bananas and Bonking

  1. Frank Burns says:

    Don’t you guys have a café stop on a Sunday club run? If not, you should come and join a St Ives CC run………many stoke up on their double expressos at the stop!


    • velorichard says:

      The cake stop option is usually there, besides which St Neots is my most local club. We have 2 groups head out, one usually does a cafe stop, the other rarely does. With hindsight I should have gone with the cafe stop group – it would have been a more leisurely pace too! Or else I should have stopped at Aldwincle. Most of the guys sit around and recharge outside Cafe Nero on St Neots Market Square after the run.


  2. Jimmy Phoenix says:

    Bananas are awesome; quite possibly the best cycling food there is. Do you have a proven technique for eating one on the road? The first (and only) time I’ve tried to eat one without stopping, I was on a 40 mile training ride around Warwickshire with a fully loaded BOB Yak and I just couldn’t take both hands off the bars for fear of going face surfing! I guess I could have tried peeling it with my teeth… I seem to remember it was a rather messy cookie monster moment.

    I used to ride with a guy who’d take muesli bars for a mid ride snack but, in my experience, they have almost no effect on the impending doom of oncoming bonking. For me, it has to be the almighty banana, a slice or two of malt loaf or a Clif bar; strange how little use muesli bars are when a bowl of muesli pre-ride is such a good source of slow release energy.

    Beetroot soup is my tip for a cycling super food, particularly on cold days; it’s set me up for some of the best rides I’ve ever had in some of the worst conditions.


    • velorichard says:

      Hmm, on my road bike I usually just take both hands off the bars and peel normally, but then I’m not loaded down with panniers either. If I’ve got thick winter gloves on though, I’ll use my teeth. First break the skin with teeth and pull back the stalk, next grip a piece of skin in turn with your lips and pull the banana away from you to peel it off. Repeat.

      I don’t think muesli bars have the same nutritional value as the cereal – too many cheap sugars and fats to hold the bar together. When I can be bothered I sometimes make my own chewy flapjacks with porridge oats, dried fruit, honey and butter, sometimes ground ProPlus too! They seem to keep me going better than shop bought cereal bars.

      I’ve read about beetroot as being a super food, but never tried it before a ride. I take it you take soup along for the ride rather than have for breakfast!?


      • Jimmy Phoenix says:

        I’m more of an afternoon rider, to be honest so I’ll generally have a bowl of soup for lunch and then head out with bananas / malt loaf if it’s going to be a long one. If I am going out early and particularly when I’m touring, a bowl of porridge for breakfast keeps me going for several hours.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s