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"What are the remedies for when one bonks in the midst of a long ride? What is the first aid so that one can continue?" –

Discussion of how to prevent bonking is not necessary.

  • Definition =

Bonking or "hitting the wall" is to reach a level of exhaustion that makes a cyclist or runner unable to go further...

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I've always associated "hitting the wall" with running, where it feels like you've run into a wall. Whereas I associate "hitting the bonk" solely with cycling. In the Black Country where I come from a "bonk" is a hill, so even though Wikipedia suggests other sources to me it's always implied trying to cycle up a very steep hill, which is what it has always felt like when I've "hit the bonk". – Amos Feb 19 '11 at 21:11
Interestingly, the French call it "the man with the hammer". – lantius Feb 19 '11 at 22:22
That's why these are in the comments not the answers. – Amos Feb 21 '11 at 12:15
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Bonking is normally caused by lack of food. I happen to be an expert at this (just bonked on a ride today, in fact).

Treatment is easy:

  1. Stop
  2. Eat something -- even if you don't want to (which is often the case)
  3. Catch your breath and then continue at an easy pace
  4. When the calories hit your bloodstream, you'll start to feel better

Sugary foods work fastest but need to be followed up later with something more substantial or you'll just bonk again.

Diagnosing the bonk can be tough. You'll feel tired, grumpy, unmotivated and wonder if your legs are shot. Eating will probably be the last thing on your mind. Like hypothermia (but far less serious of course) having friends looking out for you helps.

If you're suffering from dehydration or true exhaustion, these tips won't help.

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This is the answer. At something like 60 miles into a century ride my riding buddy was definitely bonking. (Our speed had dropped and there was unusual grumpiness) Fortunately, we were near a supported stop. So upon arriving, I went over to the food station, got 2 big hunks of bread, smeared with honey and jam, and pretty much had to practically demand that he eat this NOW. The upshot is that the stop lasted longer than usual; but we finished the ride in decent condition at the end. – user313 Feb 22 '11 at 19:40
It's worth reminding that, although sugar is most often the best solution (people talk about "sugar-fix" in some circles), "salt-fix" might be the case sometimes. I've had "salt bonks", mostly because of sweating, or candy-only day rides, where no additional candy could solve the bonk, but some salty crackers worked like magic, instantly! If you have food substrate in your stomach, caffeine can also provide some boost to get home when you're tired (I use it consistently on randonnes and touring). – heltonbiker May 31 '12 at 1:52

The best solution I've ever had for bonking is a cola. Full of pure sugary goodness and water plus caffeine. If seriously exhausted, five minutes off the bike lying down with your eyes closed can help you eke out more miles.

The second best solution I've had is beer. Often times if I stop to have a beer or two I don't even mind that I'm not continuing to ride.

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Cola is fantastic! Beer sounds intriguing -- usually save that for a post-ride "recovery" drink... – darkcanuck Feb 20 '11 at 2:10
Mix soda 1:1 with water to make a 6% glucose solution for best absorption according to Greg Lemond – David LeBauer Feb 22 '11 at 3:15
I don't agree that soda is the best answer, but it's a good one. (Personally, I prefer chocolate milk, it has sugar and protein.) Stay away from diet soda, though, as it has no sugar. – Neil Fein Feb 22 '11 at 8:04
Cola (that famous brand) is perfect, and it contains salt too. I don't feel it's so "healthy", but the fact is that it does its job. Anyway, some starchy candies are also recommended. Beer had very bad effect for me, but lots of fellow riders like it a lot! – heltonbiker May 31 '12 at 1:54

I've been on a lot of long exhausting rides while on longer cycling holidays. I've learned to always have three things with me on any long ride, especially when in area's where there are no (or limited) shops:

  • Something with a lot of slow sugars (i.e. energy bars with lots of grains, wholewheat bread, etc.)
  • Something salty (chips, a salami and cheese sandwich, etc.)
  • A lot of water

When I hit the wall I have three options:

  • Feel nauseous? Start with the salty thing, force it down if you have to, take small sips of water in between. bites, top up with the slow sugars, rest untill you're no longer nauseous keep up your slow water consumption.
  • Headache? You didn't drink enough water. Headache even though you drank lots of water? Consume the salty thing (or add a bit of salt and a bit of sugar to your water bottle) sweating causes you to loose minerals which don't get replaced by water, and after a while your body just stops absorbing regular water without minerals.
  • Feel weak? Eat the slow sugars.

In a pinch I've used a peach with salt in place of the salty thing (sprinkle some salt op peach, take bite of peach, repeat until done with peach). I also try to have rehydration solution in one of my waterbottles at all times. If I'm somewhere where I can't buy the fancy sport-drinks rehydration powder stuff I just mix some salt and some suger in my water instead.

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With all that backup, I wonder where you've been riding :o) – heltonbiker May 31 '12 at 1:56
These are cycling holidays, so all the backup I need is in my panniers. – jilles de wit May 31 '12 at 11:17

When the man with the hammer comes to visit, the only thing that works for me if I'm far from home is to stop and get off the bike, and get some food and water into my system. Resting while the calories and water work their way into my system helps a lot.

After my first really good bonk, I've never gone on a ride without taking at least one more GU than I think I'll need, and at least one more bottle of water or gatorade than I think I'll need. Extra weight be damned, I want to get home without wanting to die.

That being said, it's still easier to prevent bonking than to "treat" it...

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Wikipedia articles say that glycogen is depleted at about the 2-hour mark; and it references articles which talk about caffeine, together with carbohydrates, to hasten recovery: although, they are talking about recovery after exercise, rather than continuing exercise.

Collapse can also be caused by hypovolaemia rather than hypoglycemia (for which a cure would be to drink and manage your electrolytes).

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Please note the question, "What are the remedies for when one bonks in the midst of a long ride? Essentially, what is the first aid so that one can continue?" – user313 Feb 19 '11 at 21:32
@wdypdx22 - Ninth Law: Every Five Years, Good Advice Becomes Bad mentions numbing the central nervous system, and getting the muscles to twitch via artifical stimulation: because maybe the glycogen isn't completely depleted after all, and it's just the brain being a wuss. – ChrisW Feb 19 '11 at 22:02
@wdypdx22 - If it were me I'd suggest they take a break: stop for lunch or something. – ChrisW Feb 19 '11 at 22:19
@wdypdx22 Who hasn't? But I'm not a "fitness trainer" (like you are); maybe I'm less competitive, or something? So far as I know, there is no magic/instant solution: if you become exhausted, then it'll take you some time to recover. – ChrisW Feb 19 '11 at 23:21

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