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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...

  • 1
    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
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    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
  • Glucose with table salt. You don’t have to buy expensive glucose gels, tablets etc. you can simply buy it in large bags and either add it directly to water or carry a small bag. 60g per hour is a good starting point. – Michael May 29 '18 at 14:11
  • @Iantius I am French, but did not know about "the man with the hammer", maybe because I do not do so much sport. Do you know the French translation ? – Arnaud VILLANOVA Feb 13 at 11:02
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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
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    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
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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 areas where there are no (or limited) shops:

  • Something with a lot of slow sugars (i.e. energy bars with lots of grains, whole wheat 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 until 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 lose 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 on peach, take bite of peach, repeat until done with peach). I also try to have rehydration solution in one of my water bottles at all times. If I'm somewhere where I can't buy the fancy sports-drink rehydration powder stuff I just mix some salt and some sugar 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
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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
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    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
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    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. – Goodbye Stack Exchange 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
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    Booze is a bad idea - in your deydrated or low-fuel state, alcohol has an increased effect very quickly. Leave alcohol till the next day ideally, or at least after your post-ride shower at home. – Criggie May 29 '18 at 1:13
3

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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1

One point I don't see mentioned is potassium. In particular, on a hot day it's possible to remain reasonably hydrated, maintain your sodium (salt) reserves well, but exhaust the body's available potassium. The result is muscle weakness and cramps, and the cure (to the extent that there is one) is potato chips (which contain a relatively high level of potassium, as well as salt). Bananas are also an excellent source of potassium (and, truth be told, most meats and dairy products are as well, though they're not a handy as pannier food).

One needs to keep in mind, though, that, after eating these foods, fresh potassium does not instantly course through your veins and into your muscles. The symptoms of low potassium (particularly muscle cramps) may continue for several hours after ingesting potassium-rich foods.

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  • Guy here at work swears by pickle juice, which is the vinegary brine used to preserve pickles and gherkins and so on. He carries a small ~30 mL vial for when cramps threaten. He doesn't carry it for bonk though it may help there too. – Criggie May 29 '18 at 1:16
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Another point that should be mentioned is ketosis. When the body runs out of blood sugar and stored glycogen to metabolize it begins directly burning fats instead (where normally fats are converted to sugar in the liver), and, as an intermediate step in this process, ketones are produced. In relatively severe situations the condition slips marginally into ketoacidosis, where the blood becomes acidic. In the extreme cases your breath smells of acetone from the ketones.

A cyclist may experience this syndrome after 4-6 hours in the saddle, if caloric intake has not been sufficient. One feels most of the usual symptoms of "bonking", but more extreme, and one does not feel at least modestly revitalized after a brief rest and snack, unlike the more mundane water/sugar/salt "bonk". This is because the ketones, over a given threshold, are fairly toxic, and it takes about 48 hours for the body to eliminate them.

This is a good reason to not ignore "bonk" symptoms when you first notice them. By attempting to "power through" an afternoon when your body is telling you to stop and take a break you may set yourself up for several days of misery -- headache, muscle ache, nausea, et al.

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I would split the bonk into 2 categories: mental and physical. Regarding the first, just remember rule #5 of the Velominati: Hard The F@#$ Up. I had HTFU sharpied on the top tube of one of my bikes in the past as a constant reminder.

Regarding the physical aspect, it primarily comes down to food and hydration...

Nutrition

My go-to snack is a peanut butter banana "sandwich". Take a piece of bread, generously smear PB on one side, sprinkle a little salt on the PB, slice a banana in half, wrap the bread around the banana half. (Note: Technically, I think this would be classified as a hotdog, not a sandwich?)

This snack will give you a good balance of fats, protein, and roughly 30g of slower releasing carbs. And if my math is correct, one of these small "sandwiches" will actually have more electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, phosphate) than a medium-sized bottle of Gatorade.

I would recommend going to an online calorie calculator and figuring out how many calories you will be burning each hour. Try to replace ~75% of these calories with one of my PB-banana-hotdogs (patent pending) as you ride.

Caffeine

Though caffeine will give you more energy, I am not a huge fan of it on longer rides. In my opinion, caffeine only offers a temporary solution, as the caffeine will eventually wear off, causing you to hit the wall again. On longer rides, I might drink a large glass of tea (hot or iced) in the morning to get me going, and maybe some coffee to get me through the last hour of a ride.

If you must have caffeine during the ride, chocolate covered coffee beans are a good way to regulate your caffeine consumption. Eat one every 30 minutes to get a slow, consistent release of caffeine.

Water

Drink a ton of water, especially if you a sweating. Dehydration is no joke. You can determine whether you are drinking enough water by looking at your piss. It should be a very light yellow color.

Muscle soreness

If you find that your muscles are getting sore, consider increasing your cadence. Shoot for 90rpm. This will help you utilize your slow twitch muscle fibers, saving your fast twitch fibers for when you need short bursts of speed.

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    PB and Honey works well too - I can't stand the texture nor smell of warm or bruised bananas. – Criggie May 29 '18 at 1:18
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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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I just bonked this past Sunday ride, and it was the first time in years of riding. So I took up a ride in the van [to recover?]

I have bonked and recovered before. This time was different as my heart rate rose and my blood pressure dropped to 102 over 62.

SOLUTION Some rest, drink some fluids including electrolytes and water, eat fruit, eat cycling gells and a peanut butter and jam/jelly sandwich got me back on my way for the downhill.

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  • Welcome to SE - I've tweaked your answer a little for readability. If anything's wrong/changed/lost, do hit edit and make it right. Please take a moment to browse the tour to see how things are organised. – Criggie Feb 12 at 7:03

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