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Velocipede Verses #14: The Bonk

I'm an avid cyclist who has ridden 36,000+ miles in the past decade or so. I enjoy sharing the little I know with interested others.


What It Means to "Bonk" in Cycling

If you just google the word "bonk," you're likely to find countless references to getting hit on the head with a mallet or a nut or something similar. You'll also find mention of the British meaning of the word, as well (which is sexual intercourse).

If you check in with Merriam-Webster, however, you'll find three definitions for the word, and definition number two is the one you're after:


\ˈbäŋk,ˈbȯŋk \

intransitive, informal : to experience sudden, severe fatigue during strenuous activity1

It is this definition of the word "bonk" that's the subject of this poem. Far from being something enjoyable, bonking is about the worst thing that can happen to a cyclist. It occurs when all the glycogen in the muscles is used up, the liver can't provide any more, and there is no other energy source for your muscles to draw upon...the body essentially shuts down, resulting in an overwhelming feeling of fatigue.

I've only experienced a bonk on the scale described in this poem the one time...I hope to never experience it again and, indeed, have changed my riding ritual as a result. Since the day this happened, I always carry with me something to eat while I'm out riding.

Fingers crossed this never happens to you...

1 Merriam-Webster Online (

The Bonk

It was a multi-service spectacular

We’d call it "Joint" in the vernacular

One Marine

One Sailor

One Airman (that’s me)

On bikes

After class one day

In Norfolk, VA

Riding away

And fast

A paceline ride

We’d do

We decided

I was pretty excited

Hoorah and Semper Fi

Anchors Aweigh

And off we go

Into the wild blue yonder

Or out onto the asphalt, anyway

It was a great day

Cool ocean breeze blowing in

I can smell the salt air again

Even now

The USS Harry S. Truman docked in Norfolk, Virginia

The USS Harry S. Truman docked in Norfolk, Virginia

If you’ve never paced

Or you haven’t raced

On two wheels

It works like this:

You ride in a straight line

Senses heightened the whole time

The rider in front

Sets the speed

The riders behind all heed

Ride their steed

Close, very close

To draft

But you can’t be daft

And cross wheels

Falling feels

Like a cheese grater on your skin

And bones can break

Muscles can ache

It’s not something you just shake

Off and forget

How to Ride in a Paceline

But when you and your steed

Take the lead

Neither is it time to up the speed

You still should heed

What the previous guy set as pace

It’s not a race

But that’s easy to forget

And noobs always do

And take one guess who

Was the noob in the group

On this day

noob: a person who is inexperienced in a particular sphere or activity

So when you’re winded

Or your time in front has ended

Peel left

Be deft

But smooth

Keep the groove

Don’t stop pedaling

Just slow

Or you’ll go

Too far back from the line

And it’ll take time

And lots of energy

To be with them again

So you can catch your wind

And get ready to do the deed

When again it’s your time to lead

Cyclists riding in a pace line

Cyclists riding in a pace line

Cycle, spin, draft, repeat

Lead, follow, lead, follow

Cycle, spin, draft, repeat

Lead, follow, follow, lead

Cycle, spin, draft, repeat

Pretty neat

The paceline perfected

Is a thing of beauty

When all the riders

Know their duty

And do it right

Which I didn’t

This day

And soon I’d pay

What can I say?

It’s part of learning

Me thinks

Paceline Riding Dos and Don'ts



Keep the same pace as the last rider who pulled; increase or decrease the pace gradually, if needed

Speed up immediately when it's your time to pull

Maintain your level of effort when you pull

Maintain your speed when you pull (maintain your level of effort instead)

Ease your speed as the line slowly passes; keep pedaling so you can easily move back in line

Slow down and stop pedaling when you come off your pull

Pull when you have the energy and skill to pull

Take your share of the pulls whether you have the energy or skill to do so or not

Stay in the paceline, adjusting your speed by soft pedaling, sitting up to catch air, pedaling while braking, lightly braking

Move in and out of the paceline to keep your own pace

Maintain the distance, adjusting your speed by soft pedaling, sitting up to catch air, pedaling while braking, lightly braking

Vary the distance to the rider in front of you to keep your own pace

Constantly survey the road and riders 3 to 5 riders in front of you

Focus on the wheel in front of you

Calmly communicate "on your left" or "on your right" so they know you are there and don't jump when seeing you

Quietly pass someone so as not to startle them or break their concentration

Calmly communicate that you are slowing or stopping knowing your fellow cyclist is right behind you

Brake quickly in non-emergency situations

Stay in line directly behind or in front of another rider; or, if there's room on the road, ride side by side with front wheels aligned and enough space between you

Overlap your front wheel with another rider's rear wheel, or vice versa

Put a strong rider in front of a weak one to help the weak one become a better paceline rider

Have the strong riders go to the front of the paceline while the weak riders go to the back

Stay alert, especially when tired. This is when most accidents occur

Talk more, enjoy the scenery, do anything to take your mind off your legs when they get tired

Calmly communicate with your voice or a hand

Yell out turns, holes, stops or hazards

Move smoothly and predictably so you don't crash or start a chain reaction

Swerve or make a sudden move to avoid holes, etc.

Relax, enjoy it, fall off the back if you can't keep up

Race or ride tense, give up. Never, ever give up.

So my turns up front

Pulling the Marine and the Sailor

Kept coming and coming

“Nice pull” they’d say

But I didn’t feel that way

As I slipped back and by

And into the line

I guess I looked fine

But I hadn’t eaten since nine

And we rode at five

A man barely alive

So a funny thing happened

On the way to the end

We reached the barracks

And they said, “Let’s do this again,”

I said okay

And rode slowly away

And though it was early in the day

For June

I felt like Iooking for the moon

‘Cuz it was dark

Or my vision faded

Or someone put a black bag on my head

I felt dead

With no energy at all

I felt so small

And peaked

The two-syllable kind

And my mind

Wasn’t working

The way it should, either

And neither

Were my legs

Or my arms

As I crawled up the stairs

A second-floor room!

And this added gloom

And a large sense of doom (I’m dying here!)

Which worsened as I weakened with each step

I climbed

Up those stairs

And where’s

My will to live?

My body was a sieve

And all the energy drained out of it

I crawled through the door

And across the floor

To the fridge

And grabbed an orange

From the crisper drawer

On the bottom shelf

Not enough of myself

Left to reach higher

They were dire

These straits

As I ate

The orange

But didn’t peel it

And I could feel it

Coursing through me

Quick as could be

Sugar feeding blood

As I laid down and went thud

On my back

In the middle of the floor

Ain’t doing that no more

I thought to myself

As I came back to life

And the land of the living

And those dudes will be giving

Me hell

If I tell them

I can’t tell them

I have to tell them

I will tell them


In class

And they’ll kick my ass

With laughter

And be after

Me all day

I know they’ll say

Some shit about the Air Force

Being young

And new

And nothing I can do

Since that’s true

They’ve both been around since 1772

Plus three

And the Air Force has only flown the heavens

Since 1947

So my age arguments will be toothless

And those guys will be ruthless

Nothing I can do


I need a nap

But to recap:

It was a multi-service spectacular

We’d call it "Joint" in the vernacular

One Marine

One Sailor

One Airman (that’s me)

On bikes

One guy out of his league

With extraordinarily exceptional fatigue

It was the first and only time

I ever bonked

Bonking Tales with Geraint Thomas

How Not to 'Hit The Wall' or 'Bonk'

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