Cyclists call it bonking, runners call it the wall, In the 1960s in England it was the hunger knock, to South Africans it’s the hunger bonk and western African tribes believe it is the curse of a witch draining your will to fight. The cyclist’s worst nightmare. It is the dreaded lack of energy that won’t let you hold on to the wheel in front, the complete exhaustion that occurs when we have worked so hard that we can barely continue. If you don’t know what I am talking about, then you are yet to experience it, so watch out.
The bonk is more common on longer rides as you near the last third of your trip but can strike at any time. Especially when riding near or above your usual limit. Every individual will react differently but the result is the same. Our blue Middle eastern skies become a looming gray threat. The wind seems to miraculously rise and hit you from the worst possible angle. That wheel you have been following so easily up until now draws away from you. Your body begins to ache as you question your motives for continuing. Power seems to flow out of your legs leaving a trail of crushed will on the road behind you. The rotation of cranks becomes your only goal as your thighs which are now made of treacle attempt to fire. Your pace slows to a crawl and all machismo is gone. This is the real test of how hard you are, the ground where your real grit is shown. Winning the weekly social ride or intermediate sprint is no comparison to the fight needed to complete a ride when Bonked.
These struggles are nothing new of course. The ancient Bedouin people local to this area speak of a spirit similar to mother nature which is part of the desert. A spirit which may help us understand bonking in a different way. This is not a physical being but more the essence of the empty quarter. This creature is known as the Wurgle. It is said that the Wurgle feeds on hardship and toil which may be why cyclists edging his terrain have developed in him, a taste for collarbones. A common injury of the person who has lost concentration due to fatigue. The Great Wurgle saps the spirit of travelers and makes them listless and apathetic (sound familiar). Eventually, desert travelers fall to the Wurgle’s influence and give up completely, never to be found.
As cycling is a very young sport in the middle east we have yet to define the specific difficulties we face. The verb “wurgling” has been forever added to my vocabulary to describe the particular struggles of being dropped in the desert. I have certainly felt the Wurgle’s grainy grasp when struggling on the back of a pack as the desert crosswinds buffet me. You probably know the look of a person who is close to “wurgling”. The gaping open mouth, the head bobbing and the saddle wiggling motion of someone who is finding the pace a bit too much. The UAE seems to be a particular hotspot for bonking riders as our pelotons contain a range of cyclists from seasoned vets to complete beginners. We strive for speed on our flat terrain and sometimes forget that following our wheel is a rider who may not be as strong. Stronger riders should try to be aware of this and take care of a wurgling member as best possible, no friendship is as strong as one forged by riding as a windbreak for a needy rider.
Stopping the bonk is impossible. If you ride long enough you are going to meet the Wurgle at some point. We can only consume a certain amount of food when exercising and this will eventually lead you to his domain. Remember, though, that riding and racing are very different things. Taking care of your fellow riders with a little friendly encouragement or slowing to their pace can fend off the mental lows common with Wurging. For most people, our sport is a social experience and there is no better way of showing you are a part of cycling culture than taking care of your partner in the pack. Even a short sing-song to raise the spirits can change the mood and help a struggling cyclist. There is no amateur peloton or training ride that can’t afford to slow whilst one or two members catch their breath or eat some dates. We will survive the attacks of the great spirit far better as a team than alone so let’s stick together,(until the last 2km of course, that’s every man for himself).