Keep the Tank Full

“The bicycle is a curious vehicle whose passenger is also its engine.” – John Howard

As we approach our next ride, I still sense a little apprehension from our rookies.  I don’t feel that the apprehension is coming from their uncertainty of how this whole thing will unfold or how they will hold up.  Half of our team are veterans–some coming back for their fourth, fifth, and sixth rides.  The newbies also seem confident in knowing that the experience is something that they can (and will) accomplish.  What they need help understanding are the host of detailed tips and hints that aren’t readily apparent until you’ve actually experienced a ride.  Again, my newbies are true newbies–most are not cyclists and none have completed similar adventures.

One of the tips that I pass on to everyone during the preparation and execution of the ride involves the necessity of eating and drinking.

An automobile engine will perform the same whether the gas tank is full or almost empty.  As long as there is gas in the tank and flowing into the engine, the automobile will maintain a consistent level of performance.  Drivers can refill their tanks at anytime from just-off full to nearly empty.  Once refilled, the automobile will continue to maintain its previous level of performance.

Human bodies do not function like automobile engines.  When riding a bicycle, human beings are not only passengers, but the engines as well.  Our bodies are not designed to perform equally well when full of fuel or almost empty.  We can’t deplete nearly all of our reserves before filling back up.  We must keep consuming good calories during the day and stay hydrated.  Having come to this conclusion the hard way (from experience), I’ve devoted a lot of effort to reminding my cyclists of this fact.

When out on the road, we usually pause every 10-15 miles to rest, eat, communicate, and swap out riders (if needed).  Those pauses give team members enough time to put something in their bellies.  Bananas, oranges, trail mix, protein bars, fruit snacks, and other healthy and high-energy snacks are perfect for keeping the tank full.  The rest stops also give time to top off water bottles and consume sports drinks (or mix them with water in their bottles).  It is important to not become bloated or over-full from eating and drinking, but it is important to make sure that the energy tank stays mostly full.  A lot of small snacks during the day keeps our bodies properly fueled.

Because we are almost always split into two vehicles and on the road throughout the day, it is rare that we actually stop at a restaurant for lunch.  We sometimes do (especially when we are meeting a newspaper reporter or managing our time to nightly host), but we mostly carry and prepare food in the car as we’re rolling.  We frequently visit grocery stores in our host cities each night.

One of our favorite on-the-road “meals” are peanut butter fold-overs (or “halfsies”).  A fold-over is simply peanut butter slathered on one side of a piece of bread and then folded over into a half-sized sandwich.  In 3-4 bites, with lots of liquid to wash it down, you can quickly eat one of these high-energy snacks.  They are also quick and easy to make and can be handed out one after another to hungry cyclists.  Support car passengers usually serve as the team chefs while out on the road.

Jelly is also okay to add to the halfsies, but is more complicated to store without refrigeration, requires more time to make the sandwiches, and is potentially a lot messier if dropped in the car (which I’ve done–and got grape jelly on the side of the front passenger seat in my wife’s car).  For these reasons, we usually go with just peanut butter on our sandwiches.

At times, we will plan our rest stops at gas stations and convenience stores.  Those stops not only allow us to get gasoline in the support vehicles if needed, but also allow us to use the bathrooms and grab some quick food while out on the road.  Turkey and cheese sandwiches, chocolate milk, and (more often than I care to admit) mini donuts or banana pudding (Buc-ee’s) are frequently purchased items at gas station rest stops.


It’s not uncommon for me to weigh more at the conclusion of our rides than I do when we begin.  I like to think that comes about from gaining so much new muscle in my legs and rear-end, but probably equally a result of constant eating of high calorie snacks while on the road and the consumption of mass quantities of food in the evenings.  More on that will come in a future post.  Needless to say, I’m a fan of keeping the tank full.


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