What Cyclists Want to Eat
Two weeks ago I woke up at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m. so that I could take the subway to Penn Station, then sit on an LIRR train with hundreds of other bikers. All for the fun of cycling. It was the 50th anniversary of the Ride to Montauk, and it was my 2nd. I rode 73 miles that Saturday, from Mastic Shirley, a small town with an LIRR stop, to Montauk, Long Island. The route takes you through every Hampton it seems, and most of the time you're hugging the water, or crossing bridges over wetlands. Every house I passed was an opportunity for me to wonder: Is this one for rent? What about that one? The terrain was mostly flat, but there was a long slow climb for the last 5-8 miles that became a curse-worthy slog towards the end, each mile seemed to stretch out longer than the last. Because there were more strenuous lengths available, 108 and 155 miles, I felt a bit like I was doing the "easy" one. Did I mention the headwind?
Eating while biking is not one of my favorite ways to enjoy food. If I do it while I'm pedaling it means I'm in need of a blood sugar fix. For every ten miles I ride I try and eat about 5-10g of carb. Whereas in running I just run and run, in biking if I don't add in carbs throughout the ride, I feel weak and my mind get's fuzzy. I have to eat. Hiking is like this too if I'm not careful.
At mile 40 there wasn't pie. This is what I ate instead.
A sea of bikes, and no pie.
On organized bike ride's, like the Ride to Montauk, I look forward to the rewards at the end, getting off my bike, washing my face, and drinking a beer. Mostly I look forward to the beer. The other thing I anticipate is dessert. This one sells a jersey that reads: We Ride for Pie. It's a pretty big deal. From my first year of doing the ride I knew the pie was at the second rest stop, the one with the windmills in Bridgehampton, or was it East Hampton? It was the halfway point, falling almost exactly at mile 40, and it was the perfect time for me to have something substantial.
When I arrived not only was there no pie, but there wasn't even bread. They had run out. I probably complained loudly. I did complain loudly. I was told they had moved the pie to the next rest stop, as incentive to keep going. Incentive?? Keep going?? We had no choice but to keep going. That was the whole point of the ride. To bike every single mile. The next rest stop was at mile 56, which almost seemed like the end, just 17 miles from it actually. Mile 56 was not when I needed pie. Mile 40 was when I needed pie. I was a mad diabetic who had one chance to eat pie without taking ANY insulin and it had been whisked out of my mouth.
Instead I ate one piece of wheat bread liberally slathered with peanut butter and half a banana. There wasn't a great assortment at the stop, IMHO, and it was then that I decided to write this post.
Why Do Bike Rides All Serve The Same Food?
Here's the rundown of what is usually on hand: peanut butter, bread, honey, bananas, gatorade, nuts, hummus, pita, fake oreo cookies and small sizes of X brand bar--the kind that aren't for sale. Why must it always be the same thing? Other variants to the assortment are licorice, pretzels, oranges, and carrots. In the morning there are always donuts, which are a terrible idea before a ride for anyone. They'll spike your blood sugar and leave you tanked after 5 miles. Don't these people know about complex carbohydrates? The bread should be whole grain. Not that soft, fluffy grainless bread. Bananas should be cut in half so that people can take one serving. A whole banana is almost always two servings.
At mile 56 I stopped at the third rest stop and took a look at the pie. I wasn't a bit hungry, nor did my body tell me it needed anything, but I knew this was my one moment. I ate some and chatted with an EMT who had nothing to do, she mentioned that the year prior, which was really hot, had tons of emergency activity. There was also a Mr. Softee truck, but I ignored it. When I hopped back on my bike I felt woefully overstuffed.
Iceberg lettuce? Only if it's slathered in bleu cheese and bacon. The Blue Point beer was the best part.
At the finish line there was a crowd cheering for the riders, which is always nice. I dismounted from my bike, handed it off to folks who would make sure it got back to Manhattan the next day, picked up my backpack and headed to take a quick shower. While I was toweling off, with my bandanna, I chatted with a woman doing the same thing. She was wearing a Gran Fondo jersey and I asked her about that ride. The first thing she did was complain about the food. It was nice to know I wasn't the only one who complained. Then I made a beeline for the beer, and lunch. It was 4 p.m.
The finish line meal was dry overcooked chicken, an iceberg lettuce salad, really good sausage and egg salad wraps. There were also burgers and hot dogs, neither of which looked appealing. It felt like a cop out food wise. I recalled in my head the meal I had eaten two years ago at my first Ride to Montauk. The food was a hundred times better quality. I wondered if it was because of the increase in attendance, or just a desire for a bigger profit. Either way it will make me rethink riding it again in the future. The Mr. Softee truck was there, which I made a point to visit. I wished it were pie.
I've often considered what foods would be good at bike rides, and here are some ideas: blueberries-- portioned into small cups, bananas cut in half, whole grain breads, carrots, spinach salad (for post ride), mixed nuts, mini babybel cheeses, slices of apple, any kind of grain salad--using quinoa or farro or spelt, in the morning there should be oatmeal, granola and yogurt (just have big bowls of it so riders can grab a spoonful of each). Food at a bike ride should feel as exciting and rewarding as being at a Whole Foods salad bar, not like you're backpacking or like you've reached the bottom of the cooler.
The Ride to Montauk is a gorgeous ride. Our bikes liked it too. Photo by Dan Ping Luo.