By Coach Fred Matheny
There are many advantages to being able to eat and drink on the move. It’s essential on long rides and a great timesaver compared to stopping. But it’s harder to do than it looks. Energy bars are tough to peel when pedaling along. Reaching for food makes the bike waver, and you find yourself needing to look down each time you want to grab a bottle. Putting it back is even trickier.
For proper on-bike nutrition during rides lasting longer than a couple of hours, you need to be ingesting about 250-350 calories per hour. This is the equivalent of one typical energy bar and 1-2 bottles of sports drink. This means you’ll be reaching for another bite or swig every 10-12 minutes. It pays to learn how to do it without fumbling or taking your eyes off the road. Practice all of the techniques on a traffic-free road so you can focus your attention.
Tip! Anytime you need to take a hand from the bar, maximize stability by moving the other hand to the bar top next to the stem. If you leave it out on the brake hood or drop, small movements are amplified in terms of their effect on steering.
Techniques for Safely Eating and Drinking
Bottles. Most bikes have bottle-cage bosses on the down tube and seat tube. When riders carry just one bottle, they usually put it in the down-tube cage. So reaching to that location needs to become ingrained. It will with practice. For tall 28-ounce bottles, take hold with your thumb in the groove that separates the top section from the bottom. Small 22-ounce bottles don’t have this groove and they’re shorter, of course, so the reach is longer unless you grasp the top. Pull the bottle out and put it to the side of your mouth so it doesn’t block your forward vision.
Variation: Use a backhand grip. Turn your hand so the crotch of your thumb and index finger is down instead of up. As you bring the bottle up to your mouth, rotate your wrist so your palm is up. This puts the bottle at a convenient downward angle for a swig. (One way isn’t more “correct” than the other, so don’t think you have to replicate a pro or a buddy; do what is most comfortable for you.)
If you think about the path that your hand travels as you take out the bottle, it’s relatively easy to retrace it to replace the bottle without looking down. If necessary, use a finger or your thumb as a guide to feel for the side of the cage.
A seat-tube-mounted bottle can be easier to remove and replace because it’s a bit closer. Not many riders seem to use the seat-tube cage when carrying just one bottle, but those who do may be on to something. Grasp the bottle from the front with your palm facing it and the thumb on the side. Pull the bottle up and rotate your wrist so your palm is up. The bottle will be at the proper angle at your mouth. The one difficulty using a seat-tube bottle is that you are reaching between your legs. This can initially be a bit awkward while pedaling, but practice will quickly smooth your technique.
Want to switch bottles from one cage to the other? Let’s say your down-tube bottle is dry and you want to move the full seat-tube bottle to the down-tube cage. It’s easy to do this and keep one hand on the bar. Take the last swig from the down-tube bottle and hold the nozzle in your teeth. Move the full bottle to the down-tube cage. Then take the empty from your mouth and stick it in the other cage.
Food. Riding no-hands enables you to sit up, reach into a jersey pocket for food, open it and start eating. Once you’re chewing, put one hand back on the bar for safety. If you don’t want to gobble the whole thing, reach back and store it in a pocket.
The biggest difficulty is the recalcitrant wrapper that protects some energy bars. A safecracker couldn’t get it open. If your preferred bar has this sort of wrapper, open it at home using a knife or scissors. This also gives you the option of peeling the wrapper using one hand and your teeth if no-hands riding is too risky for any reason.
Opening such foods as energy chews at home is also a great idea if you’re preparing for a fast, hard or no-drop ride or race where you know you will have limited (if any) stops to fiddle with your food.