Rest Stop Food

Now that spring is here, lots of us are contemplating organized rides. Which ones should we do? What do we look for on a ride?

One Bike Noob reader recently contacted me with a report about a 120-mile organized ride that left him underwhelmed. I’ll let him tell the story:

“The thing that really struck me was the low quality of the food at these stops. This was a pricy ride, with no obvious charity beneficiary, so you’d think they would have provided decent food on the road. I mean, I’ve been on some centuries, t-shirt rides and so forth where they ran out of stuff, even water. Those things happen. But, this one seemed like the food had been obtained by sending someone who’d never ridden before into Sam’s Club. There were bananas cut up and orange slices, so it wasn’t all crap. But, aside from the fruit, at most rest stops, there was only oreos and potato chips. Some of them had these uncrustable PB&J sandwich things and one had the real cheap, sugary granola bars – you know, the ones about the size of your index finger. One rest stop had these GU shots, in the original packages so a small percentage of riders got more than they needed and the rest, none. I say that as an early rider who got the package with a half dozen of the things, but they were too sticky to share on the road, except with really close friends.”

This rest stop manned by volunteers (not on the ride at issue here) appears to be well-stocked with lots of choices.

Hm. I’ve been on rides where they’ve run out of food, too — but I only experienced that because I was riding so slowly that I was among the last to get to a rest stop. This fella has a legitimate gripe, I think. To continue:

“Each item that they had was something that some rider could be craving at that particular moment, but they didn’t really add up to the sort of fuel that you need to ride long distances. Cookies are good, but you get a lot more mileage out of oatmeal or fig newtons or something like that, even chocolate chip, than oreos. I carried a Clif bar and a Snickers Marathon, but they were more for emergency purposes. I didn’t expect them to provide the bulk of my fuel. I realize that the various energy bars are more expensive than vending machine snacks, but if you are charging $70 for a tee shirt, a meal and sag service, it seems like you could come up with better food options, or at least some variety from stop to stop.”

Our reader wonders if he had just been lucky on other organized rides he’d been on. Are situations like this par for the course? Or, was this ride as  “sub-par” as he imagined?

In my experience, the volunteers who man the rest stops put a lot of effort into providing the kinds of foods cyclists need. However, I’ve noted that in many cases, the food is very predictable and lacks variety. Chunks of banana, orange slices, peanut butter & jelly quarters, and the bad Gatorade that’s mixed up in bulk are pretty standard these days. If you come across a rest stop with cookies, especially home made ones, that’s a bonus. Rest stops with fig bars are a pleasant discovery. And as our reader says, if you’re paying a hefty price to take part in the ride, you really shouldn’t have to rely on a Clif Bar or some other energy food you carry yourself.

What’s been your experience? Have you been on organized rides where the rest stops are substandard? Where the food doesn’t take care of your energy needs? I’d like to hear your tales.


  1. says

    Every year I take part in the Great Yorkshire Bike Ride. The food is generally very good especially the lunch stop. Best of all the local school at one of the villages we pass through have a fund raising day with a wonderful cake stall, which is well worth the stop. Its a real boost for the last ten miles.

  2. JBM says

    I typically carry my own Accelerade powder on organized rides, so I don’t have to worry about the Tenderfoot Scout making the Gatorade with the garden hose from the church spigot. All I need is the water. As for the food, I typically rely on banannas and — sometimes — pretzels. This means I’m not all that picky. Absent banannas, I suffer.

    A thing about the banannas: why do the rest stop stewards always feel compelled to cut the things in half? Banannas do not get any special powers when bifurcated, nor do they taste better. After a while they start to turn brown and look gross. And who wants to put half a bananna in their jersey pocket? It makes no sense.

    Another thing: who really eats the sugar cookies, Frito-Lay products, and other stuff other than fruit and basic stuff (pretzels)? They’re cheap calories that don’t sit well.

    Lastly, riders who take more gels or shot blocks than they need for a ride — to the detriment of those that may need them later — should be cursed with sadddle sores.

  3. tfoster10 says

    I’ve never done a $70 ride, but with that amount of money the organizers should be able to come up with a good variety.

    The hard part is determining the correct items at each stop in the correct ratio for 500 – 1500 individuals . Some are out for a day’s liesurely 25 mile ride and probably don’t know what GU is – i.e. they want cookies and chips; others are out for the 5 hour century and they would prefer Cytomax, Secrete Dink mix, Shot-Blocks, and Hammer gels…

    I’m easy, and have never left an organized ride unhappy with the rest stop items. If you are the type that is picky and knows what you want on your ride, take it with you. I would guess if this event had plenty of Clif bars and Snickers Marathons but little else, this rider may have been content.

    If I was responsible for rest stop food, I don’t think the Snickers would have made the list.

  4. Daved says

    I agree the typical local rides have made questionable choices regarding refreshments. I always pack what i like in my jersey pocket, just in case.

    The best I have ever seen is the Hotter’n Hell Hundered in Wichita Falls, TX. Avg. 12,000 riders. I have done 100 mile and 100K. Rest stops are exactly 10 miles apart, have plenty of portopotties, and the refreshments depend on the rest stop theme. Local business and clubs sponser the stops and win prizes for the best stops. I have seen Hawaiian stops with pineapple chunks, Elvis stops with PB and banana sandwiches. At the mile 90 stop one year it was set up like a MASH TV show tent but with real EMTs and they had stressed riders that had been taken there for help getting IVs. With temps around 100F and 20+ MPH winds the best of all is the hand towels floating in ice water to cool you down. There is always music and people in theme costumes.

    The last time my favorite stop was Shepard Air Force Base. You ride on taxi runways past a display of military fighters, etc. and hit a milspec rest stop and then leave with a half a mile of airmen yelling and cheering like you were riding in the Tour. When you cross the finish line everybody gets a finisher pin.

  5. says

    LOL, my only complaint is that, WHY do they always “MIX” the M&M’s with the NUTS!!!! I’ve got a nut allergey , not a major one but they make me feel, ill. Sometimes that M&M looks pretty good but alas I NEVER get any! 😉

  6. Kathleen says

    Several years ago I did a local charity ride in extremely windy conditions. I was relying on rest stop food, but it was vanilla sandwich cookies and Gatorade. I had a pretty spectacular bonk in the last ten miles of a 62 mile ride and now I carry all my own supplies. I would rather end a ride with a few extra items in my jersey pockets. Another problem is rest stops that close early – the back of the pack is where folks are struggling and need the most support!

  7. Barbara says

    I learned early to be responsible for my own food needs on these rides, I only use them for water to mix my own brew. That said, I have to say the rest stops at the annual HHH ride in Wichita Falls are the best I’ve seen. Those folks know how to do it for sure!

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