The lone rider: Tips for cycling solo

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There are days when a bunch ride, coffee and a chat are just what you need to get you out on the bike. Then there are those days when the timing is off or the type of ride the group is doing just isn’t what you want or need. So what do you do? You can give up on getting out on the bike altogether or just embrace the freedom of cycling alone.

Women have a reputation for being social creatures. The conventional conception is that we love to talk and we can’t even go to into the bathroom by ourselves when we are out, so of course we would always, always have to ride in a group, right?

No, we don’t.

Plenty of women ride alone. In fact, a survey released by Cycling Australia last year put female lone riders in the majority at 52 percent. I’m often among that 52 percent. It’s not that I don’t enjoy and value riding with others, but I do seem to end up riding alone a fair chunk of the time. Sometimes it is through necessity and other times by choice.

Traditional morning bunch ride times can be tough to fit in around family commitments, so I often ride at odd hours. Then there are those days when I could make it to that group ride, but a rare patch of time to myself is what I’m really craving. Time where you don’t have to think about anyone else, make conversation, or consider what type of riding or pace suits another person. It’s all about simply absorbing the experience of turning the pedals over, taking on the challenge of getting up that hill a little faster than last time, soaking in the scenery or, if out on the mountain or cyclocross bike, perfecting that difficult obstacle by trying it five times and not being embarrassed that you failed the first four.

Ironically enough I was reminded how enjoyable riding alone can be while in a group that was revelling in the shared challenge of a tough rain- and hail-soaked ride for the Ella Women’s 100 last weekend. I doubt any of us would have swapped the fun and camaraderie of riding with the bunch that day. However, we talked of the pleasure of getting out in the hills alone, the ease with which tricky problems seemed to be solved when there was time to think them over on the bike and the relief of tackling a route at a comfortable pace instead of always struggling to keep up.

On your own there is no need for excuses and also no need for restraint. If you are having a good day you can go hard. If you’re legs aren’t cooperating, you can slow down. If it is freezing and just not fun anymore you can cut the ride short without having to justify your decision, and if it is a glorious day out on the bike you can add an extra loop. Plus, you don’t always have to try and fit your schedule in with someone else’s, which means there are more opportunities to get out on the bike. Surely anything that means more time in the saddle is a good thing.

I’ve done more than my fair share of riding alone since I started riding regularly ten years ago. These are a few of the lessons I’ve learned as a lone rider.

Save the remote exploration for when you are riding with friends

Close shaves with dogs, snakes and even once a person out hunting have dampened my enthusiasm for exploring remote back roads and hidden bush single-track when I am out on my own. Instead, when solo riding it is all about familiar routes where there are other people about if something goes wrong. I also try and loop around close to home or a base point. So instead of riding out 40 kilometres and then heading back to rack up 80 kilometres, I’ll do two or three smaller loops in different directions radiating out from a base. That way it is not as far to limp back home if something goes wrong.

It is a practice I was grateful for one day when I changed a flat tyre and went to pump it up only to remember that I’d taken my pump off the night before to clean my bike and forgotten to put it back on. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the eight kilometre walk back home, but it was better than a 20 kilometre one.

Be well prepared with spares and tools, know how to use them and know your bike

A well-packed saddle bag and time spent practicing how to use those basic tools before riding alone made me feel pretty comfortable that I could cope with most simple fixes out on the road. Although the walk back home after the aforementioned flat tyre with no pump taught me a lesson about double checking that I had everything I needed when there was no one else to fall back on. If I had been equipped with the appropriate tools, I would have had that tyre change covered.

The next time the tyre went flat, I was confident I could handle the change. Fixing flats was a well-practiced skill and the bike maintenance essentials had been double-checked. But I had a new bike this time, and the deep rims and lack of give in the bead on the tyre meant neither my technique nor my old plastic tyre levers, which had been perfectly adequate on my last bike, were up to the job on this new one. A snapped tyre lever and clumsy forty minute tyre change ensued.

A new bike is now greeted with a good thorough check-over before I set out for a substantial spin. I’d rather work out any differences in the garage, than out on the road.

An extra layer of safety

The biggest drawbacks to riding alone are that there is no one with you to help if something goes wrong and that you are often not as visible by yourself as in a group. Consequently, it makes sense to add an extra layer to your safety precautions.

Carrying identification and the details of an in case of emergency contact is always a good idea, but it is particularly important when riding alone. Other potential safety considerations: cycling only where your phone has reception, wearing highly visible clothing and putting on lights so you are more easily seen.

It’s always a good idea to let someone know when you’re riding, where you are going and when you have arrived home safely. The Find my iPhone app and Garmin LiveTrack take security a step further and allow a friend or family member to keep an eye on where you are.

What is your favourite thing about getting out on the bike by yourself? And what, if anything, do you differently when out on the bike alone?

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