With my former riding partner enjoying the rain and cold of the mother country for the last 18 months, most of my rides lately have been of the solitary kind. I’ve quite enjoyed it too, thank you very much. Leaving work the other day, I thought I’d head up the hill and take a solo ride through Glenrock. No need to arrange a meeting time or place, just jump on the bike and go.
Although I’m only a few minutes ride from suburbia, the solitary ride lets me convince myself that I’m out in the middle of nowhere. I tell myself that I’m the first person to ride these trails in weeks. The tracks are clear, last night’s spider webs are still intact and the only dust is the stuff that’s rising up behind me. The only sound is the ringing of the bellbirds, the crunch and whirr of my tyres on the track and the occasional slap of chain on stay. If I want to stop, sit down, hug a tree and take it all in for a while, I bloody-well will!
Being an official “slow bastard”TM, riding alone lets me dawdle along at my own pace. I don’t have to feel bad about making the whippets wait at every fork in the trail or crest of a hill. There’s no need to keep an eye out for the guy behind you who will inevitably be trying to pass.
Riding alone gives me a chance to work on my skills. If I want to try a piece of trail a second, third, fourth time – either because I liked it so much, or usually because I sucked at it so badly – I can just do it. No need to call the others back, or try and catch up later. And if I want to bail and walk a section, who’s gonna know?
Which brings me to some of the disadvantages. You never really push yourself when you’re on your own. With no one to disappoint if the ride gets cut short, it’s all too easy to give up and go home if you get a little tired. You walk sections that you may have ridden if there were others around. Apart from there being nobody to try and impress, there’s always the fear of crashing and having to walk out injured, or worse, being left for the next rider through to discover you in a mangled heap on the track.
Mechanical failures and flats take on a whole new meaning when you’re on your own, too. Part way through a ride the other day I realised that not only did I not have a spare tube or puncture kit, I hadn’t put my pump or other tools back in my pack. You’d probably get away with that if riding with a partner or a group, but if I flatted or something broke, it was going to be a long walk home. Or to the nearest phone, anyway.
That’s right, not only did I have no tools and no spares, I’m one of those dying race of people without a mobile phone. While it may add to the feeling of isolation and serenity to be totally uncontactable for a few hours, the costs far outweigh the benefits if you find yourself stranded with an injury and a long walk out.
Considering the heightened element of danger – or the heightened consequences, anyway – I think I’ve been pretty lucky on my solo rides so far. My advice? Don’t do what I do. Solo rides are great, but you really should be prepared for the worst. Take a phone, take spares and take tools. Tell someone where you’re going and how long you’ll be. That said, don’t be scared by the solo ride. And don’t let solo rides be an excuse for slacking off. Push yourself as hard as you would if you were riding with someone else. After all, there’s nobody around to see how much you’re suffering.