Everyday, cyclists saddle up and get out there (or ride indoors). Some like to go alone, some prefer riding with others and some are those betweeners that do both. That’s the beauty of cycling: you can just get on your bike and ride.
I’m lucky, as I can join a group ride every day of the week if I choose to, and I have plenty of friends to ride with. But sometimes I might need a long ride by myself to clear the head, or my training might not align with others so I choose to go out solo. I have unlimited options on how I spend my time on the bike, which I’m thankful for.
In an effort to dig deeper into the motivations to ride alone or join up with friends, I spoke with professional cyclist and Strava ambassador Brendan Canty.
Solo, out of choice or necessity:
There are times when you might need to think about something, solve a personal problem in your life, let some energy out or just have some time alone. The solitude of riding alone can provide a great outlet to do this. It gives you time to absorb your surroundings, enjoying nature and soak in the elements, time to clear the head and legs. I like to go out at least one day per week on my own, either on or off road, and use the time to check in with myself. I may not necessarily have a problem to solve, but this alone time gives me a chance to reflect on things in my life and make sure everything is on track, so to speak.
When your training doesn’t align with friends.
Those of us on structured training programs can relate to this one. Although we might want some company, riding with others is sometimes hard when you have a specific training program to adhere too, which involves training at certain levels of intensity with targeted power zones. There are some days on my program that just make it too difficult to ride with others, and choosing to ride alone is done more out of necessity than preference. I always make a full disclosure to friends as to what my ride plans are before we start, so they can make an informed decision as to whether they want to join me. There is nothing worse than inviting a friend out for a ride and then dropping them or leaving them half way to complete your specific intervals.
“Usually if I’ve got my own efforts to do I like heading out on my own and getting the job done, but if it’s an easier endurance ride I like riding with others. I’m usually motivated either way.” say’s Brendan. A solo 5 hours can be surprisingly enjoyable, you don’t have to worry about leaving your friends during efforts, or having to hammer harder than you’d like to keep up. You can stop whenever you like for photos or nature breaks, it is peaceful, and you get to clear the soul whilst puffing and panting and getting your efforts done.
Riding with others is great, but you also need to be careful in some situations to avoid riding too hard when things get too competitive, especially if it’s not planned in the training plan.
Family or work commitments.
Family or work commitments can often clash with early morning bunch ride times. I know people who have families or do shift work that prevents them from riding in the morning, which is when most bunches set off. Then when it comes to the weekend, cyclists who have non-cycling partners often feel the pressure to be home at a reasonable hour to spend time with their families so a five-hour bunch ride is not on their cards – they may only get away with a couple hours. Shift work is hard, too; you may only get to ride solo, in the evening or on the indoor trainer.
I’m about 50/50 when it comes to riding solo or with others. I train nearly everyday so sometimes it’s hard to find company.
On the other hand, there are many advantages of riding with others.
Having just experienced one of the wettest winters in Melbourne, I struggled to motivate to ride alone. On these days, I would try to make plans to meet friends for a ride to hold me accountable. It is harder to hit snooze on the alarm and roll over when you know you have people waiting to meet you.
During this time of year, magpie swooping season, it’s usually safer to avoid being swooped by riding in a group rather than on your own.
*magpie is a vicious bird that swoops passing riders in order to protect its young.
Riding with others provides you with a competitive environment that can push you a little bit harder in your efforts. Although not everyone is externally motivated, there is something to be said about the extra bit of motivation to show your riding strengths, like beating your friend’s QOM on a segment, out sprinting your mate or not getting dropped from your super-fast bunch ride. I know that when I survive some tough bunch rides I feel a sense of achievement, just like winning a race.
The day I did my 1/20 segment PB (and KOM) was the Blackburn Cycling Club climbing TT, so there was some extra motivation that day (a true race against the clock). In saying that, some of my best efforts have also been whilst training in the hills solo.
One of the best things about cycling is the social interaction that you get and the people you meet along the way. It’s a great chance to catch up on life with your friends, for finding new roads, adventure and fun. Riding with others is just as much for the conversation to pass the time as it is for the coffees shared at the end.
When I want a really solid hit out, I enjoy doing the local Saturday bunch ride to Kinglake and it I find that it definitely adds more motivation to push yourself harder than riding solo.
Whether you prefer riding by yourself for mental clarity, riding with others for some friendly competition and everything in between, we all share the same passion for riding our bikes. Solo or social, how do you ride? share your perspective in the comments below.