There are no two ways about it, riding solo on your own can be a tough ask. It’s fine if you just fancy getting out for a few hours every now and then, but if you’re training for a particular event and need to put in serious hours week in week out it can be hard to keep motivated.
Riding in a group has obvious advantages – it’s more energy efficient and having company tends to make the effort of climbing or extended mileage just feel easier. And if you’ve arranged to meet others at a particular time, you’re more likely to feel compelled to turn up. So when it’s down to just you it can be very easy to bail out of a planned training session because you feel a bit tired, the legs are sore or you think you’ll do it tomorrow instead.
Yet riding solo can be incredibly productive. You are master of your own ride, you can make of the hour or two hours available whatever you want – not want other people want. So, you can do a 25-mile flat circuit of interval training or you can challenge yourself to take in as many hills as possible – you can dictate the pace, the distance, the route. Riding into an unhelpful headwind? Change direction! If you want to concentrate on hill reps, you can – no one is going to be moaning about how boring that one hill is!
The biggest downside is probably the boredom of riding alone. That said, many cyclists see solo rides as valuable ‘me time’ and find it very therapeutic and/or inspiring even – Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “I thought of that while riding my bicycle” when he discovered the theory of relativity!
Use your head to power your legs!
Genius ideas may be beyond the reach of most of us, but anyone can play mind games to push themselves and make sure a ride will be beneficial. If you use Strava, Cycling Buddy or similar to record your rides you can obviously set yourself targets to reach over specific segments. But even if you just rely on a simple speedometer or nothing at all, you can create markers to aim for – a post box, a road sign, a particular bend in the road. Challenge yourself to reach them within a certain time or before needing to change gears. Ignore that little voice in your head saying ‘I’m not going to make it’ or ‘there’s no way I’ll get to the top’ and concentrate on proving it wrong – I know of one cyclist who, when things get tough, quietly chants ‘Bradley Wiggins Sarah Storey’ over and over until it is over and it works for her! Then, when you do get to the top of that horrible climb and realise you’ve made it, you will feel fantastic!
Riding on your own also has the potential to build resilience, resourcefulness and a strong mental attitude. You can rely on no one but yourself. Getting up tricky climbs is all down to you. There is no one to draft behind to conserve energy, no one to sit behind when you’re riding into a wind – you are putting in 100% effort. When it then comes to a sportive you’re less likely to feel the need to depend on group riding, you’ll be able to handle being dropped by faster riders and panic less about hanging on to a group during a climb. You will have built that all-important confidence that you can achieve on your own.
Still need convincing to pull on the lycra? Just think about why you’re training in the first place. If you have a particular sportive or event coming up keep it in your mind every single time you think you can’t be bothered to get your bike out. Imagine how you’ll feel if you turn up on the day regretting that you’re not in better shape, worrying about whether you’ll survive the course. Focus instead on how good you’ll feel knowing that you’ve given yourself every possible chance to do well, maybe even achieve a PB over the distance or particular segments.
A word on the practicalities of solo riding
Do always make sure you carry water and an energy bar or gel so that you don’t get caught short and risk bonking. Cash, phone, pump and spare inner tube should be with you at all times anyway, along with a gilet or jacket if the weather looks dodgy.