Riding bikes with your friends is one of the best activities in the world. There’s nothing quite like the social interaction amongst a group of like-minded cyclists, triathletes, or gravel grinders hitting the road for a workout or leisurely ride. But due to one’s availability, life’s various other responsibilities, or even geographic locale, riding with a group can sometimes prove to be a difficult undertaking. And if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we must all be able to find joy on our own from time to time. Enter the solo ride. Riding by yourself can be an incredibly fulfilling experience—you can dial in a custom workout, tackle a route you wouldn’t normally do with your regular riding group, or enjoy a few hours of introspection and relaxation. Riding solo presents some unique challenges, though. So we’ve put together a few tips to help you make sure your solo rides are fun, safe, and efficient.
Making sure your bike is in proper working order is the foundation of any enjoyable bike ride. So this tip is always vital, regardless of whether you’re more inclined to solo or group rides, or whether you’re an experienced cyclist or a novice. Make a regular habit of inspecting your bike before each ride—just a quick check-up to ensure that your gears are shifting properly, there are no cuts or damage to your tires, and that your brakes are working well. Give your bike a more thorough inspection at least once a week, paying attention to additional components like your bolts, wheels, and pedals. We always recommend developing a strong relationship with your local bike shop, and making sure the mechanical experts on staff are routinely giving your bike some proper maintenance. Also, make a habit of regularly washing your bike—even a quick, one-minute wipe down after each ride will help keep dirt and grime at bay, and will pay dividends in the lifespan of your bike’s components. Show your bike some extra love with more thorough washes every few weeks, depending on how often you ride and how dirty your bike gets.
When it comes to bike rides, preparation is always important, even when you’re riding with a group of friends. But this is especially important when you’re riding by yourself. Sometimes when we ride with a large group, we may end up leaving the navigation duties to others. But when you’re on your own, you only have yourself to rely on. So plan out your route by researching roads and thoroughfares, and take advantage of the latest technology by utilizing a cycling computer with GPS navigation. Always make sure you’re familiar with the local cycling laws in your region, as well as those you may visit during your ride. Make a back-up plan, too, just in case a road you planned to take is close for construction, or if the weather turns bad and you need to backtrack or find a different way home. It’s also important to share your ride information with your friends or family, so that they know where you’ll be riding, and what your estimated riding time will be.
In addition to providing your riding info to your family or friends, make sure that you can communicate with them if needed. We always recommend riding with a cell phone, just in case you need some assistance when you’re out on a ride. Perhaps your bike picked up a bit of damage, or you get a flat tire and discover that your spare inner tube has a hole in it, or your navigation equipment malfunctions and you find yourself lost. Unfortunately, there are plenty of things that can derail your ride, so make sure you’re prepared to get some help if need be.
Few things can drain the fun from a solo ride faster than not being prepared for the weather you’ll encounter. Pay attention to the weather forecasts in your region, and make sure your apparel is appropriate for temperature changes or precipitation, as well as the duration of time you’ll be riding. A good rule of thumb for all types of riding is to dress in layers. A good base layer can go a long way, whether that’s one designed to keep you warm in cold weather or help wick sweat away in hot weather. Wear a high-quality cycling kit that’s sized appropriately and comfortable. Arm, knee, and/or leg warmers offer plenty of versatility when it comes to keeping your extremities warm in cooler weather, and can be easily removed and stowed if the air starts heating up. Also pack a wind vest/gilet or a wind jacket, in case the temperature drops and you find yourself in need of protection against the chilly breeze. If there’s a chance you’ll encounter some precipitation, then make sure your clothing is water-resistant, or bring along a jacket specifically designed to keep rain off you. Another good rule of thumb for most rides is to dress in bright colors that have some measure of reflectivity—this helps you remain more visible to motorists and other people on the road. This is especially important when you’re riding solo, because a single cyclist will be inherently less visible than a group of cyclists riding in a pack. To that end, get yourself a set of lights—both front and rear—to increase your visibility on the road. Always check your local cycling laws when it comes to light requirements, too.
Just like with navigation, when you ride solo you’ll be fending for yourself when it comes to things like spare tubes, tools, and nutrition. Whereas you may be able to poach a spare tube from a buddy on a group ride (but, really, it’s good etiquette to make sure you have your own supplies even when riding with friends), if you get a flat tire or two on a solo ride, then you better be sure you have all the supplies necessary to get rolling again. Pack at least two spare tubes along with a mini-pump and/or adequate inflation devices. Likewise, make sure you’re bringing along a multi-tool with all of the attachments that your bike requires for roadside repairs. We’ve already touched upon this elsewhere in the article, but make sure you’ve got a cell phone with you. If you encounter a situation where you simply can’t ride home, then be sure you’re prepared to call (and receive) help. Also, as an accompaniment to your route planning, make sure you’re bringing a proper amount of nutrition and hydration on your solo ride, with a little extra just in case. You don’t want to find yourself far from home and in desperate need of water or calories. Pack some cash and/or a credit card so you can stop at a store to pick-up some additional food and water if needed.
This tip is especially important if you’re trying out a new route by yourself for the first time, but it’s common sense to practice it anytime you’re riding solo. Start off riding easy, and stay at a comfortable pace that you can enjoy for the duration of the ride. If you’re planning to incorporate some intervals or other hard efforts into your ride to maximize your workout, then treat the early part of the ride as a warm-up to make sure your body is properly prepared for the exertion later on. Remember, riding with a group will most often be easier and/or faster than riding solo. You’d have wheels to follow, bodies to draft behind, and the external encouragement of friends to ride harder. When you’re riding by yourself, you’ll have no assistance to keep the speed up, and no help around you if you bonk. To help pace your effort throughout the course of a ride, consider using your cycling computer in conjunction with a heart rate monitor or power meter. Research training zones and figure out what amount of exertion works with your body and fitness goals.
As we’ve mentioned, nothing beats riding with a group of friends. However, a solo ride has its own unique physical and mental benefits. If you’re experienced with solo rides, then mix it up with a hard workout and practice building up mental strength by pushing yourself with some challenging efforts. Plan on visiting some backroads or other thoroughfares that you don’t typically explore. Plan a ride to a scenic lookout or other interesting place to stop and rest—maybe even a cafe or eatery. Stop when you feel like it and enjoy a nice view, and take some photos if you’re so inclined. Enjoy the peace and quiet of a solo ride, and allow yourself to relax with the meditative state that a comfortable, easy pace can offer.
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