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The power of one….
Generally speaking, cycling – like many other things – is a pleasure best enjoyed in company. Cycling together with a few mates creates the opportunity to push each other, pace each other, be there for each other when bikes go ‘tech’ and, let’s not forget, simply talk bollocks with other like-minded people. But, sometimes; just sometimes, you can’t beat the simple pleasure of a solo hack.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that I’m anti-social; far from it. But those solo hacks are the time that you just go where the road leads you (rather than the group) you train at your own pace, don’t get covered in the crap coming off of the wheel in front of you and generally get some deep and meaningful ‘me’ time.
I’m sure anyone who runs regularly will understand this (guilty as charged on that front, too). It’s that feeling of absolute isolation – even though you are surrounded by people. Every moment spent in this zone is both unique and priceless. I’ve had some of my best ideas and figured out the answer to many-a work-related issue whilst running or riding alone.
Don’t beat yourself up…!
Getting back from a group ride, I often wonder if I fully pulled my weight – it always feels like there was someone else working harder or longer on the front. They weren’t, of course, but that doesn’t stop you telling yourself that they were. Returning from a solo ride, you know that you were on the front the whole way around – so there’s nothing to beat yourself up about.
Even getting a puncture is a more relaxed affair on your own; you simply pull over, pull the bike apart, fix it, take a swig of your drink, maybe neck an energy bar and then you’re off again. Fixing a puncture as the group looks on – getting cold (in winter) or hot (in summer) is akin to holding up the pre-Christmas rush of traffic in Tesco’s car park as you reverse your car into the tiniest of spaces. Unlike the Tesco’s Christmas zombies, your cycling buddies will never complain or become impatient; they are very happy to stand and watch (and usually help). But you still beat yourself up about it.
On your own, there is never anyone slower – or faster; never anyone in the wrong frame of mind: never anyone to wait for and never the indignity of making others wait for you. As a solo rider, cars seem to get past you more easily and, through traffic, you can filter to your heart’s content – never worrying if the bloke behind will get through along with you.
My silent partner…
Striking out alone into the lanes with the sun on your shoulder, you see him – your shadow; your riding buddy for the day. He makes it along to every ride that you invite him to; always content to let you make the pace. He never half-wheels you; forever patiently holding station. He never sends a rogue ‘snot rocket’ over his shoulder in your direction, never brakes suddenly, ups the pace without warning or – even worse – shares the gaseous product of last night’s chicken korma with you as you gulp huge mouthfuls of air on today’s killer ascent.
Like all true friends, he is honest with you too; that simple silhouette indicating if less, or, indeed, more pies should be eaten. And, like all friends, he changes over time. My shadow has changed – and I like him all the more for it. In the last 18 months, he has gone from being a blob between two hoops to the lithe, purposeful looking silhouette I had always craved. He reminds me of this every time that I ride with him; even coming along on group rides to keep me focussed on my goals. He is a true friend.
Granted that he’s bloody awful company at coffee stops and always stands a little too close when I’m having the occasional al-fresco slash. But, I’ll forgive him that.
And then, he was gone….
Returning home, he sees both you and your bike safely into the garage and then, as you slip indoors for a post-ride coffee and shower, he is gone – leaving you alone to download your Garmin as you bask in that rosy, endorphin enriched post-ride glow.
Like all good things, his company should never be over-indulged – absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder for that patient, silent companion. And, as soon as you’re back in the wheels with your regular riding buddies; you know that. Settling down into that well-rehearsed pace line with your mates; pushing hard and being pushed is what it’s all about. Even better when one of them pulls a stunt or one of those bizarre ‘moments’ that crop up in every ride comes along – you have the unbeatable pleasure of sharing that experience with truly good friends. As you sip your post-ride coffee with them, you know that you’d never give this up – this is what cycling and, more importantly, friendship is all about.
But, sometimes……just sometimes……when my head is full of noise and my legs are drained of power, that solitary shadowy bloke can be a bloody good training partner.