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Dear Frank: Antisocial riding

Dear Frank - Antisocial riding
Frank Strack
13 Oct 2015

Riding in groups can be a lot of fun, but there are times when you want to get away from it all.

Dear Frank

Call me antisocial, but I prefer to ride alone. Yet more and more I find that my weekend rides are interrupted by other cyclists who latch on and seem determined to turn my solo session into a group affair. I’m usually too polite to tell them to get lost. What do you suggest?

Richard, by email

Dear Antisocial

I ride solo a lot, like you. Except whenever I swing leg over top tube, I ride sufficiently hard that no mortal can hold my wheel. One guy tried once and spontaneously combusted, leaving behind only a green globule. So while I don’t personally have the problem you describe, I’ve seen this happen in countless groups as I blow by them, so I feel comfortable assuming I’m an expert in this matter and that I am well qualified to answer your question.

To address the matter of being antisocial, even if I could slow down to a non-combustion pace that others can fathom, I’d still ride solo whenever I could. Don’t get me wrong, riding in a group is an amazing experience. The friendships forged while suffering into a rainy headwind or along a picturesque landscape in the beaming sunshine are instantaneous, long-lasting and unique. Furthermore, the thrill of speeding along in a tight bunch is something that cannot be put into words. It has to be experienced in order to be comprehended.

But the consequences of not having a career as a sportsman and instead having separate professional, sporting and family lives means that my rides are generally small victories of a life spent playing Calendar Tetris and stealing out on the bike when the opportunities present themselves, not when the bell tolls eight and the group ride disembarks the local coffee shop.

Solo rides are beautiful endeavours. The complexities of life are reduced to a simple turn of the pedals and the inward focus of physicality, breath and lactic acid. There are few external factors, if you ignore the traffic that inevitably will drift into your world. Fundamentally, it is just you and the bike.

Some days, like today, I will get on just to break the rhythm of the day. But most days I leave the house with a plan, and follow it without interruption. The discipline of training in itself feels good, a refreshing change from the chaos of everyday life.

Most pros prefer to train alone for a similar reason – they have a programme to follow, and no two programmes are the same. Riding solo provides the most ideal conditions to follow a training plan because riding with others brings with it the temptation to compete. A half-wheel here, a half-wheel there. Before long you’re buzzing along at full gas trying to carry on like it’s still a conversational pace.

Hangers-on are the bane of the soloist’s existence. We’re riding alone because we want to, not because we can’t find anyone who can tolerate our presence for the duration of a bike ride. The problem is so prevalent that we, The Velominati, have a Rule for this, Rule #19: Introduce yourself.

Latching onto another rider is akin to wandering into a pub, sitting down at a table that looks pleasantly social and helping yourself to one of the patron’s pints. In other words, it should probably only happen either in Australia or nowhere.

In these situations I slow down and chat for a bit. Hopefully one of us will turn off the route, which solves the problem in itself, or I’ll simply thank the rider for the conversation and bid them a good day before setting back off on my ride. More often than not, they’ll understand you don’t want to ride together and they won’t jump onto your wheel. But if they do, all you can do is just ignore them and do your own thing.

Impolite as it is, sitting on your wheel and not causing a fuss does little if you put them out of your head. The ride is yours and yours alone. Don’t let the hangers-on take that from you.

Frank Strack is the creator, and curator, of The Rules. For futher illumination see velominati.com and find a copy of his book The Rules in all good bookshops. You can email your questions for Frank to cyclist@dennis.co.uk

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