Like many people, when I started cycling, I was riding alone, every single ride. I did not know many cyclists nearby. And, I was pretty sure if I could find other cyclists, I would not be able to keep up with them.
You, too, might spend most of your time riding by yourself. Many cyclists do, and they enjoy being alone. Many articles contend that riding alone should be preferred to riding with a group.
After riding alone for almost a year, I became aware of a local riding club. I have been riding with that group ever since. I enjoy cycling with my club.
Over time, I have concluded that riding alone is not always good, especially as a senior.
Here are three significant reasons why I no longer ride alone.
Emergencies While Riding Alone
In over a decade of cycling, I have learned that it is not a matter of if I will have an accident while riding my bike, but when I will have an accident. That is what all experienced cyclists say.
Sure, some accidents happen because we are riding with others. A touch of wheels or a sudden stop by the rider in front of you can bring you down. I went down hard one day after hitting the back wheel of a club rider in front of me. It happens.
I have a good friend who fell while cycling alone. He lay on the ground for some time before someone found him and called emergency services. He suffered a broken hip.
When someone falls during a group ride, we immediately stop and attend to the injured rider. We give comfort and, when needed, call emergency services.
It is a genuine comfort to know that others are close by to assist if I need help.
I am also concerned about medical issues not caused by a fall. I have a history of heart problems, so I keep nitro in the left pocket of my jersey. So my fellow club members know it is there and how to administer it. When I fall behind or am struggling, they ask me what my heart rate is.
I have been with riders when they get dehydrated. I added to their water supply and slowly rode back with them.
I hate to think what would happen if I had a medical issue out on some beautiful country road while riding alone.
If you do ride alone, I suggest you do not ride without Road ID. For as little as $25, you get a stretch bracelet with emergency contact information and access to your essential medical history. It only costs $10 to renew it each year. Emergency personnel call a number on the bracelet or go to the website to access information that could save your life.
Missing the Helpful Skill of Drafting
Drafting is one of the most basic and valuable road cycling skills. However, you cannot learn to draft while riding alone.
Drafting happens as cyclists enter an area of low pressure just behind the cyclist in front of them, reducing the wind resistance and the amount of energy used to pedal.
Cycling physiologists say that when you draft off of another bike, or a group of bikes, you use thirty percent less energy than you would typically to cover the same distance. Or, another way to look at it is, when drafting, you can ride much faster with the same amount of energy.
Without a doubt, when I first practiced drafting, I felt very nervous about getting right behind another rider. Positioning my front wheel within 18 to 24 inches of another rider’s back tire was indeed intimidating. My first drafting experience only lasted about 30 seconds. Even amid my fear, I could feel that I was using less energy, a lot less energy.
It took me several months of short drafting experiences to get to the point that I was confident enough to hang that close to someone for ten to fifteen minutes at a go.
Drafting is a significant aid in road cycling. Once I learned how to draft and felt somewhat comfortable getting that close behind another rider, it became a powerful asset in my cycling skill set.
I do not draft all the time. It is not very helpful on hills. It still takes a lot of concentration, so I do not draft for long periods.
It is exhilarating to draft on flat segments of a route. You can get moving very fast.
When there is a headwind, it is helpful to get behind someone and let them block the wind. Then, of course, I will return the favor after a few minutes.
Drafting is especially helpful when I am having a bad day in the saddle. There is always someone in our group willing to provide a wind block for a struggling rider.
I have also learned that I cannot constantly be drafting behind someone. That can get irritating for the rider who is always in front of me. So I take my turn in front.
I enjoy riding in a paceline of five or more club riders, each taking a turn in the lead. That is when the effects of drafting are the most noticeable.
Other Riders Provide Encouragement and Incentive
I am pretty much self-motivated. I have been so for a long time. Yet, my club riders provide motivation even when I am not doing so well.
We help each other a lot. “How is your heart rate doing?” asked my riding partner today. He knows that I am under my cardiologist’s orders not to exceed 150 beats per minute for more than just a few seconds.
“Great ride” is always heard a the end of a ride.
When we rest during a ride, we always make sure everyone is ready before we begin again. “We all have bad days,” they say when I say, “My legs are very sluggish today.”
When I think I want to cut the ride short, they say, “You can make the next ten miles. You have done it before. We will help you.”
Typically there are younger and stronger riders than myself in the group. They push me. Not that they say, “keep up with us.” Simply because they are rolling faster than I usually would alone, I put more effort into staying up and improving.
We all record our rides on Strava, so I get plenty of incentive and encouragement from all the “kudos” that appear within minutes of completing a ride.
I, too, give out plenty of encouragement to those who ride with me.
How Big of A Group?
Even though I have spoken about club and group rides, I also go on many mid-week rides with one or two others.
Everything I said above applies, in my mind, to a 20 rider group or just me and a partner.