Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Spinning Wheels (Lessons from Two Years of Cycling): Group vs. Solo Rides

My cycling companions and I on the GAP in 2014
While there is definitely safety in numbers I usually ride alone. Part of the reason I ride solo is because most group rides occur over the weekend and I am usually busy on Sunday mornings and sometimes well into the afternoon. Most group rides are also planned well in advance, require a sign-up, and I often cannot make such a commitment that far in advance. That means I generally ride by myself. For the same reasons I often day hike, backpack, and kayak solo.

Don’t get me wrong. I have enjoyed the few group rides I have been on. I liked the people I rode with as much as the actual physical cycling. My first ride with a group was a about two years ago when I joined my nephew and two of his friends for a forty-four mile ride on the Great Allegheny Passage from West Newton to Ohiopyle during their Pittsburgh to DC ride. The day gave me a great opportunity to catch up with my nephew, who is an accomplished cyclist, and to learn about cycling from him and his two friends, also accomplished cyclists. If it weren’t for that ride I probably never would have upgraded to riding shoes with cleats and clip in pedals. That ride also convinced me that I could at least keep up with riders who were younger, more experienced, in better shape, and riding lighter and more expensive bikes than I.

I have also enjoyed a couple rides with the Mountain State Rail Trailer's out of Wheeling, WV. So far I have cycled with them once in 2015 and once 2016, both starting at the Pike Island Locks and Dam and riding the Wheeling Heritage Trail and Brooke Pioneer Trail north to Wellsburg, WV for lunch at The Crooked Dock, and then back to the Dam after lunch. I really enjoyed meeting other riders on those rides and learned about cycling by observing them as they rode and noticing the upgrades they had made and accessories they had added to their bikes. I would ride with the Mountain State Rail Trailer's more often but they ride only once a month and some of their rides are on Sunday.

I and my cycling companion
on the GAP & C and O Canal in 2016
 I recently joined a former student as he rode the C and O Canal and the Great Allegheny Passage from DC to Pittsburgh. We had never ridden together before the trip but we seemed to be well matched, both in terms of cycling skills and experience as well as camping know-how and abilities. Heavy rain, flooding, and mud slowed us down and we had to arrange for a car shuttle from Hancock, MD to Frostburg, MD to meet our schedule but for 309 miles over eight days.  I immensely enjoyed riding him and am not sure I would have wanted to undertake such an extensive ride alone. I will write more about that trip in future posts.

When I ride solo I can start when and where I want, making last minute decisions without inconveniencing anyone. I can cycle as slow or as fast as I feel like, stopping when I desire, taking breaks as long or as short as I choose,  and deciding at the last minute to ride a shorter or a longer distance than I had originally planned.

Because I usually ride alone I almost always let another person know where I intend to be riding and when I generally expect to be home. When I have good cell phone reception I also usually check in on facebook throughout the ride so that my latest location can be determined in case I encounter a problem. I also always carry a first aid kit, bike repair tools including a spare tube and a patch kit, flashlight, food, water, a $20 bill, and emergency contact information.

Do you usually ride solo or with a group and why?

Here are links to previous installments in the series:

Competitiveness (Ninth Installment) 
Stats (Eighth Installment)
Accidents Happen (Seventh Installment)
Pedals for Cleats (Sixth Installment)
Riding Shoes with Cleats (Fifth Installment)
Be Kind to Your Behind (Fourth Installment)
Combating Hand and Arm Numbness (Third Installment) 
Reading and Riding (Second Installment)
Starting Over (First Installment) 

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