For some time even before the Great Plague of 2020-20??, I mostly rode my bicycle by myself. When Coronavirus hit, and health rules didn’t prevent bike riding but discouraged doing so with others, nothing much changed for me. Sure, I’d go to the occasional social cycling ride, or a friend might join me sometimes. But for the most part, I was Forrest Gump on a two-wheeler. I Just. Kept. Bicycling. Things sort of relaxed, with some people getting vaccines (including moi), then they got worse again with the Delta variant. Still, I have ridden every day of the pandemic and then some — 23 months straight as of 9/11/2021. But am I happy or sad about being on my own? As usual, it’s not a simple answer.
On the one hand, if you’re a more introverted person who requires a lot of personal time to recover from being around others, a solitary cycle sesh can be a lifesaver. I’m sort of in the middle on the Myers-Briggs scale, but definitely more intro- than extrovert. Once I even had to correct someone who had wrongly graded me as an extrovert — they refigured it, and I was right. One isn’t better than the other in my book, they’re just different.
When I ride by myself, there’s a lot to enjoy: The quiet solitude, the individual effort, time with my own thoughts, no distracting conversations or having to worry about the other person. I’m also responsible for me alone, and while there’s also more risk if something happens, it’s my choice. When I crest a hill, or hit a big number of miles (rare for my tired old fathlete body these days), or just am present in my own skin, there’s a certain satisfaction, pride even. Except we know pride goeth before the fall, and we don’t want falls. (Autumns, yes, we do want — and it’s starting to look a lot like it might be autumn than August.) Point is, if you’ve ever been on a long solo ride and enjoyed it you, you get it.
For the foreseeable future, it seems that with the coronavirus we may be needing to keep ourselves apart, masked, and vaccinated. President Joe Biden (a bike-rider himself) is looking to make more people under federal rules get their shots we can stop the silliness — and the suffering and dying. I’m generally for public health. Your personal free-dumb doesn’t work with a killer virus, you idiots! That’s not very relevant, but I felt it needed saying. Though I might avoid going on a ride with someone I know is anti-science if I can manage it.
Anyway, what about the enjoyment, camaraderie, and trash-talking that happens on group rides? Well, those are all valid experiences. Many are testosterone-fueled sausage festivals (mostly men) that are early in the morning for mega miles and really not much fun unless you’re really in shape and into competition and torture. Many group rides I went on while training for charity rides like the Mamma Jamma Ride to Beat Breast Cancer (which as mentioned in my last post, there’s still time to register, fundraise, and ride on September 18) were not competitive, more gender-balanced, and thus more fun. There are all kinds of rides and riders, and you need to find your tribe.
Other advantages of group riding should be obvious: safety in numbers, ability to draft off people in front of you, and help if you have a flat tire or other mishap. You can make some pretty good friends if you show up to the same events week after week. When in a big group, it’s kind of fun to wave at kids, or see dumbstruck look of drivers watching a peloton go by (or to hold up traffic on a two-lane country road with no shoulder; it’s perfectly legal to take the lane). Forget your wallet on a group ride? Someone else will cover your beverage. On your own? You’re going to stay thirsty, my friend.
It’s not really fair to compare solo and group rides, because they’re two very different animals. Jaguars, snow leopards, marine turtles, the platypus, polar bears and blue whales are generally anti-social except for mating season and caring for young. Elephants, lions, wolves, dolphins, chimpanzees, bees, meerkats, penguins, ants — they are among those that prefer being in a group.
Humans fall into the latter, usually, but some of us lean one way or the other. It’s not good or bad, it’s just a choice and personal preference. Some days, you need to be alone with your thoughts. Other days, you need to be with people. And clearly you can do both depending on your schedule, mood, and so on. If you’re lucky, you can have your pick of riding alone and with others, be they social fun groups, recreational weekend warriors, or hammerhead land sharks.
Just because you’re on your own doesn’t mean it’s not fun, meaningful, or a success. And you can be in a peloton surrounded by others but still feeling like you’re by yourself and not having a good time. So pick your poison, but whatever you do, ride your damn bike!
How do you normally ride? What do you prefer — alone or in a group? What makes you choose one over the other? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
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