I have always been a solitary cyclist. I would read the forums like all the good nerds do, and see all of this hooplah about how you use 30% less energy when you ride in a pack, even more if you are in a full on paceline. I figured wind resistance was only doing good things for me, and just kept on doing what I was doing. Enter ALC training rides, and a whole new way of doing things.
The first training ride I did, I was just happy to finish. And not even last! But I nearly killed myself in the process, spinning too fast, on terrain I was neither used to, nor fit for. It wasn’t horrible, but standing around was not a good use of my time. As the rides got longer, I was less and less sure I would be able to do them all alone like this. So I attached myself to a pack of ladies that I had only talked to at rest stops, and rode with them at the next opportunity. What I found was that not only could I finish, but I could finish without walking or stopping nearly as often. Why, you ask. Well, because I had someone else to pace me. And that is the real secret I never knew.
I think that when people talk about using less energy, they mean that you aren’t fighting the elements as much – there is someone else breaking the wind resistance, and you are just sort of cruising along behind them (more or less). But for me, the real benefit comes from having someone in front of me who will keep me from trying to just get the hill over with. On a short or only sort-of steep hill, this is not a big deal, and I will jump out of line to pull up that sucker, and move on with my life. But trying to just power up a hill that is two miles long is not a good idea. At least not for me. Not yet.
The first training ride I finished without stopping (except for rest stops), that I walked none of, was an indescribably good feeling. I had doubts all the way through. But there is something to outside encouragement that is actually….encouragement. My internal monologue about not stopping is all brutality and aggressive song lyrics. It is not terribly forgiving or even supportive. But having a group of people around you talking about cats, chasing turkeys, mooing at cows, and singing QUEEN (all of which has totally happened), is indispensable. That is about conserving a different kind of energy.
Outside of training rides, I have been finding myself more and more often riding with other people. Sometimes that is training, like the rides up big hills, and sometimes that is leisure. But somehow, for days and days, I have been going through a phase where all of my riding has been done with people. There is something wonderful about riding alone. To me, its like getting back to my roots – this is how I started, this is how I learned, this is how I know these roads, routes, and trails. Alone. One of the things I love about bikes is how self sufficient they are. No gas, only a minimal amount of moving parts. I am my own engine. It’s a closed system – and that sort of autonomy is rare, which is part of what makes it so special. So on the days when I can throw in my headphones, tuck my MP3 player into a jersey pocket and just ride with no real thought to route, terrain, distance, or my Strava, I am grateful to be in a position to appreciate those moments. Both because I am able enough to go out and have them, and because I have been surrounded by awesome people enough to have been away from them.
Of course, riding alone makes the hills harder. No one to talk to does not help the time go by any faster, or the ride seem less daunting. But the view at the top is almost more lovely when I see it alone, knowing that I earned it all by myself.