By Mark Yanagisawa
During these times of uncertainty around the world, one thing has been my rock through it all – still being able and allowed to ride for exercise – of course while staying socially distant. As my work has moved from the office to my living room, the normal routine is not so “normal”. I have to make the mental switch from work to “not-work” at the end of the day. Also with most events and rides cancelled for the foreseeable future, motivation to train towards a goal might be hard.
I’ve found my motivation in riding to exploring new places, discovering new bakeries, re-visiting favorite roads and pedaling familiar routes. All of this, solo; alone; self-supported; me and my thoughts; me and my machine.
Riding solo can be a daunting task, but the more and more that I do it, the more I enjoy my time on the saddle. I find peace and joy in it. While it might appear that I jumped straight into the deep-end taking-on centuries, its quite the opposite. I started out riding 20 miles solo, then 40, then 70 and more. I had to build my mental (and physical) strength to be on the bike for more than 2 hours at a time, working my way up to 5 hour plus rides. I rode familiar routes that I did on group rides before using Strava and Garmin to map out longer adventures.
Whether its your first ride or 100th solo ride, here are some tips to prepare and ride solo.
1. Be Seen.
Safety is my number one priority and staying visible is the most important! Wear a bright kit and helmet with reflective bits. Run a blinking tail light and a low beam headlight.
Keep it close – for your first solo ride, stick to a route that you know and are familiar with – like a weekly group ride route – the one you know like the back of your hand. This is a great way to keep your mind stimulated on reaching the next landmark. For example, “the next turn is at the CVS, then up the winding hill, around the bend, back down to the trail, then take the trail home!” With this mental trick, you’re breaking down the route into small, manageable goals, check-points, and incremental landmarks. This helps clear the “miles” and “hours” from your head.
As you become more confident – start your route on roads you normally take, then venture beyond the turn-around point. Plan a new destination and ride! This can be an extra 5 miles beyond. On the return trip, connect to the same roads that you are familiar with. With this mindset, when I come into the river trail – 12 miles from the city- I am mentally thinking, “I am close to home”.
If you’re still following along – I’ll be the first to agree that the same roads might get boring, BUT that is a good sign because this is all to build your mental toughness for riding solo. When my mind switched from “miles left” to “land-markers” that’s when the beauty started.
Venture in a new direction – Pick a new direction or destination to travel to – plan a ride to a bakery, brewery or bike shop that is along the route to get yourself looking forward to that croissant, beer or snack! If possible, incorporate familiar roads into the route on the return trip – again in the theme of looking forward to landmarks. Start small and then increase your mileage as appropriate!
The world is your oyster – once you get the mental and physical toughness to ride solo, whatever distance, take to the road and explore the world from your doorstep!
3. Route Planning
I use Garmin Connect and Strava Routes to plan most of my routes. To my limited understanding, they use heat mapping to create routes and I have not been disappointed in their algorithms to route me on safe roads, bike paths, or trails. As the miles increase, I make it priority to find “rest-stops” to fill water and re-supply if needed – I typically plan for a stop every 30 miles. Garmin and Strava routes both interface nicely with my Garmin head unit.
4. GPS Unit.
A GPS unit, like Garmin, Wahoo, or Hammerhead can be very useful tool to plan and navigate routes, track metrics (HR, power, cadence, speed, elevation, mileage, time). I also have the Garmin Livetrack and Strava Beacon for my family to track me when I am riding to make sure my dot is moving and for safety (see #1). I personally love my Garmin Edge 530 and the functionality it provides me.
5. Dressing for the Weather
When riding solo, look up the weather forecast and make sure that you’re prepared for the weather. Layering is key. Clothing with zippers is a plus so you can zip and unzip, layers for perfect temperature regulation. For example, during climbs your blood will be pumping and body will warm up, so unzip the layers and let your body breathe; and on the downhills protect yourself from the breeze and drag and zip all of your layers. From the base layers, arm & leg warmers, bibs, jersey, vests, and thermal long sleeves – there can be many combinations that will get you suited to be prepared and cozy for the weather.
6. Drink and Nutrition
Make sure that you have enough (or more than enough) liquids and nutrition with you when you are riding – and more so when you are riding solo because you don’t have buddy to share water with (see CDC on sharing and social distancing). Water with Skratch or Nuun helps replenish what you sweat, and nutrition like Honey-stinger Gels or Cliff Bars provide much needed fuel to keep you moving. I like to drink every 5 miles and eat 100-200 calories every 15 miles – your mileage may vary, but make sure you are doing this and are prepared. Also, bring money so you’re ready for a rest stop fill up.
When riding solo, you should be prepared for most situations you’ll encounter. This was the most daunting part to me but being prepared helped ease my anxieties! A tube, patch kit, tire lever, pump or C02, and tool are essential for riding solo. If you’re planning a longer ride, a charger, additional tube and spares might be useful. Real story, on a 160 mile trip (Philly to Lancaster), I flatted twice – I was prepared with two spare tubes and a hand pump, so it did not halt my ride.
8. Other accessories to keep you rolling
While not essential to riding solo, I have found a few accessories to help me go further, more confident and comfortable on my bike…
Hunt Superdura Dynamo (SON 28) Wheelset – I generate my own power. Hunt’s pre-configured wheelset makes the plunge into dynamo EASY – they spec a high quality SON 28 hub, laced to their asymmetric rim and are able to be configured to tubeless/tubed and rear cassette hub.
Sinewave Beacon – This takes the power I create and makes it into USABLE electricity! It simplifies the electronics to a single unit that is a light and charger all in one. I can confidently ride without worrying if my light is charged. I have used it to also charge my Garmin, phone and portable battery.
WTB Exposure 34’s – With plenty of rubber and volume beneath me, I can take on paved and unpaved roads confidently and equally, all while maintaining comfort. The Exposure line-up has a smooth center tread for fast pavement section and small side knobs to grip dirt or gravel, providing me confidence for traction.
Lupine Rotlicht – “Isn’t just a tail light?” No, its not just a normal light. It is a super bright (>160 lumens), long lasting (>30 hrs), compact light with a built in sensor that goes solid when braking (like a normal car would).
The key takeaways are to be safe, be seen and be prepared. And with some metal preparedness, you can build some mental resilience to endure riding solo.
Rubber Down. Head Up.