Words: Rebecca Parker
I believe that as women we are naturally a more cautious breed. I like to think this is mainly because we are blessed with the ability to think before we act.
The majority of the time this is a good thing but with mountain biking it can often be a problem that holds us back. Usually this is a conversation that starts around tackling larger features such as gap jumps and large drops but it is also a reason why women are more likely to worry about the idea of riding alone, particularly if that ride involves venturing off the beaten track.
Whilst group riding can be tons of fun, sometimes it’s nice to sling on a pack and head out on your own. Here we take a look at some of the top reasons to put caution aside and give riding solo a go...
You can select a time and place that suits you
Grown up life has a habit of getting in the way I find. Inescapable work commitments, family, friends, partners, it all adds up to a pretty hectic schedule. Finding time to get out on the bike can be tough.
By considering that going solo is a viable option you immediately create so many more possibilities. Spontaneous rides in brief gaps are always great small wins over the time monster.
You get some alone time
Riding alone is a great opportunity to clear your brain of all life’s clutter. It can be a chance to think through your worries, to aimlessly daydream, or to simply empty your mind and let it be still. Riding alone also allows you to focus on technique that might be forgotten in a group setting.
You can choose your own soundtrack
On a similar note it can also be a pleasant change to ride to your own choice of background noise. You can tune into the soundtrack of nature instead. It is amazing how many different types of birdsong can be heard when you really listen. Hear the wind through the trees, the livestock mooing and baaing, the river rushing alongside you and the squirrels rustling the leaves on the branches as they scamper away. All accompanied by that grin inducing sound of your free hub clicking and the varying tones of rubber gripping as you change surface type and speed.
You can set your own pace
Most of us at some point will have had the frustrating experience of finding ourselves scraping the bottom of the energy barrel to try and keep up on a group ride. Struggling to manage even one word answers to people’s questions, never mind a smile. Whether it’s because you’re feeling under the weather, tired, or just plain not in the mood, it can be really hard work to snap yourself out if it. On days like this a solo potter around your local easy route is often a more enjoyable experience.
You can admire your surroundings
We are lucky with our chosen hobby that mountain biking truly does take us to some spectacularly stunning locations. From rugged mountain tops, to alpine meadows, rolling pasture land, to sun dappled forests, at some point in our riding careers we will experience them all. It's not that in company you never notice the views, it’s just that riding alone there is a greater chance of looking up to admire your surroundings and connecting with them in a mindful way.
You can reconnect with your inner explorer
Navigating your way around a new cross country route away from the designated well marked trail centre tracks will feel like a true mini adventure. It will test your map reading skills, ability to guestimate time and distance, forward planning for nutrition management and capacity for problem solving. Exploring off the beaten track on your own can be a real challenge. Inevitably on occasion things will go wrong but this is when you find out how strong and resilient you can be. It’s days like these, where we have to push ourselves that give us the greatest sense of achievement.
It's the right time for a Strava challenge
Strava I find, is like marmite, you either love it or hate it. No matter what your opinion, it cannot be disputed that bar the unlikely scenario of your whole group simultaneously feeling in the mood to race for a new QOM, there is no better way to ruin a group ride. The point of a group ride is to ride together and be social. When one person is constantly darting off in race mode this inevitably will prompt others to follow and then the whole atmosphere changes. However, it does have its’ place. On a lone ride aiming for a new Strava record can be a great way to shake things up and measure your current pace against others.
You have the opportunity to session a section
Is there a particular bit of trail that you mess up every time? A kicker that you go round when you know you could do it? A better line round that root littered corner that you keep missing? Now you have the option to stop and repeat that section of trail until you’ve got it dialled. Though this is of course also a fun activity with a friend or two, when you’re alone there is less pressure to get it right and no need to rush. Videoing yourself is still possible with a little inventive thinking by propping your phone on a nearby rock or the branches of a tree.
Don't be afraid to enter races alone
Heading off to a race on your own can seem like an understandably daunting prospect. Yet mountain bikers on the whole are a very friendly and inclusive bunch. As females, though participation is on the increase, we are still in the minority and it can be difficult to find other girls of a similar pace and attitude to ride with. Going to races is a great way to do this as you are all brought together at the same venue, on the same trails, with a shared aim. A singular person on their own can seem more approachable so this can actually open more opportunities to make new friends as I found out for myself.
Make yourself a tourist
Riding alone is a great opportunity to play photographer. A chance to go back and try to capture the beauty of the places we ride to show non riding friends and family. When in company I am always reluctant to be the one holding up the ride to fumble my phone out of my pocket or bag and in my rush I never get the angle right. Admittedly on your own it can be a bit of a challenge to get yourself and enough of the surroundings in the picture but with a strategically placed rock or two it is possible and it can be quite fun working it out.
There are undeniably greater risks involved with riding on your own, particularly if you plan to head off into the mountains. However, these can be greatly reduced by simply setting off adequately prepared and riding sensibly. If you follow these few pointers there should be no reasonable situation you are not equipped to handle.
Firstly: Always tell somebody where you are going and when you expect to be back! Next up...
Pack mindfully: Always take a backpack with these items. The last 3 may seem excessive but when heading out into proper mountains they can be true life savers: 2 spare inner tubes, tyre leavers, pump, multi – tool, cable ties, mobile phone, water (minimum 1 litre), food (inc emergency bar or gel), waterproof, spare layers, map, compass, emergency foil blanket, emergency whistle.
Use an emergency locator: OS locate is an app that uses the GPS system on your phone to track where you are at any time no matter how remote the location. It gives you detailed information on where you are using OS map grid references and compass points so you can always get yourself out of trouble when you are lost. It also comes with a sharing option to allow family and friends to track your location at all times during your trip. This can in turn be shared with emergency services in case of an accident.
It is worth noting that OS locate does rely on data signal to transmit its own locater beacon and so is not a fool proof method of being found. For other forms of emergency transmitters, check out this site.
Ride within your limits: The most common and understandable reason for not going solo is the fear of crashing and having no-one there to help you. While the risk of this happening can never be entirely negated the most effective way to reduce the risk is to ride within your limits and choose where you ride sensibly. A good guide is to ride at ¾ pace meaning a couple of seconds off your usual top pace. Use your solo rides as a chance to work on fitness and technique, not speed!
Start small and build up: If this is something you are not feeling entirely confident about there is no harm in starting with small distances and building up. For the first few months stick to your local trail centre routes that you are confident riding. You can then build up the challenge as you feel comfortable to though this is not a necessity. If something becomes such a challenge it is worrying you the whole time then it is probably not worth doing. We ride bikes to have fun and that should always be the most important factor.
In a mountain biker’s dream world, we would all be able to spend every day shredding dirt with our friends. Sadly, for most of us this is not that ideal world. By using a combination of the two we can keep our riding varied and experience the best of both worlds so neither ever gets old. For me the greatest advantage of going solo is the feeling of freedom and independence I have as I pedal off into the wilderness; just me, my bike and trusty trail dog. We are all 3 of us ready for another day of mud, sweat, gears and joy, but above all – adventure.