Solo Artist

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Solo on Haleakala. Photo: Elizabeth Keller

I walk away from social gatherings with an acute sense of accomplishment whenever I haven’t offended anyone and when my friends all stayed awake. I view myself as a bottle of wine that keeps getting better with age, but I’m slowly coming to grips with the notion that I am actually a bottle that may be corked. The great irony of life is that as we become more comfortable with who we are, we become more annoying to be around.

Fortunately, I enjoy being alone. I haven’t always felt that way, but my natural charm means I have had to cultivate a taste for it. That isn’t to say I don’t like being around others – quite the opposite – but being alone allows me the opportunity to reconnect with who I am. This is especially true when riding my bicycle. Riding alone, there is nothing to do but focus on the sensations of the ride: the wind in my face, the smells in the air, the sound of my tires as we hum along together, rider and bicycle.

Doing a long ride alone is an exercise of discipline. The little voices in your head may start quietly, but they build to crescendo inside your skull after a few hours of solitary suffering. The doors and patios on the cafés at the roadside start looking larger and more welcoming with every kilometer that passes under your tires. A point comes, on these long rides, at which Rule #5 becomes a matter of continuing on with the task; a determination to finish what you have begun.

We learn fundamental things about ourselves when we are alone in the Pain Cave, after we’ve dropped the flashlight and watched helplessly as it rolled off the shelf and into the void. Questions come knocking, and they won’t go away until you’ve dealt with them. This is when we grow, when we build confidence in the face of doubt.

We are lucky to find ourselves at crossroads where every direction leads to more suffering, where the direction we choose is irrelevant. The choice is simply to suffer or to go home. In a world where we have made a science of luxury, we Cyclists choose to suffer.

Vive la Vie Velominatus.

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138 Replies to “Solo Artist”

  1. @xyxax

    @frank

    @KW

    I always like to tell people that my name in phonetically correct. Ch shouldn’t make a “k” sound, that’s what the damn K is for!

    Why go around diluting the value of letters by combining others to make the same sound!

    Well said, Phranch

    Exceptionally well played, my man. +1 badge to you.

  2. A nicely written article. This ability to reconnect with oneself is one of the main reasons I enjoy cycling so much.

    I’m also wondering if the craft of cycling tends to attract people with certain personality traits. Now I’m not saying that all cyclists are necessarily introverts or don’t like being around people, but I would say that many introverts gravitate towards cycling. I also find that quite a few programmers and other computer-minded individuals are drawn to cycling, and of course we all know how the public perceives their… uh.. our social skills. I can say that because I’m one of them.

  3. @le chuck Just messing with you, But the front brake housing could be shorter for a smoother arc to the caliper, rather than an acute angle looping up above the bar. Aesthetics aside, slightly less internal friction. If you run the shifter housings around to opposite sides of the head tube and cross the cables under the downtube you’ll get less slop there too. Several articles here about cable routing, and many differing opinions, so don’t put much weight in my words.

    Are those actual old-school Vittorias or hipster reissue SPDs?

  4. Evocative stuff @Frank.  That last bit reminds me of Touching the Void when he is in the Glacier and decides to lower himself downwards without enough rope.  “You have to keep making decisions, even if they are wrong, as soon as you stop making decisions you are dead”.

    As for enjoying being alone…is this not simply acclimatising yourself to others not wanting to be around you?  As youngsters we get very upset when people don’t seem to like us.  As the years pass we simply say “This is who I am, take it or leave it, it would be nice to have you along for the ride but if it doesn’t suit you then  fair enough be on your way, I have a journey to complete..”

  5. A lovely piece of writing Frank, but hard reading for me at the moment.  I’ve recently undergone minor surgery that is taking far longer to heal due to an infection setting in and will be off the bike for an as yet to be determined amount of time.  Not good days!  Time to enter the psychological pain cave and tough it out.

  6. Frank, not only do we share name and groupo, but solitude. My cycle, and motorcycle policy is one of solitude, where 3 hours cycling gives me the head space of 6, and a 1200 km solo motorcycle ride is my solution for equilibrium.

  7. @Mike_P

    A lovely piece of writing Frank, but hard reading for me at the moment. I’ve recently undergone minor surgery that is taking far longer to heal due to an infection setting in and will be off the bike for an as yet to be determined amount of time. Not good days! Time to enter the psychological pain cave and tough it out.

    I feel your pain fella, I am just coming out of the back end of a small op (local anaesthetic) to remove a lump on my fore arm…you guessed it, wound got infected…3 weeks of shoving extra strong antibiotics in me.  I think they are so paranoid about MRSA these days they dare not take any chances.

    Get well soon and hope for a speedy return to the bike.

  8. Nice post Frank.  A journey to meet the “man with the hammer” should always be a solo effort.

  9. @pistard

    I’ll read up and see what I can find. Bike #3 is a 1998 Bianchi Alloro and it has the cable routed through the top tube and it looks pretty chic. The shoes are from Vittoria, they make a new version with 3-point Look-compatible cleat holes. They’re soft and supple. I just like the feel of regular lace-up shoes. I think the website I bought them from is called “alwaysriding.co.uk”

  10. @Mike_P

    A lovely piece of writing Frank, but hard reading for me at the moment. I’ve recently undergone minor surgery that is taking far longer to heal due to an infection setting in and will be off the bike for an as yet to be determined amount of time. Not good days! Time to enter the psychological pain cave and tough it out.

    I will dedicate my next ride to your speedy recovery. I took a month off for illness and traveling for work. I can comprehend the torture of not being able to ride.

    @le chuck

    @pistard

    I’ll read up and see what I can find. Bike #3 is a 1998 Bianchi Alloro and it has the cable routed through the top tube and it looks pretty chic. The shoes are from Vittoria, they make a new version with 3-point Look-compatible cleat holes. They’re soft and supple. I just like the feel of regular lace-up shoes. I think the website I bought them from is called “alwaysriding.co.uk”

    Are those the only shoes you ride with? are the soles stiff enough?

  11. @frank

    @xyxax

    @frank

    @KW

    I always like to tell people that my name in phonetically correct. Ch shouldn’t make a “k” sound, that’s what the damn K is for!

    Why go around diluting the value of letters by combining others to make the same sound!

    Well said, Phranch

    Exceptionally well played, my man. +1 badge to you.

    I’m grateful and will try not to phuch it up.

  12. @Mike_P

    A lovely piece of writing Frank, but hard reading for me at the moment. I’ve recently undergone minor surgery that is taking far longer to heal due to an infection setting in and will be off the bike for an as yet to be determined amount of time. Not good days! Time to enter the psychological pain cave and tough it out.

    Here’s to a speedy recovery – knee surgery last year was a bummer; but provided a tremendous amount of motivation when I did get back on.  Get well soon!

  13. @le chuck Cool. Didn’t know they were making a real road version of those now. More shoes to lust after.

    @DCR I have some lace-up Vittoria track shoes that use the same carbon sole but a more modern upper than the retro style ones. Very stiff, and light.

  14. Long solo rides are cool, for all the reasons above, but drinking recovery beers by yourself in full kit at the pub not as cool.

  15. @Fastbyfrank

    Frank, not only do we share name and groupo, but solitude. My cycle, and motorcycle policy is one of solitude, where 3 hours cycling gives me the head space of 6, and a 1200 km solo motorcycle ride is my solution for equilibrium.

    I’ve always wanted to ride a moto, but my love for speed doesn’t bode well for my life expectancy.

    That said, there is talk of organizing some gravel races and if that happens, there will be two off-road motos entering the stable (one for the VMH, one for me) and we will scout the routes by moto and also accompany the race(s) with spare wheels/water etc.

  16. @xyxax If you get phunchy, we are over, you and I.

    @Mike_P

    A lovely piece of writing Frank, but hard reading for me at the moment. I’ve recently undergone minor surgery that is taking far longer to heal due to an infection setting in and will be off the bike for an as yet to be determined amount of time. Not good days! Time to enter the psychological pain cave and tough it out.

    Fuck.

    @Two Ball Billy

    Nice post Frank. A journey to meet the “man with the hammer” should always be a solo effort.

    Isn’t it always? Even when in the company of others, when his shadow looms, we are alone.

    @San Tonio

    Long solo rides are cool, for all the reasons above, but drinking recovery beers by yourself in full kit at the pub not as cool.

    Does not compute. Done this many times. For the same reasons that I ride alone. 

  17. @pistard

    @le chuck Cool. Didn’t know they were making a real road version of those now. More shoes to lust after.

    @DCR I have some lace-up Vittoria track shoes that use the same carbon sole but a more modern upper than the retro style ones. Very stiff, and light.

    Good to hear. I have been looking for a suitable shoe to compliment a nice steel frame build.

  18. Another solo rider by inclination and circumstance.   The last bunch ride I went will remain the last bunch ride I went onMothering particularly bad happened, but I like to see the road clearly, I like to ride my pace, and I don’t like overly bright helmet mounted tail list blinding me.   I sat up and dropped myself to escape that.

    Most of my routes are loops on highways, so the are few tempting cafes, and no escape routes to cheat with.   Once I  commit to a route, I’m screwed.

  19. Most of my rides are solo because I live out in the boonies in Louisiana, and involve out-and-back routes with no bailout possible other than turning around.  I’ve always been comfortable with the silence.

    I’ll be racing with a team this year, and the team has a Saturday morning semi-hammer ride of ~150km. This is good for me, since it gives me time in a fast group setting and also pushes me harder than I’d push myself over such a distance. Keeping up with the whipper-snappers hurts so good…

  20. My rides are solo lately. Just moved to a new area, learning some of the roads and working back into a semblance of shape after a few months of not much riding. Yesterday’s ride was supposed to be solo. Met up with a local rider, had a nice chat for a few minutes,  he told me of a few nice local roads before we headed our own ways. But I had company on the ride. Couldn’t see anyone, but could hear and certainly could feel the presence. Wind. Mostly headwind, the tailwind never seems to work out the same. But no complaints, kind of like pushing against that invisible barrier. Not many people get that, but I know many of us do.

  21. @frank I laughed at your statement that” as we become more comfortable with who we are, we become more annoying to be around”!!  Well said.  Cycling seems well suited to this maturation process.  I do however love the VMH so I must feign some civility in social gatherings.  Yet on the road I need only the hum of the wheels and the occasional visit from the Man.

  22. I’ve learned that the best policy is to keep the internet between my friends and I.  I love the cogals and talking shop here but solo riding is perfectly apt. On a long solo ride, no one knows you’re an awkward introvert.

  23. @DCR

    To answer your question: No, the sole are not stiff enough for most people. I bought them because when I started training seriously I developed a case of Hot Foot pretty bad. At the time I was using a pair of Bont’s which I had not appropriately heat-molded b/c I didn’t really know how. I spent hundreds of hours with the softer Vittorias over the next six months and Hot Foot improved a lot. Using the Rollers also helped smooth out my pedal stroke and now I can wear the Bont’s without discomfort. Have a good one.

  24. @le chuck

    @DCR

    To answer your question: No, the sole are not stiff enough for most people. I bought them because when I started training seriously I developed a case of Hot Foot pretty bad. At the time I was using a pair of Bont’s which I had not appropriately heat-molded b/c I didn’t really know how. I spent hundreds of hours with the softer Vittorias over the next six months and Hot Foot improved a lot. Using the Rollers also helped smooth out my pedal stroke and now I can wear the Bont’s without discomfort. Have a good one.

    Ah thanks for chiming back in before I bought a pair. I am used to my carbon soles with almost no flex so that may not work.

  25. So solo rides can be awesome, but what’s the minimum, comfortable number for a non-solo ride?

    Two seems too few to make an impact with a bit of traffic about, so I think four is a comfortable minimum in this situation.

  26. That was a very inspiring article. I’ve noticed when applying Rule #5 in other challenges in life, it makes you learn more about yourself, which makes you a better person.

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