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. This resonates with me as most of my road riding is done on my own.  I enjoy riding with a group, but found that I did more riding and did more riding that benefits my form if I ventured out on my own.

  2. Kindred sprit. I starting riding in 1978 commuting in the D.C. area. 16 miles to work always solo. Being lazy I would ride as fast as I could to enable me to sleep a little later in the morning. Wonderful “quiet time” on the bike just as you said. I continue to do 95% of my training solo and even in organized events like RAMROD spend most of my time solo. Might hook up with a group on the flats just to go fast but when we hit the climbs I just focus on the task at hand…. be past by a few people as possible and nobody my age (60). Viva V

  3. @frank, When I read “The great irony of life is that as we become more comfortable with who we are, we become more annoying to be around.” I laughed out loud, it’s just so very true.

    Further, this could not be more relevant at the moment. I posted the following update to facebook: “I feel the desperate need to go on one of those 100+ mile rides that I’m totally unprepared for. A soul crushing sort of ride that allows you to renew and rebuild, better and stronger.”

    I can think of no better way to smack myself out of the ice cream sandwich induced funk I’ve been in for the past several weeks than to pedal my way through all this negativity and directly to the answers I seek.

  4. @grumbledook wow, awesome video… don’t know if you’ve seen it already, but you should check out the bbc documentary series “the man who cycled the world” and “the man who cycled the americas”. You can find it on youtube, awesome stuff too…

  5. The pain cave is always darker alone. Yet the rewards are so much sweeter. No holding back for other riders in a group. Or feeling like you may be holding back others who far surpass your level of riding. Just you and the trusty steed alone to battle the elements.

  6. @grumbledook Great video. Was featured at several film festivals this year. Although he may not be a cyclist, he has a true passion in his life and I am positive he has explored the pain cave on numerous occasions.

  7. I couldn’t agree more, I realise that at the tender age of 38 I am far more annoying now to people than I was 10 years ago. I too enjoy my own company and love riding solo for the reasons you state.

    I find that when I am north of a metric century I can really start digging To the depths where I learn the most about myself, for that is what it is all about. Being at the threshold where the slightest harder push on the pedals increases the dull pain in the legs from noticeable to pleasurable is where I enjoy things the most, climbing a short 20% hill where it is impossible to find a rhythm but you have no other option but to keep going or fall off, that is when I realise I am able to take more than I thought.

    It’s those moments that are almost impossible to explain to anybody that does not frequently set out to meet the man with the hammer.

    How do you explain that the best feelings come shortly after you have been deep to cracking?

  8. Nail on head, ‘zactly. I enjoy riding with others, km seem to go by quicker, but solo rides can offer greater value for money. Last 20 odd km of a hard lonely into the headwind long ride make stepping into the kitchen and sticking the kettle on all the sweeter.

  9. I’m 29, 30 in January. I ride alone b/c finding ppl to ride with is a pain in the ass. Nonetheless, I promised myself I’m going to try harder to make more cycling friends. Also because I don’t really like talking.. listening is much easier.. and more productive.

    It takes a good amount of activation energy to form a good group – or to find an existing group. Now that I think about it, in the last 3-months I’ve probably done about 95% of my training alone. I’m now stronger and feeling absolutely great about my form and endurance (Tour de Tucson is this weekend).

    I guess I only ever feel lonely when I start to approach the 65-70km zone. Sometimes it’s nice to suffer with others. When I saw a photo of myself answering a phone call from my girlfriend during a local Giro, I decided that there must be cure for this odd, new emotion surfacing in my somewhat isolated early professional life (e.g. loneliness).

    Simply replace the cassette of Bike #2 with an 11-23 and leave in place your pre-existing Flemish Crank (53-39). (Strack et al). On the next ride, as you approach the said 65-70km zone, you would have already forgotten what loneliness is.  Loneliness will be firmly replaced by a much more productive emotion – Fear. Fear that your legs are melting.

    A-Merckx

  10. The pain cave is always darker alone.

    A very nice piece, Frank.  Although some of us have been annoying to others since Day One!

    On truly L O N G rides, I actually find that the Pain Cave is much blacker with one other person bleakly occupying the same dank pit.  I’m often tempted to cave when the going really gets tough–the cadence drops, the granny gears call, and the pace and faith just fall.  Another lost soul brings their own breathless agony, and my own unquenchable pride twists the dagger that much deeper.  I can’t collapse now, I’ve got to keep up, and there’s face to save.  Just keep cranking…

  11. @le chuck I am missing the tour de tucson this year but hope to ride it next year. If you find yourself out in New Mexico let me know. I am always up for a ride.

  12. @frank

    You havnt been stalking me with some secret spy drone have you?

    Reading the intro it was way too close to the truth, Im an introvert by nature and tend to put on a brave front in the company of others, to get through!  The bike is an excellent way of releasing the “inner you” !

    Excellent, stop it, i like it !

  13. @DCR Thanks Man. May head out there next year sometime. You guys still have any of that blue crystal? It’s great for bike riding.

  14. This reminds me of those moments that happen when I am riding alone. I think of them as Emerson moments — when there is no end in nature and no end to cycling.

  15. I train almost always alone, and I like it that way. If I’m a bottle of wine, I must be turning into vinegar. I’ve been known to mutter for…fuck’s…sake in time with the top of my pedal stroke when in the pain cave on some nasty grade. Mostly no one wants to hang around and listen to that, anyway. On the big climbs I’d rather keep to myself. It’s my church: and all I want to hear is the wind, my drivetrain and my own breath. Doing a long ride alone is an exercise of discipline. Agreed, but surrendering to the sensation of the road makes those solitary miles go by quickly. After riding with a group – which is fun in it’s own right – I slip back into my solo routine with a sense of relief. 

  16. I typically ride solo and relish every moment.  But October a year ago, I did a 240km ride – the first 160 with two other riders, the last 80 solo.  With 50km to go, I found myself downtown and entirely spent.  I decided to pack it in and take the lightrail home.  At the first two stations, my debit card didn’t work at the kiosks, and I had no cash.  The ATM at a nearby bank was out of order.  At the next ATM, I discovered my debit card was cracked.

    Calling a friend to pick me up was out of the question – too much pride and I’d never hear the end of it.  The only option was to finish the ride.  That slog was the deepest I’d ever explored the pain cave, and it was unquestionably one of my best experiences on the bike.

  17. These last few years, I’ve found, I’d rather talk bikes and racing over a beers than be out on a group ride. I’m not really sure why that is…but it could be the “New Golphas” are easier to weed-out at the pub where if they don’t have anything interesting to offer up they get dropped…as opposed to out-on-the -road sitting in on wheels where they can get away with offer nothing…for a while at least.

  18. Question for the community. Do any of you take a break over winter? Nothing major or extended, just a week or so off the bike – be it outdoors/trainer/whatever?

    I got in a good few kms this year and have hit my target for the year. I’m willing to do more because I love going out on the bike, but live in SE Wisconsin, the weather is turning pretty crappy and motivation to exercise, be it bike or gym, is hard to find. I’m not sure if it’s a mental or a physical break I need (maybe both) to restore some hunger to suffer – and every ride around here at this time of year entails some degree of suffering.

    Of course, the biggest block to taking a break is the massive guilt at not going out on the bike.

    Any input/thoughts/experience appreciated.

  19. Great article @frank but if you’re going to adopt the SI units of the modern world you might as well spell them correctly. That’d be kilometres then. Of coarse you can measure them with a meter, a kilometre meter.

  20. @wiscot

    Question for the community. Do any of you take a break over winter? Nothing major or extended, just a week or so off the bike – be it outdoors/trainer/whatever?

    I got in a good few kms this year and have hit my target for the year. I’m willing to do more because I love going out on the bike, but live in SE Wisconsin, the weather is turning pretty crappy and motivation to exercise, be it bike or gym, is hard to find. I’m not sure if it’s a mental or a physical break I need (maybe both) to restore some hunger to suffer – and every ride around here at this time of year entails some degree of suffering.

    Of course, the biggest block to taking a break is the massive guilt at not going out on the bike.

    Any input/thoughts/experience appreciated.

    Pretty lucky down here in South Oz regarding winter weather so I have the opposite problem.

    Need more time on bike wherever possible, a break is the last thing I need, two young kids sees every window of opportunity being seized.

    Have you tried rollers instead of the stationery trainer ?

  21. Anyone can go into the Pain Cave while riding with a group. It’s going in when no one else is around that will really make the difference.

    @Rom

    Great article @frank but if you’re going to adopt the SI units of the modern world you might as well spell them correctly. That’d be kilometres then. Of coarse you can measure them with a meter, a kilometre meter.

    If you’re going to criticize @frank’s spelling, you might want to proofread a little better.

  22. @wiscot

    Rouler has a great article on Dan Martin. He takes a month off the bike and thinks other pros could stand to get off their bikes more.

    I found it perplexing riding out here in Hawaii where one can ride year round. I bet everyone needs to lay off and build up. And if you have hit your goals for the year, absolutely a few week to a month is a good thing, as long as it’s not a pumpkin pie a day routine. Obviously, I’m not saying loose too much fitness, do another sport, like hunting and killing moose with a knife, wearing moccasins and not too much else. I’m talking old school here!

  23. @wiscot

    In September I completed my last major event of the season.  Because of end-of-the-quarter volume at work, I was compelled to then take two weeks off from riding.  The break did wonders for my motivation, as well as give my body time to recover from all the pains and niggles I had ignores during the pressure of the season.  But I did make sure to watch the food intake as well.

  24. I ride alone 90% of the time.  The rest of the time I ride with other people on bicycles, some of whom are true cyclists.  I prefer the 90% time.  I am alone with my thoughts.  I determine how hard or how easily I will push myself.  I like to test my limits, but at the same time I sometimes like to ride just to ride my bike.  It is easy to miss out on sometimes amazing things, or the simple raw beauty of nature if I put my head down and merely hammer on the pedals.  Part of the beauty of riding a bike is that you are in the world, not viewing from it a window as happens when in a car, but you also have to deliberately decide to sometimes slow down.

    I ride through the winter to the extent possible, but I ride for enjoyment.  I have no big rides or events to prepare for.  My calendar of events ended in October.  There won’t be enough daylight hours until March or thereabout, so my riding is mostly confined to weekends.  Its enough to keep me from losing too much fitness.  The time away from the bike just serves to make me more appreciative of the time that is coming and the return to the rituals of Spring, Summer and Fall that include lots of hours spent focused on being a cyclist.

  25. @thomas

    so you’re saying I’m not weird for rather riding on my own?

    The whole article is about being weird, dude. We’re Cyclists for fuck’s sake. Please try again with a serious question.

  26. @gordon

    Kindred sprit. I starting riding in 1978 commuting in the D.C. area. 16 miles to work always solo. Being lazy I would ride as fast as I could to enable me to sleep a little later in the morning. Wonderful “quiet time” on the bike just as you said. I continue to do 95% of my training solo and even in organized events like RAMROD spend most of my time solo. Might hook up with a group on the flats just to go fast but when we hit the climbs I just focus on the task at hand…. be past by a few people as possible and nobody my age (60). Viva V

    @MrLowell

    @frank, When I read “The great irony of life is that as we become more comfortable with who we are, we become more annoying to be around.” I laughed out loud, it’s just so very true.

    Further, this could not be more relevant at the moment. I posted the following update to facebook: “I feel the desperate need to go on one of those 100+ mile rides that I’m totally unprepared for. A soul crushing sort of ride that allows you to renew and rebuild, better and stronger.”

    I can think of no better way to smack myself out of the ice cream sandwich induced funk I’ve been in for the past several weeks than to pedal my way through all this negativity and directly to the answers I seek.

    Exactly. This feeling comes on me regularly – I just need to get out for the whole day on the bike, alone. No better cure for what ails you. Especially if its in bad weather. All the more a trip down resurrection boulevard.

  27. @grumbledook

    Quote from the video: “We use the word ‘suffering’ way too much.”

    Hey! I resemble that!

    @SimonH

    It’s those moments that are almost impossible to explain to anybody that does not frequently set out to meet the man with the hammer.

    How do you explain that the best feelings come shortly after you have been deep to cracking?

    This is why we are outcasts, but also why we kick so much Merckxdamn ass.

  28. Nice piece @Frank, I am glad others like solo rides. I would say 90% of my rides are solo. I find seeing the scenery around me a lot more beautiful when its not some guys butt infront of me, I guess this is why on what group rides I do undertake I try to stay on the front as much as possible. My love for riding is the freedom to get away and take in the world I pass through and being alone with my thaughts. Tomorrow is my day off work. Targeting a nice 104km solo ride that should be full of great scenery, deep thaughts, and of course pain; also it starts and ends at the winery at which I work so free reserve wines as my recovery beverage.

  29. @Optimiste

    I typically ride solo and relish every moment. But October a year ago, I did a 240km ride – the first 160 with two other riders, the last 80 solo. With 50km to go, I found myself downtown and entirely spent. I decided to pack it in and take the lightrail home. At the first two stations, my debit card didn’t work at the kiosks, and I had no cash. The ATM at a nearby bank was out of order. At the next ATM, I discovered my debit card was cracked.

    Calling a friend to pick me up was out of the question – too much pride and I’d never hear the end of it. The only option was to finish the ride. That slog was the deepest I’d ever explored the pain cave, and it was unquestionably one of my best experiences on the bike.

    Sometimes it is only via the Anti-V that we truly find our path to the true V.

    In October of last year, you entered the realm, Pedalwan.

  30. @frank

    I actually love people. It appears to be their rejection of me that has taught me how nice it is to be alone.

    I think Frank is being a bit of a drama queen, here. 

  31. @le chuck

    That’s some serious introspection, son. The kind that only happens when riding alone. Strong work, very inspirational stuff, in all seriousness.

    Also, you posted a photo of yourself riding while talking on the phone. Meditate on that as well.

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