Cycling in general, and even with racing, isn’t exclusively a group sport in the way that football or other team sports are. So while you might spend a lot of time riding in groups, how can you cycle safely alone?
Whether cyclists choose to ride alone or with others depends on what the activity means to you on that day. Are you riding for fun or to train? Are you aiming for the efficient use of energy of a group or to work on your speed? Are you looking for the social aspect or time to fully focus?
Some riders prefer the detachment of solo rides. Not having to talk to anyone means they can be fully “in the zone” and focussed on what they’re doing. For others, with their body in motion, their mind is free to reach an almost meditative state.
Then there are people who feel safer riding alone. They prefer not to take on the risks of other riders in the group making a mistake and causing a crash.
However, safety is one of the main disadvantages of riding alone so here are the things to consider.
You need the right toolkit and the knowledge to fix the bike enough to get you home. Yes, it’s possible to ride 20km on a flat tyre, though you probably won’t make it back for lunch.
If you know you’re going to be 50km from home, plan ahead. Make sure you’ve got a (fully-charged) phone, you know where you will and won’t have reception, and you’ve got money.
It’s a good idea to tell someone your planned route and how long you expect to be out so they know to sound the alarm if you don’t come back.
This one depends on the kind of ride you’re on. If you’re road biking alone, your main worry is cars. If you’re solo mountain or gravel biking, natural obstacles like rocks and trees are where accidents are more likely to come from.
If you're cycling on roads vs trails you’re more likely to find people around to help. But it’s not necessarily the case in some remote places so have some idea how frequently cars come along.
Pro Cycling Outlet’s Dave Walsh remembers skewering his leg on a tree in March 2021, and bleeding heavily in the middle of nowhere. “Strava told me only 20 people had been that way in the last 4 months. If I hadn’t had a mobile, it would have been a very long time until anyone found me.” As it was, a heli-rescue was called in and he ended up stretchered out because the helicopter winch couldn’t get through the trees.
As the saying goes, there are two kinds of cyclists: the cyclist who’s just crashed and the cyclist who's soon to crash. So first aid skills are essential, especially for mountain biking where you're more likely to be in the middle of nowhere. Without the know-how to stem the bleed and elevate his punctured leg, Dave might not have made it until rescue came
Could you buy some tech to keep you safe?
A mobile phone is a must but it won’t help you if you’ve knocked yourself out. Nowadays you can get helmets with GPS systems built in. They sense that you’ve had a crash and set off an alarm. If you don’t switch it off within a minute, the system will then place a call for help with whoever you’ve set it to call.