We’re a curious lot us cyclists. Some of us prefer heading out alone, others in a large group, some in pairs and even a few strange souls sitting on the same bike together. And in many ways that’s the beauty of cycling, it can be enjoyed in the company of others, or totally alone. So what’s best?
For years I rode solo, which is odd because as a kid I was always on out my bike with friends. Even at Polytechnic, when my bike was merely a form of getting from A to B, I was usually with a group, bombing across Portsmouth from pub to pub and even occasionally to lectures.
But when I started cycling again in my early forties I took a lone path. I guess the reason was that cycling was an escape from work and a hectic home life. Out on my own I could completely switch off, go where I wanted and, more importantly, stop whenever I wished. And I used to stop a lot. Whether it was looking at birds, architecture, chatting to passers by or simply lying down in a field for a rest, I needed hardly any excuse to pull over and lean the bike up against a wall.
So when I was planning the LeJog route I didn’t even think about inviting anyone else to come along for the ride. Who else would put up with such an erratic and frustratingly slow pace? And for that trip it suited me just fine as I wandered around ancient ruins, tracked hovering kestrels and examined unusual flora by the roadside.
But on my return I was invited to join a group of friends who were planning a ride to Paris. It was a revelation. My fitness improved and so did my motivation. No longer did a little spot of rain or unfavourable wind direction stop me going out, there was a meet-point and a time that had to be met. Initially I was at the back, a sign of how my lack of discipline as a lone rider had affected my fitness, but pretty soon I bridged the gap. And before long I was enjoying riding in company again, albeit usually still bringing up the rear.
The group I’ve joined are known as ‘The Wheezy Geezers’. Most of us are the wrong side of fifty and usually get out on the roads, or in the woods, twice a week. Our usual distance on these rides is between 30 and 40 miles, but this ramps up in the weeks leading up to a big trip. It’s fair to say we never do quite as much training as we should, rarely lose the weight planned and invariably fail to cut down sufficiently on the beer intake. But hell – our adventures are a Tour de Fun, not a Tour de France and we usually all make it in the end.
So far we’ve ridden from London to Paris, Rayleigh to Cologne and Paris to Geneva and the friendship and joint sense of achievement we’ve shared have been something I would never have experienced alone. Sometimes it can be frustrating not being able to stop as much as I’d like and occasionally I’ll see the group disappear into the distance as I stand by the side of the road watching a little owl, or sparrowhawk that has caught my eye. But that’s the compromise you have to make for being in a group – and the companionship more than compensates.
This year the ‘Wheezy Geezers’ will be riding from Land’s End back to London. Sadly I won’t be joining them but I’ll be watching their progress and hopefully get a report put on the site.
As for me, I fully expected to be riding the TransAmerica alone and I was ok with that. But when Terry said he’d like to come too I was delighted. 4300 miles is a long time to be on your tod.