Question: I’ve been mountain biking for years and recently purchased my first road bike. I love riding in groups but can’t stand training rides by myself. About an hour is all I can take. What’s the trick to longer solo rides? — Taylor O.
RBR Replies: Some people can ride all day by themselves — and prefer it. Others won’t even get on their bikes for an hour unless at least one person goes with them. It depends on motivation as well as personal psychology.
I fall into the loner category. When I started riding in the 1970s there weren’t any other cyclists in my small Colorado town, so I trained for years primarily by myself. Now we have a good Sunday group ride, but once a week with others is about my limit.
Here are some ideas to help you enjoy solo rides:
- Opt for scenic routes, if possible. I have varied terrain and enjoy looking at the mountain scenery, checking out the deer, elk and eagles, planning my strategy for the numerous climbs and generally having fun just riding the bike. The time flies.
- Vary your courses. I ride flats, hills and rolling stuff on my road bike, do some mountain biking on singletrack and also ride a cyclocross bike on routes that mix pavement, dirt roads and canal bank roads. Even if you have only one decent loop, you can add variety by riding it clockwise one day and in the opposite direction the next. This really does make a difference.
- Cogitate! Steady riding often stimulates creativity, so it’s a good time to work out problems or challenges you face. Sometimes ride-induced brainstorms are hard to remember, so consider stopping to record them on your phone.
Some riders use earbuds to listen to music or even audiobooks. This can be dangerous, however, because it’s hard to hear traffic and you might get too distracted. In fact, wearing earbuds is illegal in many states.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.
Nice article, as always from the coaches at RBR.. But I think the main issue has really been missed here, and that is: what is the purpose of the bike session..? In fact, why would anyone want to ride a bike longer than an hour?? If it is just for ‘idle tourism’, watching the scenery, flora and fauna go by, well, I suppose that can be interesting, but it is not a ‘training’ session on a bike and one can do that nearly equally in a car, except for the fresh air. But if it is a real training session, then one must first determine the aim of the session, and it is very possible that with ‘smart’ training, you don’t even need an hour or more to achieve the desired fitness result, Most people spend much of their time on bikes cranking away useless miles without any true results, thinking that if they cover 50, 80 or more miles that they have done something puposeful.. Of course, if listening to music, working out business ideas or just having company during a fresh-air activity is your goal, then the time will limit itself accordingly. Just sayin’ ..
Roy Bloomfield says
First of all, the original poster said nothing about “training”. Secondly, there are about a billion of us riders out here who really enjoy riding 50, 80 or more miles WITHOUT having a specific training goal. But then again, sometimes the goal of riding longer distances is actually to train ones body and mind to be more comfortable riding long distances, resulting in easier (and more pain free) miles. If in fact your time is limited to one hour rides, THEN MAYBE MAKE MORE TIME AVAILABLE.
Roy Bloomfield says
(actually, training was mentioned…sorry)
Dale Maddock says
Have been thinking about this all day. So, from the perspective of a 74 year old cyclist, perhaps one would ride for well over an hour just for the shear pleasure of being able to. My days spent dreaming of being the fast guy are over or being a pro rider. I am plenty satisfied to just pedal. My 40 mile ride this weekend gave me as much pleasure and exercise as others might have on their 1 hour ride.
About 20 years ago, at a bike shop just down the block, the owner was entertaining a group of young cyclists with stories of his past cycling accomplishments. He ended his session by disparaging ‘those people who went on tours. “9 miles an hour, and they think they are cyclists.” he said. On that day I stopped being his customer. There are all kinds of motivations. I totally respect all who do rigid training and all out effort. Go fast, go long, just go and keep going. Happy cycling.
Zvi Wolf says
I’ve never understood the idea of “useless” miles or “junk” miles. I ride with my club, usually 50+ miles a ride in season or 40ish out of season. Some days I ride roads with a fast group. Other days I ride gravel with a slower group. If I ride solo, sometimes I go hard on hills, Other days I go slower and look around. Over the years cycling has made me fit, much fitter than people my age. I know this because of test results from my doctors and because of how I feel. As far as I am concerned, people that think others are rising useless miles should speak for themselves. There are no useless miles.
I can relate to the question. i live in a rural area with limited long routes so they become very familiar. I’ve had to put in long 4+ hour session to prepare for multi-day charity rides. Urgh… Last year I bought a small blue-tooth speaker (JBL GO 2) and a handle bar mount for it. Now I listen to music or podcasts and find the time is much more enjoyable. Because I don’t have anything jammed in my ear, I can still hear all the traffic. There is a bit of distraction, but I do not feel I am compromising my safety. I have always been very safety-conscious, so this was #1 consideration for me. I’m also a musician so often need to listen to a song multiple times in order to hear some finer details. I can now do that on the bike, killing 2 birds with 1 stone as they say. Also, breaks help. I typically will ride 45-60 min and then take a decent break to smell the roses. Happy trails!
Russ Colburn says
I like listening to music, but I never use earbuds or headphones. I use an mp3 player with a speaker, this way you can hear the music, and traffic noises, and other riders if one comes up to pass. Any device that can play music through speakers would work.
Bob Rudary says
I use a single earbud in my right ear, away from traffic. You can one up online that converts stereo to all in a single bud.
J Roberts says
I use bone conductor headphones which are good for safety.
John Tonetti says
I recently began using bone conduction headphones. They allow the user to hear ambient sounds while listening to music. But wind noise is an issue. I can’t really hear the music very well if I’m going more than about 15 mph. But for slow slogs up long hills, the headphones can really help motivate. In any event, I never listen to music “in town,” but only on less traveled rural roads. I also have a rear-view mirror on my glasses.
You ride the bike for longer periods because you love to ride a bike. What more motivation does one need. If an hour bores you, then perhaps you’re pursuing the wrong activity.
Lady Cyclist says
I ride alone 99.9% of the time, mostly longish ( for me) rides of several hours or more.
Usually I determine a route in my head and really try to stick to it. What I enjoy about the alone rides is being able easily explore new routes without any consulting others. I stop when I want for water or a bar without consulting others. Most rides I make goals, whether it’s speed or climbing or whatever. I never use earbuds. I sing my songs, or try to remember the lyrics. I create a new recipe for dinner, all the while of being mindful of cars and obstacles. I really, really enjoy the journey.
On days that I’m just not feeling it, I go shorter.
Jim Mason says
I don’t do long training rides anymore…because I don’t “train” anymore for anything (74 years old and never a religious trainer). I just ride. Before the virus situation I’d ride 10 miles or so, go to a library or restaurant and read (carry my own reading materials) and then head out again for home or maybe another reading stop. Always hit a brew pub when I get within3 miles of home for my last stop!
David Stihler says
I listen to the birds, horses and watch out for mountain lions which are prevalent in my area. I have never been bored on a bike.
Vary your routes and enjoy the scenery- training ride or not. Recovery rides are part of most training plans but sometimes forgotten or skipped. (Train hard, rest hard!). Maybe try riding autocross style with a precise time goal for each segment of the ride. Whatever works to stay fresh and engaged with the ride.
I understand the appeal of varying routes on a whim, but for safety’s sake it is wise to tell someone of your intended routes & estimated time of return (& perhaps updating by cell during your ride). At VERY least carry emergency contact info (& medical history, if any) easily found on your person.
Bill Wightman says
Riding a bike can be simply an escape. I used to ride as a teenager just to get out of the house and go explore the wooded trails all alone. I still do that kind of escape except on a recumbent late at night on lightly traveled paved roads. It’s like fishing, all fun. It is possible that some people don’t fall into the zone like others, where there is no clock. At night I can ride and ride and ride but after 3-4 hours it starts getting late, or cold, or I have to get to bed to go to work. You have to love a thing to forget the time it is taking. If you need another reason to endure longer rides, my second reason is that biweekly long slow rides, on water only, drive my glucose way down and keep my HbA1C at very happy levels, despite my chocolate addiction.
Mr. Versatile says
Many years ago I was a cat 2 racer. I trained hard & constantly, year ’round. I had recovery days & rest periods planned out & also did strength training at the gym. I’m 76 now & am still riding 3,000 to 4,000 miles per year & I’m still a strong rider for my age & have no problems averaging 18 mph or so on group rides-15 or 16 solo.
And I agree with some of the previous posters. I’m a member of several on-line road cycling groups & it seems like the vast majority of posts about riding are about training, training & more training. Doesn’t anybody just ride, or do we all have to “train”? OK, I get it; most people who frequent sites are performance riders, including myself, and yet I think a bit more attention paid to people who just like to ride & maybe average 10-13 mph without scoffing at them.
A few years ago I was leading a club ride. As the leader I was responsible for the rest of the group. A friend & I found ourselves pounding along at a pretty good clip when I looked in my mirror & didn’t see anyone. I told my friend that I had to slow up & wait for the others. He waited with me & we slowed our pace from 17-18 mph to 8 or 9 mph while waiting for the others to catch us. We both remarked how nice it was to be riding at that slow speed. It seemed like we were paperboys about 10-11 years old delivering in our old neighborhoods. There was no hurry, no urgency-no feeling of “I have to keep up,” just slowly riding side by side chatting. It was really quite nice. There was no wind noise so we didn’t have to shout to hear each other. After about 10 min. the other group caught us & we resumed a more “normal” pace.
All that being said, I’m going on a training ride this afternoon, & I haven’t forgotten about the cyclists who don’t ride like pseudo racers. They’re every bit the cyclists that I am.
Lady Cyclist says
One additional thought…Randy Travis has a song titled, “Look Heart, No Hands”.
If you ride a bike, you will love this song. Just YouTube the title and watch the video.
Many rides I find myself singing this song. I’m never bored on the bike.
John Klever says
I don’t find things I do boring as much as I just don’t like doing them. Riding the vomitron and lifting weights come to mind. I still lift weights because my bones need strength, although, with the pandemic, I am seeing that there may be more interesting ways to keep my bone mass in tact. I had a vomitron for years. I rode it for two miles when it was new and finally gave it away. I found I would rather ride in the snow, cold, heat, wind, and rain, and figured out ways to do that, that would work for me.
One advantage to the longer, so-called boring rides, is that there is less overhead in preparation overall. Most rides take about the same amount of time to prepare for and wind down from: cleaning the chain, filling the water bottles, checking the tires, selecting the snacks, dressing and undressing, thinking about the route, logging the miles, and so forth. Reducing this average overhead leaves more time for enjoying my favorite activity.
It’s all about the “smiles-per-hour,” right? 🙂
If you are a triathlete and planning on doing an Ironman event, bike 180km,- 111.6 miles, you had better get used to riding for five to seven hours so a long ride is training. Never going to ” train” for an IM with one hour rides.
I agree with those who say there are no such things as useless miles. Cycling is about freedom, exploring, pleasure and fun. Yes it can also be about hard miles training for an event (the sort of thing John Hughes makes you do when preparing for an ultra endurance event). But most of all it is about getting out on the road. I am sitting here p[anning a 230km ride for Sunday – just because I can (here in the UK and with our new C19 lockdown rules) I will get up at 3am and be on the road for 4am and hopefully will get that wonderful experience again when owls fly alongside me on the other side of a hedgerow hoping I scare small rodent out from the hedge and into their vision on their flight path. And will I think these are useless miles – not a chance. Will I wear headphones and miss the bird song – not a chance. And at the end will it be a training ride – well the only way you toughen up for a long ultra endurance ride is to get out there and make sure your contact points are used to it. So back to route planning 🙂
Rolling Wheels says
Cycling is fun whether the ride is 4 hours or 1 hour, my father inlaw had a saying that I apply to cycling, the time spent on a bike is time not taken from your life.