By Sheila Ascroft
If you are like many cyclists and don’t like to ride in a pack, you can always create your own solo cycling tour. It doesn’t have to be a grand adventure like cycling across Canada, or even an out-and-back to Merrickville. It can be anything beyond your farthest ride into an area you’ve never cycled before.
Solo touring has the advantage of letting you go where you want, when you want, as fast or slow you want. You can change the route on a whim because there is just you to please.
10 Solo Touring Tips
1. Be prepared. Carry some cash, a credit card, OHIP card, emergency contact information, a fully charged cell phone, and any emergency medications such as your asthma puffer. Don’t forget a vest or rain jacket if the weather is iffy. Bring a map or have the route logged into your GPS. Adventure is good but being lost isn’t.
2. Bring the basic tools and know how to fix a flat. Even a cell phone may not work in some areas so you can’t depend on others. Also, bring a lock. It doesn’t have to be a heavy Kryptonite U-bar; a lightweight cable will act to deter the impulse to steal. Being self-reliant is a good thing.
3. Bring water — at least two water bottles or a hydration pack as you could be on a dusty country road without nary a store in sight when you run out. Buy bottled water from bottle even if offered free tap water. My experience says your stomach may not like the different salts and minerals (or whatever else!) in water not from home. Also, buy Gatorade or whatever liquid “ade” you have used during training. This is not the time to be confusing your stomach with something new. Or bring your own Gatorade powder in a plastic bag and just buy water to mix your own drink.
4. Eat. You’ve probably heard this one before but it is important. If you are riding more than 90 minutes, you have to eat and drink to keep your body fuelled for the effort. (I bonked once and was so shaky I couldn’t even ride my bike. Thankfully, someone came by with a spare gel.) After a few hours on a tour, I’ve always stopped for a 2% chocolate skim milk — refreshing in many ways! It has the fluid, carbs and protein you need and tastes good too. On five or six hour rides, I also bring or buy a bagel with cheese, as well as some Power gels and Jelly Belly Sport Beans. Only by testing various food bars and gels in training will you learn what works for you. Always keep a spare gel in your seat bag.
5. Don’t be afraid to stop to smell the roses or photograph a weird-looking mailbox, or take in a local parade. Remember, speed is not mandatory. It doesn’t matter how slow you go, eventually you will get there — so enjoy the trip.
6. Don’t worry about the wind. You can’t stop it or change its direction, but you can change yours! Try to dogleg your route so that the headwind is interspersed with side winds.
7. Offer help to a stranded cyclist — you never know when it might be your turn to need help. Even if you can’t actually fix the problem, just offering continues the unspoken tradition of cycling camaraderie. Besides, you might find yourself with a riding companion for a while – always an interesting prospect.
8. Listen to your optimistic self. Your mind will use the fear of the unknown to psyche you out — if you let it! It will tell you that the distance is too far, or the hill too hard or that you are lost or, or, or. It’s a self-protecting mechanism. Ignore that voice. Instead, tick off the number of many kilometres you’ve ridden, the new things you’ve seen (the raccoon in the tree, the 120-year-old stone kirk) and the exciting feeling of going where you’ve never gone before alone on a bike. Revel in your accomplishment.
9. For overnight solo touring, just add an expandable rack pack. It should hold a change of clothes and toiletries, etc. without adding too much weight. A rack pack forces you to bring only what’s necessary unlike panniers (saddlebags) where there’s too much temptation to stuff in more. Remember you’re the one who has to haul it up the hills. Whatever you choose, avoid a regular backpack. You will feel the weight more, your back will hate you and you simply won’t feel as free on the bike.
10. For multi-day touring or camp touring, a lot of extra preparation and equipment is required for both body and bike. There are plenty of books and websites offering quite detailed information on how to do this. Here are a few to check out: http://bicycleuniverse.info/touring/ ; http://www.cyclotour.com/ and http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/touring/
© Sheila Ascroft (This article first appeared in Ottawa Outdoors Magazine, Spring/Summer 2009.)
I’ve been cycling for 20-some years and writing about it for the last 10. My articles have been published in newspapers and magazines — and now on the women’s cycling website! I’m a member of the Ottawa Bicycle Club and the Canadian Kilometer Achiever Program. www.sheilaascroft.com