Ah, there’s nothing better, is there? Call a couple of mates, grab the bikes and all go for a ride. Being out on the bike, enjoying each other’s company and enjoying the roads, yep, that’s about as good as it gets! Or is it? If you are of an introverted nature, perhaps not. Maybe there’s more to be said for riding solo?
Grant, a new reader to the site, emailed me his thoughts on this. I found it very interesting and thought-provoking. It’s a philosophical look at riding; more particularly, from an introvert’s point of view, although I reckon there are points to ponder here for all of us – introverted or not.
I should begin by saying that at first I wasn’t sure how to put this into an article. Just publish what Grant wrote? Or perhaps write an article and integrate his comments? Maybe base an article around what he wrote? Well, I decided to start by making some comments from my point-of-view, and then quote Grant, with some comments of mine added in. As an aside, you might like to read my article on riding in a group, titled “Group Therapy”. That article tries to highlight some of the good things and bad things about riding with a bunch of other riders, as well as some practical things to keep in mind when you are riding with a group.
The first thing I should clarify is whether I myself am an introvert. The answer is I am perhaps both introvert and extrovert; depending on the situation and the occasion. As an active musician, you have to be an extrovert to some extent. And I am. I enjoy playing with other people, and I enjoy entertaining people. Playing music before an audience (even if at never more than a semi-professional level) is something I have enjoyed for as long as I’ve been able to do that – which is a long, long time now. But, growing up as an only child (no brothers or sisters), I had plenty of time on my own and learnt to enjoy this; making my own fun and enjoying being by myself. And that tends to direct one more towards an introverted nature. So, while I do consider myself a “people person,” there is still an aspect to my make-up that enjoys being on my own. So I can identify a lot with what Grant wrote.
When it comes to riding, I know people who won’t go for a ride unless they have someone else to go with. Others, perhaps like Grant, are happiest when riding alone. Me? Well, I enjoy both, and I do both. When I started riding, it was all off-road; trail-riding. That was with a group of others, friends who got me started on this whole two-wheeled adventure in the first place. And when you’re riding off-road you really need other people with you; and it’s more fun when there are other people with you too. So in the early days I almost always rode with others – after all, it isn’t safe to ride alone when you’re trail-riding.
I met a good riding mate this way. One day I did go for a ride on my own – a road-ride to a spot where I turned off into the bush down a narrow fire-trail. I knew the area, the trail was fairly short and came out on a forestry road. I intended riding just to the forestry road and then back out onto the main road again. As I rode along I met another bike coming towards me. We stopped and the rider asked if I knew where the trail went. I told him I did and described what lay ahead. He asked if he could join me, and we rode on together. But instead of turning back to the main road, we rode further into the bush, safe in the knowledge that if either of us went down, there was someone there to help. We became good friends and rode together for many years, eventually both getting into road-bikes, until finally he gave up riding.
As a road-rider I would do some rides with friends, and some rides on my own. And that’s pretty much how it has remained, although these days my riding is mostly done with others. There are a couple of good riding friends I ride with regularly, and I enjoy that. I enjoy their company – both on the road and off it as we have a chat over lunch somewhere. We have similar riding styles and are considerate of each other when we're riding. I’m sure many of you will be the same; you’ll have friends that you enjoy riding with and the rides are all the more enjoyable because those people are there sharing the ride with you. I’m very grateful to have people like this that I can share my riding with.
There's another positive aspect I like to riding with people; it gives you greater security. Particularly as we get older it's good to have someone else with you, just in case you have an accident, or even just drop the bike, or perhaps have some kind of  medical emergency. It's reassuring to know there is someone there to help if something does go wrong.
But I still enjoy solo rides. There is more freedom when you’re on your own. On the road anyway. When trail-riding there is more freedom when you’re with other riders – because you have the necessary support to go further than would be safe to go on your own. But on the road it’s a different matter. You have the freedom to go wherever you want, when you want.
I enjoy making up the route as I go along, or if on a pre-planned route, taking an unplanned detour. In fact, some of the most enjoyable rides I’ve had have been solo rides where I’ve set out with one destination in mind and then continually changed the route as I went along – usually going further than I originally intended and often ending up in places I hadn’t ridden to before. You can’t do that in a group. Even if you are leading the group, you can’t just wander off all over the place as you go. Sure, you can stop and suggest an alternate route, but when you’re solo there’s no discussion, no need to fit in with anyone else, you just go where you want!
The photo on the left is an example of that. I was on a solo ride and took a 25km detour out to a small locality that had great significance for me; my father used to play in a dance band in this hall back in the 1960s. But if I'd had anyone with me I wouldn't have gone there, as it would've been wasting their time. It was interesting for me as I’d never ridden there (I had been there in the car a couple of times). And then on this particular occasion the hall happened to be open, so I was able to go inside and look around – for the first time since I’d been there with my father, 40 years previously. So this became a very special ride for me.
Another advantage of riding solo is that you can stop whenever you want to. As one reader once rather indelicately put it, “If you want to stop and scratch your balls, you can!” I know what he means; when I’m riding solo I’ll often stop to adjust my clothing or scratch an itchy nose (or whatever!) if necessary. When you’re riding with other people you can’t really do this unless it’s absolutely necessary.
As an example, a recent ride I did before writing this article was with a group of four other bikes. The other riders were people I really enjoy riding with – all nice people, capable riders with no egos and who ride at the same sort of pace, stopping to re-group if we do get separated. The route was an enjoyable ride through some mountains and finishing off with a highway section home. There was an early stop for coffee and a chat, then we embarked on the rest of the ride. This resulted in a longer than usual second leg to our journey. Now, as regular readers will know, I have problems with my back and other bits and pieces (as well as being an old bloke!) that stops me from riding long distances. By the time we were travelling the highway towards home we’d ridden further than I normally would without stopping for a break, and the aches and pains began to make the ride uncomfortable. I could’ve stopped, but I didn’t want to hold up the rest of the group. And I knew that if I stopped and said, “You go on without me,” they wouldn’t have. So I kept riding. If I’d been on my own, I would’ve stopped long before, probably had another coffee break and continued on home in comfort.
So there’s a lot to be said – especially for an introverted personality – in riding alone. I’ll turn over to Grant, whose story inspired this article, of course.
“When I was younger, I rode mostly on my own, daily commutes etc, but I also rode with my brother and a diminishing number of friends (his friends actually, that sort of became mine too). When, after 3 or so years of this type of a bike riding friendship, my brother and I were separated by the width of Australia for 3 years (he in Perth, me in Melbourne), I simply rode alone.
“For some reason I felt extremely uncomfortable with the tribal nature of bike clubs (VMRA & BMW club) – although I tried hard to fit in – and eventually decided it wasn’t for me. (I found out only a few years ago that I am introverted and this explains a lot about my outlook – I am not much of a people person, so bike clubs are out!).”
I know what you mean here, Grant. I have sometimes felt that I didn’t really fit in with the people around me in certain clubs or groups of bikers. It depends on the club and its members. I have, and do, belong to bike clubs. A couple anyway. As a member of a club, you can value the friendship and enjoy the company of other riders, or you can be made to feel like a sheep being herded along by the shepherd who is leading. And in this type of group there are usually a few rebellious sheep that want to go off on their own, or race around making idiots of themselves and making it uncomfortable for others. Not surprisingly, I gravitate towards the type where I feel I do fit in and where I enjoy the company of the other club members. Now, back to Grant.
“Bike riding is a self absorbing pastime; it’s a bit like a moving meditation, wherein thoughts and ideas swirl around in your head the whole time. Problems get cleared up, difficulties can be thought through, options laid out, solutions discovered.”
Again, I can identify with you here, Grant. I have got ideas together for articles for the web-site while riding. I have partly written songs while riding. I have often mulled over life’s situations. In recent times as I write this article, I came to realise, or suspect, how gravely ill my father-in-law probably was, as I rode along one day reflecting on the symptoms of his illness. But back to Grant.
“Yes, there is all the stuff to do with actually riding the bike from one place to another properly and this of course is critical to survival, but riding is a hedonistic act where very little is shared with others so it seems to me now.
“This was brought home to me recently when I went on a ride with my 51 year old brother who got back on a bike about 18 months ago after a hiatus of 25 years. He entreated me to do the same, but I had made a pact with my future wife in 1986 that meant I had committed to not riding again and was in the process of selling my bike at the time she and I met. I therefore had a similar time away from riding as my brother. But I got a bike and so here we were off riding together again, he with a V-twin, me with a boxer twin; the same as it was on our last ride together in 1985 to Wilson’s Prom in Vic. We rode together doing a circuit which took in Healesville, Alexandria, Yea, Flowerdale, King Lake and Yarra Glen. It seemed to me we were two people doing the same thing but with little connection, although I imagined him to be experiencing similar things to me as we ventured on. This wouldn’t have come up as a question in the past, I just wasn’t that philosophical.
“When we stopped for lunch he asked me amongst other things, if I had smelt the strong pepperminty smell of a particular native plant back along the road? I said I hadn’t. I ventured to him, ‘Did you notice the high number of dead animals we passed, that must have been lying near the side of the road unseen, because of the strong smell of decaying carcasses?’ He said no, he didn’t smell them. Then I realised the idea of sharing a ride is not quite what it might seem after all. What did we share then? The wind in our faces, avoiding that patch of loose gravel on that sweeping bend, the car driving too slowly on an open stretch of road, a sore arse possibly, a cramp in the leg, a bit of arthritis playing up in the wrist perhaps. Would it have been a more enjoyable get-together had we been in a car chatting? Probably. I left my brother after the ride not with a word of good bye but a wave as he veered off to go to work, not even a proper good bye it seems.
“I may ride with my brother again, but I am not sure. I love being with my wife and she is averse to bikes although she used to ride one. My brother’s friends want to leave their wives at home so they are free to ride alone, I am not like that and I don’t think my brother is either.”
Like Grant, I don’t go riding to get away from my wife. In the early days she used to come trail-riding with me, but gave up riding when kids came along. Family is important to me, and like Grant, I enjoy spending time with my wife, such as going for drives on the weekend, so I like to reserve time on the weekend to spend with family (although it’s just the two of us at home now). I’ll let Grant continue.
“What’s left then? I think in the future, it will probably be how it used to be for me in most of my bike riding past. Me, in my own little world (now the aging introvert) on a bike going somewhere.”
So, in summing up, what can we say? I think we can say that we are all different, and we all get something – often something quite different – out of riding. As I mentioned at the start, for some a ride isn’t a ride without someone to share it with. For others, like Grant, a ride is best enjoyed alone. Probably like most recreational pastimes, it’s not just the activity itself that brings enjoyment, but the way we participate in it. And that is something we each have to decide on for ourselves. As for me, whether it’s riding with a good mate or two, or riding on my own, being “in my own little world on a bike going somewhere” sounds pretty good to me!
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