Your cycling companion(s) can make or break your cycling trip. As such, your choice of a partner or riding group is one of the most important decisions in your tour planning. The critical thing to remember is that everyone needs to enjoy their trip, or else there is no reason for them to participate!
The pace of travel will most likely be set by your slowest rider. Conflicts and differences of opinion will be inevitable and should be expected and planned for. Acceptance, forgiveness and maturity are highly desirable (essential?) personal characteristics for everyone. On the up-side, riding with others means that you will have a larger cohort with whom to share your experiences.
Cycling alone – the pros…
Cycling on your own is one of the most liberating experiences you can experience. You only have yourself to please and you can go when and wherever your mood takes you. You can ride fast or slowly or a combination of both (or not ride at all!) – whatever takes your fancy on the day! You do not have to be sociable if you want to be grumpy, and you don’t have to cheer anyone else up when they are feeling a bit glum. If you have a passion such as photography, you may find that riding with someone else just does not work (unless, of course, they also get distracted by the same photo opportunities as yourself).
If you are not someone who is used to spending a lot of time on your own, then you will probably get quite lonely. You could plan to stay at busy hostels or hotels each night which may alleviate this problem, but if you are camping, this won’t be an option.
Another significant con of being alone is not being able to leave your gear unsecured. This may be manageable/easy while you are away from populated areas but can be a nuisance when in town.
However, I know that despite these drawbacks, many people do tour quite happily on their own, and enjoy it immensely.
Cycling with a partner
If you have a friend or partner with whom you ride on a regular basis, the chances are that you will already be comfortable with each other’s company. This includes being able to perceive changes in personal moods and to react accordingly, giving space when needed and companionship at other times. If you can find someone to travel with (even if it is only part of the way), I believe that this is the best way to cyclo-tour. The benefits of riding with someone else are many. You have someone to talk to and to with whom to share the events of each day. This can make general travelling experiences a lot more enjoyable.
When there are two of you, it is also possible to ride more confidently and take possession of a road lane when required. Traffic can be quite overwhelming on your own, particularly if you encounter unfriendly or inconsiderate motorists. The latter can be quite upsetting from time to time, and it helps to have someone who can lighten the situation and help overcome these annoyances.
If you are planning to break your trip by catching the occasional train, having 2 pairs of hands and feet makes this a lot easier. In places like France and the UK, the train system is fantastic, but trains run to strict schedules and don’t mess about waiting while you get all your bags and bikes aboard! You have to be (a) ready and waiting and (b) quick about it when the train does pull in.
Having a partner to act as a ‘guard dog’ has significant advantage. Forays into a grocery store, using the bathroom and ducking over a wall to get an unforgettable photo are all quite easy when there is someone standing by who can watch your bike and all your gear while you are otherwise occupied. Also, if you are camping in a populated area, it helps to have two pairs of eyes keeping stock of all the gear. This is the main reason why I would not choose to cyclo-tour alone. Having to secure everything becomes quite tedious when you have to do it a number of times a day.
In the same vein, if you have equipment problems, one person can stay with the malfunctioning bike while the other is free to go for parts and/or advice.
Of course, if you are cyclo-touring in a remote place such as the outback of Australia, there is no problem with abandoning your cycling rig to duck behind the bushes – for the simple reason that you are probably the only person around for many miles! You would need to love your bike and own company out there though, people are very few and far between!
But there is a downside too…
The down side of having someone riding with you all the time is that you don’t get to do much on your own. However, it is easy to plan some days to separate and do your own thing. This is an essential strategy if you have different interests and want to spend some time pursuing them and having a bit of ‘personal’ time.
One thing that I find when touring is that some days I feel great and riding happens easily, whereas other days (for no logical reason) are just hard work! If this happens to you, your partner will need to be able to accept this shift and let you work through it with no pressure; likewise you will need to extend the same courtesy to them if required.
Cycling with a group
If you enjoy the company of others and are considering riding in a group of three or more people, there are a few things you will need to think about carefully. Firstly, if you are all friends before you leave, you will want to return as friends!
One thing you can be sure of, people will have different moods and your group will need to cope with them all! The more people you include, the more variation in interests, opinions and directions you will have. Not everyone rides at the same speed or with the same level of skill. Even those who have been training and getting ‘fit’ may not have the same touring tenacity as other more athletic folks.
Really good planning is essential and you may need to agree about how you will manage issues and disagreements before you make any travel arrangements! The bigger your group, the more variation you will have to deal with each day.
If you have cycled with others (or on your own) and can add more suggestions to those I have above, please leave a comment below.