Reflections on Riding Alone

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Kevin Charleston's picture
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There are a number of posts on this site, particularly from AndyMan, which reflect the notion that it is unsafe or inadvisable to ever ride alone on gravel roads.  

"Never ride the cuds alone,!! That is firmly entrenched in 'Walkabout 101'"   and  "Part of never ride gravel alone, even if you think its just 2 kilometres."  I can't seem to find one where it was mentioned as his rule #1. 

Tenahead to Tiffendel, 2700m ASA. Bike down and at an odd angle to the track. If you don't think you can manage this - you probably shouldn't be riding alone.

I've just spent 14 days on a trip, 8 of which involved riding alone on some more serious gravel roads and passes in SA and Lesotho.  On one level that reflects my opinion of this particular "rule".  
But before we get into holy wars about whether one should or shouldn't ride alone on gravel, I think it needs to be acknowledged that not everybody's appetite for risk is the same.  And risk doesn't mean the same to everybody.  
Here's an excellent blog post about that: "My Risk Is Sensible, Yours Is Stupid

In one sense we all ride alone.  Even in a larger group, we are all alone under our helmets, and unless we're connected via intercom to a pillion or fellow rider, we are individuals and can become disconnected to the rest of the group.  Dualsport motorcycling is one of he best activities for an introvert like me. I don't have to socialise much during the day, but I can participate in a group. 

The only way I can survive the long trips that Geoff arranges (and everyone should try and get on one of these awesome challenges) is to ensure I have a single room.  I need space and time alone to recharge.  

I also suffer from compulsive self-reliance. Asking for help (or for accompaniment on a ride) is the last thing I'll try.  I'll bust a gut to try and do it myself first.  

But there's nothing like being in the middle of the Karoo, or on the top of a mountain pass - stok-stil-aleen.  There's an other-worldliness about being so far away from anyone else, and a huge sense of achievement at having done so solo.   

Whilst perambulating some of the dusty corners of our beautiful country, I was mentally putting together a checklist of what I thought important for those of us willing to take the extra risk that others avoid. 

1) Pick it up
If you can't pick up your bike - don't ride alone. But learn to pick it up wih moderate ease. If you can't pick it up on a level and easily accessible surface, then there's no way you will manage at 3000m when it is fully fuelled and laden, and you've bruised your ribs on the windshield or rocks.  Or in 38 degree heat with humidity running at 80%.  

2) Take it with you
Andyman has a number of great posts about the things he carries. He's also put together an excellent training on what to carry. And in a group you can share the load - not everyone needs to carry a compressor.  But if you are planning a trip on your own - you must carry everything with you.  The 1200 GSA is a great pack-horse, I'm not sure how I'd manage with a smaller bike.  The Pannier's can take plenty - but it all adds weight that affect the handling and the pick-up-ability (see 1). But you'll see that even on group rides I'll often pack everything, just for practice and the comfort that I can manage if I need to. 
"SELF SUFFICENCY OUT IN THE CUDS"
"TECH TORQUE What do you keep in your TWALCOM RALLY RAID box?"  

3) Fix it yourself
Punctures are the most frequent mishap on a ride.  In 100,000K I've had 4. The 1200 has tubeless tires which are much simpler to fix than the 650's and 800's tubed ones.  I don't recommend sticking a nail in your tyre - but find a way to practice fixing your own tyres - or be absolutely sure you can do it if you need to.  
But punctures aren't the only mechanical menace. Bikes are pretty reliable these days, particularly BMWs. You don't need to be a mechanic to be able to ride alone - but being ready and able to tackle minor running repairs may be the difference between a successful trip and misery.  
Andyman has a good piece on tyre repairs: "TECH TORQUE - TOURING AND COPING WITH PUNCTURES"

4) Be prepared
Not only by taking sufficient tools and stuff to address minor problems (cable ties, pratley's steel, duct tape etc.), but also know the limitations of your bike.  And don't forget to address the bigger issues (like who gets the life-insurance and when they can switch off the life-support machines) frown 
Carry ICE information (In Case of Emergency).  I've had ICE stickers on my bike and helmet, but I now wear an ICE-Tag nylon wrist-band.  Carry ICE information on your phone. Make sure your ICE contacts know who they are and what to do with the body ... cheeky 
Seriously, check the forum. Andyman has a couple of excellent posts on being prepared in different ways.  
"ROCKS UNDER YOUR PILLOW: or GET YOURSELF READY TO DIE"
"TECH TORQUE - 1200GSA - engine breather tube relocation on airbox project"

5) Tell someone
As a loner this has been something I've skipped in the past. But letting someone (preferably your ICE contact) know where you are and where you're headed is really a no-brainer.  It may not mean much to me, but it gives my family a more comfortable feeling if I tell them where I'm going and check in now and again.  Rather than letting friends and family wonder for weeks why there's been no facebook posts ...  
Other rides have wives and kids who are more demanding on this front.  
This is sometimes difficult - on a long trip you may only be able to give sketchy details of where you may be on a particular day.  
I'd give family a rough routes and told them I'd try to stick to it if possible - and contact them at the end of each day to let them know I'm ok.  
The SPOT 3 device is a huge benefit now, as a GPS tracker - my ICE contacts can see where I've been; it can send them an "I'm ok" message; and can summon the helicopters if I'm really desperate.  I recommend this to anyone who rides alone.  
On my recent trip I changed routes without worrying too much as I knew there would be a good enough track to find me.  
"SPOT now covers Southern Africa"  
Chris at Flying-brick sells these, and will be arranging an evening demonstration sometime in the new year.  Watch the forum.  

6) Reliable steed 
There's no point in venturing out if you don't have a reliable bike.  A mechanical problem in a remote and inaccessible place could be the end of you.  
And have your bike regularly maintained by someone who knows the model inside-out and upside down.  I only use the dealers.  I've had good feedback and reliability.  They may be over-careful and replace things sooner than your buddy down at the corner bike-shop - but they have a good idea of what goes wrong on these beautiful machines during their lifespan.  

7) Say No
Daniel Kahneman has a great book "Thinking Fast, Thinking slow". In it he describes the "sunk-cost fallacy", a trap into which I frequently fall. This has two faces - if things are going well, we expect them to continue going well. Conversely, we also look at how much it has cost to get to this point, and that overrides rational decisions about continuing on the same path (a gambler cannot believe that the odds of a spin on a roulette wheel are unaffected by previous spins - he thinks 10 even numbers in a row means the next one must be odd). 
I find this happening in a couple of ways - I've come far down a trail and it's an effort to turn back and go around somehow; I've survived this far, but the next obstacle looks a bit tougher than I'm normally willing to try.  So I'll risk something that may be out of my comfort zone and then come a cropper.  
I squashed my foot between a rock and bike on a rough 4x4 trail this way.  It's been a long and painful lesson.  
Learning to tell myself "No", and "Enough", is something I'm still learning.  

8) ATTGAT
There is no alternative.  I truly believe that decent boots made the difference between a seriously damaged foot, and being able to pick up my bike and carry on (albeit in pain).  If I'd been wearing lesser gear, the bike may still be lying on top of my foot in the back of beyond.  
There's some gear I'm not sold on - but boots are critical; the BMW riding pants have excellent knee and hip protection; and a rugged and armoured jacket are a must.  Even in 42 degree heat.  

9) Like yourself
If you haven't been able to make friends with the voices in your head, then spending a week or more alone may not be the best thing for your sanity.  Some people have the inverse problem I suffer - a need to socialise and to be around others is the only way they have energy.  
That may be part of their reason for seeing riding alone as a huge no-no. Whatever, you may find yourself in the middle of nowhere with no-one around, and the silence may be overwhelming.  
Know yourself.  

10) Training and experience
Needless to say, riding alone is not something I'd recommend to beginner riders. The club has some great training, as does places like Country-Trax. If you aren't comfortable with intermediate-level training - then it's probably a signal you need to keep in groups - or to really simple roads.  
But, and this may be contentious, I really hate the "ride to 70% of your ability" or "ride within your limitations".  If you've never stretched and pressed against those limitations, then you have no clue what they are.  So you may never progress to a point of feeling comfortable.  
I'm continually pushing myself against my comfort limits, in order to learn more and see how just what those limits are.  I don't like sand - but I'll keep trying until I'm comfortable enough to get through.  
For some, just getting out and tackling a 2km stretch of gravel on your own may be a significant limit.  

11) Fitness
I'm not fit.  And there are times on the bike where this is a huge impediment.  Greater physical fitness will allow you an easier ride, particularly when you need extra effort - like picking up the bike for the third time in an hour in Lesotho, or laying it on it's side for the 5th time to pack sand underneath the back wheel in 44 degree heat.  
There are places I won't travel, and routes I won't take - purely because I'm not fit enough.  
This dovetails with the last point - you need to choose the route to suit your level of experience and fitness. No point in tackling desert sand if your heart can't take the heat.  

12) No Precious
If you're the type who worries about every little scratch on your pride and beauty - then you might not want to tackle the roads-less-travelled on your ace.  
There's no-one to help you pick your precious up gently and carefully.  I've fallen in an akward place, with the bike not in an ideal position, and had to drag it around on rocks to get it pointing in a better direction.  
You may come to a point where the only way to proceed is to push the f***ing thing on it's side, pack some rocks underneath and try again, and again.  
Or lay it on it's side and drag it around 180 degrees so it points downhill and go back.  
Extra crash-bars and panniers on the 1200 are a great help in protecting the bike a bit in rough terrain.  The only downside is that my panniers now need some panel-beating ...

13) Take a map
GPS devices are ubiquitous. I use a Garmin Zumo 350 on the bike, and it has proved reliable.  Smartphone GPS is less helpful in the sticks (although a useful backup when you have signal).   

Sometimes, when you are off the pre-planned route for some reason - the small 'window' and sluggish response of the GPS makes it very difficult to get a good understanding of where you are, and in which direction the nearest fuel stop really is.  The GPS may tell you fuel is 8km away - but the mountain in the way will make that choice a bit impractical.  And sometimes the GPS map you have loaded doesn't quite match up to the track you are physically on. 

Taking a reasonably detailed paper map gives you more options. It would have saved much stress on a number of occasions if I'd remembered to actually pack one ...

 


This is by no means a complete list, a work in progress as I learn more about my riding solo. It is also not a complete list of relevant and excellent posts by Andy. 

 

As a youngster I was drawn to the camel cigarette advertising, dreaming about being alone in some far-off and exotic place - a manly-man doing manly things.  
At the top of Matabeng pass in Lesotho - having bellowed my delight at making it to the top to an audience of no-one - I felt a flash-memory of those adverts.  
My inner little boy screaming "f*** yeah, that's me!"

 

 

skim's picture
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Joined: 2014/12/10

Nice read - thanks Kevin

 

 

Skim

AKA Jimmie Louw

R1200GS Adventure

Froggy's picture
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Joined: 2014/01/15

Some very interesting points thanks Kevin.

 

Andy

Andyman's picture
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Kevin,

Fantastic article, well thought out and well written.

I can imagine you constructing the text over the days of riding, al on your own and deciding it was great.

Well done, it was great reading your regular updates on Fleisboek.

Thanks for the accreditation.

Yes, for years I have hammered on the "do not ride alone" drum, and felt very naughty going out on my own.

But I am doing it more n more and thanks very much for saving me from writing such an article I could never have down it as well as you.

Congratulations on slaying the dragons and completing your adventure.

 

Andyman
Anyone can ride a bike fast....   But can you ride your bike real slow???

Andyman's picture
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This post has had me reflecting aLL DAY.

YOU NEED TO USE DISCRETION WHEN DECIDING TO RIDE ALONE.

The reason I advocate so much against riding alone is because I have come across lone riders in distress that without us would have had a much worse outcome.

 

In 2008 on a ride to the Oasis, shortly after the Katbakies turn off, I spotted a pannier lying awkwardly in the veld away off from the road.

After a kilometer or two it was still bothering me. As second last in the group, I elected to turn back and invesitgate.

I found the 26 yr old lady lying very awkwardly in the veld, her 650 had lost it's panniers, wind shield and mirrors as it cart-wheeled when she left the road for whatever reason...

She was not conscious and it was 2 hours before the helicopter arrived, Although she never made any attempt to Contact or to thank me, she had made a full recovery.

But with a broken shoulder and a broken leg. How would the story had ended for this lone rider if we had not stopped for her?

__________________________________________________

As recent as Jan 2014, we were returning from one of our legendary club rides to Greyton when we came across a lone rider, no bike, in total catatonic stupor on the N2 roadside near Houwhoek.

Pete n I treated him for advanced exhaustion and hyperthermia.

We found his bike a kilometer down the railroad path. We came across a jacket, then a helmet, then the gloves, and eventually the bike, ignition still on, lying in the sand.

Heat, lack of hydration, and exhaustion had crippled his adventure.

He was lucky we arrived when we did, he was about to wonder into traffic.

Here is the ride story and a copy of the event.

 

http://bmwmccc.org.za/beginners-offtar-ride-western-cape-sunday-26th-january

 

1.6km down the railroad track tweespoor we found the abandoned Ten.1.6km down the railroad track tweespoor we found the abandoned Ten.

Shortly before the fam stall, we helped a chap suffering heat exhaustion. where the FBOS discipline kicked in, -   scene secured, rider stabilised and bike recovered.

Pete rides the Ten back to the N2Pete rides the Ten back to the N2

 We then retired to the farm stall for a well deserved cold one.

Then home"

________________________________________________________________

So riding alone is ok if you follow all the rules Kevin has laid out in his ordinal post.

If you are not equipped for self-recovery, and you are not well stocked with fluids and an ability to adapt and use your resourcefulness, then riding alone is NOT YOUR GAME.

____________________________________________________________________

I posted this article after a similar event back in May 2014 when Annie n I came across a guy whose trip ended because he lacked resourcefulness and was not self sufficient.

 

http://bmwmccc.org.za/learn-self-rescue-learn-self-sufficiency-it-can-save-you-1000s

_______________________________________________________________

In April 2014 I posted this story which also had a very expensive ending which could have been so easy and different.... had the lone rider had some resourcefulness.

http://bmwmccc.org.za/tale-lone-biker-and-mitchells-pass-hogsback-e-cape

________________________________________________________________

 

So read Kevin's post again a few times to help you reach your choice of whether to ride alone.

These last four weeks, I have been wired into every sea rescue call on our west and south coast to support our team that looks after the surf rescue rapid response helicopter unit. We have to be ready to scramble an air response at any daylight moment, tragically so many of the calls were involving people going out on their own beyond the point of their capability and comfort zone.

Which makes me hyper critical and cautious of supporting lone adventures... merely because the statistics do not record the wonderful adventures of the loners who got into shit but got themselves out of it.

The records only show those that could not get themselves out of the shit!

 

Andyman
Anyone can ride a bike fast....   But can you ride your bike real slow???

Andyman's picture
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We recently returned from the annual Stuff-of-Legends- Camdeboo Dash 2015.

On the last day, on a whim, and all because the Prince Albert hotel owner mentioned to Jamsey that there was in fact access to Laingsburg from Prince Albert via gravel.

So we attempted it in +40ºC heat with full hydration packs with ice inside.

A punctured front tire on the 800 should have been the warning. 

In this extreme heat, where screw driver handles melted in the heat and spanners became too hot to handle, we drained out hydration quickly.

But in this heat and with this level of exhaustion we all noted how our tolerance changed and how we change under this kind of stress.

Tempers become short, patience is tested at a lower threshold, and we became irritable.

 

We managed about 40 kilometers of rough track, lots of sand monster, and a few dead ends.

Wisely we elected to abort and take the next rat-run up to the N1 and then chased off to a cold drink.

 

Fact is, four perfectly sane, rational men, can become near fatal enemies under the incessant heat, deep sand and adverse conditions.

Just shows ow careful you need to be out in the cuds.

 

Andyman
Anyone can ride a bike fast....   But can you ride your bike real slow???

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Joined: 2007/06/25

This article is so damn informative. Thank you's to Andy, Kevin and Peter O. smiley

You chaps are prepared to share your experiences and do so much for your fellow rider/s. Thanks guys. Maybe these articles should be presented in BOLD.  

Think before you ink.

Trust is the most valuable asset.

I have the rest of my life to get old.

Froggy's picture
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As a "Novice" off road rider, I think threads like this are invaluable.

We all dream of different types of adventure and there is nothing to stop you achieving those goals.

Articles and information like this keep those dreams alive, but also give you that reality check to minimise risk, often from riders own experiences as Andy explained so well.

 

Great information from both Kevin and Andy, thanks for taking the time to spread some wisdom....

Cheers Gents.

 

Froggy.

 

  

Tony's picture
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Joined: 2008/08/24

Good, clear pointers - thanks Kevin.

My multi-day "solo" trips have all been with my adventurous pillion - technically still a solo bike trip smiley.

Adrienne has been instructed in the art of picking up a GSA during a must-do Intro to Off Road training day. Point #1 - check.

On a more serious note, I think before embarking on a solo trip, irrespective of duration, one should be prepared (or even resolve) to ride slightly more defensively than one normally would in a group. This could, for example, include riding 5-10 km/h slower than usual, taking time to evaluate the more challenging sections (see Point #7), actually walking water crossings, etc.

Oh, and one additional point to the comprehensive list by the OP - fill up whenever you have the opportunity.

 

PS Kevin -awesome trip, super jealous following your SPOT notifications each day whilst stuck in the office.

A bend in the road is not the end of the road... unless you fail to make the turn. ~Author Unknown

PeterO's picture
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The story Andy mentions of the fellow with heat exhastion (hyperthermia) ... Andy pillioned me down to his bike and I rode it out ... easiest ride you can imagine and I was apprehensive having seen the condition of the rider.

He couldn't ride it out but managed to walk to the road.

You haven't experienced heat until you're cooking and there's no shade!

If you can dream it you can do it!

dtv
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Excellent thread, Kevin!

I have done numerous rides, both solo and in groups, and both types are highly enjoyable.  Still, deep down, I think I still prefer solo, despite all Andy's very valid warnings.....

God gave you a gift of 86 400 seconds to-day.  Have you used one to say Thank You?

Andyman's picture
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Hey dtv,  welcome back!!! where you been hiding.

Yes, and despite me always banging on the "do not ride alone"drum, I too often NEED to just go do a solitary ride into the cuds.

Knowing there is risk and understanding that what happens happens and I cannot moan about it when it does happen.

These guidelines from Kevin will help many adventurers to get their mind around how they approach riding alone.

Good reflective material. Even after reading it for the umpteenth time.

 

Andyman
Anyone can ride a bike fast....   But can you ride your bike real slow???

Kevin Charleston's picture
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Added: Take a map.

Andyman's picture
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Joined: 2007/06/22

During the war, I was in the Berede, and i developed my lust to explore SA by riding nuge distances on horseback.

So I feel a keen sense of knowing how you felt about the Camelman.

Him and the  Zamalek man were what I dreamed I'd be one day.

 

Andyman
Anyone can ride a bike fast....   But can you ride your bike real slow???

Nox
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Very interesting thread. Thanks for posting.

I definitely learnt a few things by reading this: 

  • Pack a 19"tube and spanners for cuts. Currently carrying plug kit, lots of bombs and torque sockets wrench, lappies, cable ties and Pratly steel putty. 
  • Fitness levels (Strength + Endurance) need to be better 
  • Regular map + GPS vs just cell phone and winging it.

Some of my fondest riding memories have been on my own but there is definitely risk involved.
 



 

 

Andyman's picture
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100's Nox,

That means you ride off with your eyes wide open, not eys wide shut.

 

Darwin has a way of leveling us all out and it often happens on a solo ride, however, as long you knew your risk and were prepared to go on, then its all good.

 

I have spent from 2007 to 2016 doing a lot of group rides.

I try to stop a group getting bigger than 10 bikes by simply making more groups, and that works fine.

But after doing more than 800 000 kilometers on a motorbike since 1997, I am now finding large groups give me a rash.

Must be getting allergic to them.

 

My last big ride was to Jurg se Kaya and I'm afraid it will b emy last ride with such a big group.

 

Yet small groups- 4 to 5 bikes are the best and just two bikes are Bester and solo rides are the BESTESTTER

 

Andyman
Anyone can ride a bike fast....   But can you ride your bike real slow???

Nox
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I must admit i also don't like more than than 5 or 6 bikes group rides.

Usually we are 2 or 3.

More it does become a bit difficult to really interact and keep tabs of everyone.

I feel it loses a bit of magic. However I've been on a few really well organized group rides with many more riders. I't just not my personal taste.

 

 

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