We all know that when you go out for a bike ride, you need to make sure you've got your gloves, pump, food, water, spare tubes, etc. It is also important to have the right clothes for the conditions and duration of the ride. As we get closer to spring riding weather, our minds naturally turn to longer rides. Spring weather is often unpredictable, case in point last week's rain/ sleet/snow death march. As a ride leader, I'm often heading out into the unknown and guiding them on rides. I take that responsibility seriously. Anyone that's ever seen some of my book-length ride invitations knows that I'm trying to enable folks' thought processes to make sure they're prepared.
Every time that I've had an epic ride failure, it has been the result of an epic failure in my thought processes during preparation. That sounds intuitive, but we usually talk about ride checklists from a "things" point of view, rather than "thoughts" point of view. When I started resolving things into thoughts, ride preparation became intuitive for me. No longer did I have a checklist, mental or physical to go through. Ride preparation happened organically. I naturally prepared for ALL aspects of the ride… even the things that I couldn't have envisioned ahead of time.
These thoughts and ideas mingle and overlap and that gives extra insurance that we'll have what we need for the ride.
Comfort: This encompasses clothing and preparation for the elements, but it also makes sure that gloves, sun screen, food and water get brought along. We have to think about how long we'll be out on the ride and what happens if we're out longer. Are you comfortable on the kinds of roads on the route? Don't just trust the ride leader, LOOK at the route and mentally be prepared to insure that you ARE comfortable riding for the day.
Strength: Do I have what it takes to complete this ride physically and mentally? Distance, climbing, terrain, conditions all play into this. Don't let hardships that might arise keep you from doing the ride. It is better to mentally prepare for those hardships as well as physically. I'm not saying that someone who typically does long rides with 2-hour durations should set out for an 11 hour death march. I am saying that they should go for 3 or 3.5 hours though. 11 hour rides don't just spring out of nowhere. They start their lives as 2 hour rides that hurt and build up. Am I geared correctly for a ride? My ride last weekend was much more difficult than it should have been because I lacked 1 tooth on the cog of my fixie gravel grinder bike. It was a new bike being ridden under unknown conditions. I didn't have the background to pick correctly, but I mentally gauged my strength and figured I could complete the ride with a safety margin even if I was over geared.
Agility and Flexibility: How quickly and easily can I adapt when things change? Do I know enough about the area and the route to cut things short (or go longer) if conditions necessitate (or allow)? What happens if a known water stop is closed? What happens if there's an accident. Am I unencumbered enough to climb and move freely with the bike?
Endurance: Is what I'm proposing as a bike ride within 30% of what I've done in the past? I'd suggest people new to pushing their limits start with a more reasonable number… like 15%. I'm not just talking distance. I'm thinking about elevation, weather, wind, terrain, etc.
Safety: Here we come back to looking at distance, route (what kinds of roads/trails are we riding?), bail-out points, resupply opportunities, etc. We need to think about visibility (reflective gear and flashy lights) and seeing (lights, glasses, etc). We need to protect our bodies with sunscreen, clothes, glasses, leg armor, gloves. We need to know where we're going and how to get back… even if something comes up. We need a cell phone and a network to use it. We need to have a buddy or two with us in case something happens and we can go for help.
MUCH MUCH MORE! These are samples of the thoughts that I go through for my preparation. The list goes on and evolves depending on where I am at a particular time.
How does all this come together?
Start early. I start my thought practices for a Sunday ride on Monday or Tuesday. That's when I start picking my route or whose ride I'm going to join. I make sure that my activities for the week allow me enough mileage and rest to be fresh and ready for the ride.
SUPER IMPORTANT POINT: You are definitely NOT just planning for the negative. Plan for FUN! Think of and make happen a lot of fun stuff. What will make this ride enjoyable for me and the others on it? I love professional bike racing, so I often pick a theme for the ride based upon some big race that is happening at the same time. I use a ride to share new recipes for ride food or discuss some new component, clothing or tire that I'm testing. If we're not having fun while challenging ourselves, then we're not going to want to come out and do it again next week.
Friday I make sure I've got time to buy or prepare ride food before Sunday's ride. I look at the route to make sure it is somewhat familiar to me. I make sure the bike has what it needs to ride.
Saturday I make sure that I've got some quiet time to relax, reflect on the week and mentally prepare for the ride to come. For me that involves quiet time and prayer. I'm taking inventory of my thoughts.
Saturday night is important. Toward the end of the quiet, mental preparation, start the physical preparation. Use the thoughts that you were working with to guide you as to what you'll need for the next day. Have your clothes for the next day set out. Make sure you've got chamois cream, embrocation, sun screen, etc ready for application. Have the food set aside where it will DEFINITELY make it into your pockets for the ride. Lay everything out… MORE than you think you'll need. Look at the weather and make sure that what you're planning is wise and that you're mentally and physically prepared for it. Doubt is okay… even good! That means you're pushing yourself. Put a number on it… a percentage, like we talked about before. Are you over your comfort zone by 10%? 15%? 30%? 50% Adjust your Sunday accordingly.
Make as many decisions as possible Saturday night! Flexibility is important, but don't be making big, critical decisions on Sunday morning.
Sunday morning: Everything is set! Everything is laid out. You can quietly go through your thought processes, even if things are not quiet around you. Relax and trust your preparation. Go ride and have a blast!
Sunday night, take time to reflect, refuel, stretch and relax. Do this mentally and physically. Give yourself a few minutes to look back at what went well and where you need improvements. Monday and Tuesday are when the next week's ride planning starts. It is a new opportunity to do it all again.
Final Note: Practice this process on a smaller scale. Mentally prepare for the smallest of rides. If you practice this stuff daily, then it becomes second nature… you become a stronger and more independent cyclist. You become better able to deal with ride preparation and LIFE preparation regardless of the storm that is roaring around you. Mental strength and power comes from converting things into thoughts. Practice that daily and you'll see results in your riding and your life.
Rock on, kids!