For a lot of rando guys and gals out there, this is a pre-PBP year, which means a LOT of "getting ready". Myself, I won't be across the pond this time: in fact, I have yet to go... looking forward to 2015, already! For those that ARE going, there is a lot of training ahead.
Part of that training is preparedness, and ensuring your own success. I'm piggy-backing this notion on the heels of an SUPERBLY written article in this quarter's American Randonneur magazine, published by RUSA. This article highlights a LOT of things that I'd never thought of, and if you know someone that has a copy (like, if you're a new RUSA member or a "thinking-about" rider), I highly recommend reading it. I'd link, but there's no online version, sadly.
This article eludes to preparation OFF the saddle, namely bike and personal maintenance. This is the time to lose the pounds you want to, and fix things on your bike that you might have over-looked these last few years.
Handlebars. Yep... hairline cracks, anyone??? Have you looked? I haven't... and I'm going on six years on the same aluminum bars. I'd rather not find out the hard way; because it's cheaper than jaw replacement, after all! Bottom bracket... how long have you had it? Heck, even your frame needs a good look. Take the time, and avoid surprises.
How about a visit to the doctors? Get the engine checked out! They always say to consult a physician before engaging in a new exercise program, and while cycling isn't "new" to anyone here, it IS a new season... preceded by a long winter which saw a lot of us off the saddle.
Something I did today was dive into my seat bag. I've been blessed by a long streak without much in the way of roadside repair needs, so it made sense to make sure I still had what I needed - even though nothing had changed, really. I'm talking about tubes and patches, primarily. I was surprised to find that all of my Park Tool patches were stuck to each other, oddly... they're all backed with wax-coated paper, like any sticker would be, but the edges of the adhesive had seemingly run together after years inside a black seatbag. Several hot summer rides had clearly been the culprit. While prying a few patches apart wouldn't be too much of a hassle, I suppose, it's a surprise that no-one deserves after getting a flat - much like salt in the wound. So, a re-purchase is in order, and I'll save these old ones for the commute seat-bag perhaps, or the workbench drawer. They make good pool-toy patches, too, so I can save the old ones for that use.
Tubes are worth looking at, also. Rubber dries out, and depending on how you pack your seatbag you could come to find a chain tool, Allen wrench, or even something as benign as the end of a zip tie has rubbed a tiny hole into the surface of your spare tube. More often than not these discoveries are made on the roadside, where - again - you don't deserve that kind of surprise. So, take your spares out, inflate them, check for holes -or, avoid the roadside curse-fest and buy some new ones - you can donate the old tubes to the workbench tube drawer, recycle them, or make something cool out of them like a giant sling-shot or sew yourself up a waterproof pouch for this-n-that. Certainly not trash... even if thay aren't road-side repair worthy.
There's not much else to check inside your seatbag, unless you are ultra-prepared. Things like your bonk-rations... that well-wrapped energy bar, or energy gel that you stuffed in your bag for that "just in case" moment... is it expired? Did it melt? Is there a small hole in the wrapper?
What about things like your first aid kit? Yeah, I carry a tiny, tiny one -- antiseptic wipes, and a few gauze pads that I can apply to a sizeable road-rash event with electrical tape, until I get home. But, those little things like alcohol wipes and antiseptic wipes and antibiotic crash-cream can dry out also, so check your stash.
My seatbag list is pretty specific, but I also tossed in something for the mental toolkit. A roadside repair, in the dead of night, in the middle of nowhere, in the rain -- it can be frustrating. It can potentially be ride-ending. So, my advice is practice: If you've never re-laced a broken spoke with a (IMHO, essential) Fiber-Fix spoke, why not give it a try? If you've never fixed a chain with a seat-bag sized chain tool, do it! Practicing flat changes is even a good idea. But, something else I tossed in the seat bag - along with my "lucky rocks" and "lucky coin", is a fortune cookie slip that I got about five years ago.
Something a good good friend told me a long time ago while I was deep in the throes of giant-saddlebag purchases (and feeling the need to fill said bag) was that I can't carry a spare bicycle with me. In short, I should stop trying to envision every conceivable failure, and simply take the essentials and prepare to be resourceful. Zip ties, folded electrical tape, a small chain tool, and an endless and varied array of roadside trash are REALLY the only things you need to finish a ride - of any distance. Patch kits and tubes, yes - they are essential. I also, as I mentioned, put the Fiber-Fix spoke in that category. However, beyond that I've seen my friends finish 600Ks with electrical-tape and dollar bills holding tires together, and at the extreme, finish rides with roadside sticks, saddle covers, and velcro pump straps holding their FRAME together, no less...NO kidding. If you stop, think, and breathe - you can fix anything, no matter what happens*. Worst case, as recent forum posts have outlined, you can even walk if you have enough time. There is nothing in the rules indicating you have to ride on top of your human-powered vehicle.
So, just because you didn't carry a spare rear derailleur, or tire, doesn't mean you can't have a good ride. Just smile, relax, take the repair into the same personal-challenge category as the ride itself, and you'll come out okay. Sure, sometimes you just have to cash it in... but, don't get down on yourself if that STI shifter locks up... just by-pass it, and make the best of it. This year, the year before PBP, is a great time to test yourself for the "big one", and get prepared in more ways than simply riding the bike can do.
*ok, a completely shelled-out bottom bracket is pretty bad... but that's all I can think of, because it also recently happened to a friend of mine. That caused him to make a phone call, and really - there is nothing to be done about that occurance. It nearly ended his streak of consecutive 200Ks, but he shuffled a few things around and got the ride finished in the last weekend of February... his 50th consecutive 200K in as many months. His tenacity and resourcefulness is a large part of that success!
It's stories like that, and that fortune cookie note, that help keep me focused and calm on the roadside... to get that next "finish" in my ledger.
See you out there!