I write this with a great deal of hope for the new year, as it seems the headwinds are ... slowly ... shifting toward a better outlook. While it might be another full 12-months before we're truly back to "normal" (whatever that looks like), it feels like there is more bad news behind us than in front. There's still a lot of caution required, and being this close to the finish line I cannot even begin to suggest that anything is "over" until it is well and truly over. I think it's fair to say we cannot approach a new season of riding with reckless abandon but it finally feels like the season can, at the very least, actually happen. It is up to each of us.
All told, the prospect of posting new events, instead of canceling them, is exciting.
After a full year of introspection and discovery, I have begun looking at the bikes - and myself - and wondering of what I might be capable. I wonder how many others are wondering the same thing. Winter is loosening its grip, and I cannot help but notice the slow march of morning sun across a different part of the floor in my work-from-home office. Gads, I need to get out of this little room... if only for a day. A blissful, warm day full of sunshine, the faint tinge of chain oil in the air, and the reassuring promise of cleats clicking into pedals accompanying the first birdsong of a new dawn. Let's GO.
Wait a shake... how long has it been?
Well, for me, it's been a bit. After a long, long while under wraps during the last year it is probably safe to suggest we could all use a little less stress in our lives, especially if we're out there trying to ride away from it. The first few events on the spring calendar are fast-approaching, so it's time once again to check your bag!
Tubes. Yeah, yeah... after lots and lots of research, tubes are very much still relevant for a lot of riders, even serious ones. I won't debate things here. If you catch me talking about marginal gains, hysteretic damping, rotating mass and angles of attack while I'm riding around with four full water bottles, a canvas saddlebag and at least 20 lbs of COVID weight around my midsection.... you should hit me over the back of the head with a really accurate torque wrench and call my wife. Yes, the horror ... INNERTUBES.
Little else is as frustrating as reaching into your seatbag to swap in a new innertube and feeling the sticky, rubbery resistance of a spare tube that has pretty much welded itself together due to age and oxidation. Check your spares! And hey... check them early, and get in touch with your local bike shop ASAP. Supply chain issues and backorders are still a problem going into the new year ... which is both a good thing, and a terribly bad thing at once.
On that note, how new are your tires? If you spent a lot of time on an indoor trainer over the last fall/winter, your bike tire might be completely torched, also.
How about your patch kit? Tire boots?
Okay, okay.... to make sure I'm not talking to nobody here: when was the last time you refreshed your sealant? Got enough plugs? Tubeless folks, especially, how IS that spare tube you should be carrying anyways?? Maybe that spendy Tubolito thing isn't such a terrible idea after all? After all, it takes up a lot less space in your bag, right? There.
Wait... what's in my bag, anyways??
For me, I still fall into the trap of the "ample" saddlebag. It's apparently like this with laptop bags, full-frame hiking packs, as well as cycling seatbags: the bigger the bag, the more apt one is to want to fill it. Further, the easier it is to forget what you have in there!
Each year it is important to take full inventory of one's saddlebag contents and repair kit. On my last run-through, I found I had been carrying around a spoke wrench for a type of wheel that I'd sold off maybe seven years ago. Maybe it was a good luck charm? yeah, yeah... that's it. Further, while I'm all about preparedness, I'm not sure I really need to be carrying around waterproof matches in July. Or a space blanket... despite that one, really nasty experience ages ago. Or spare postcards for information controls... which, maybe aren't even a thing anymore? Maybe those are good fire-starter kindling... or could work as a tire boot... the places my brain goes sometimes...
Granted, a big saddlebag makes it easy to want to carry the kitchen sink - and REAL tools, in the heat of a ditch repair, are FAR more useful than weirdly-shaped multi-tool tools, but an annual inventory is a good exercise. Spread everything out on the dining room table, and just walk through WHY you're carrying it in the first place. Remember that ingenuity weighs nothing, so it's important to consider that in those roadside moments you should never let what you do not have prevent you from being inventive with what you do have. Little zip ties and a couple feet of duct tape? ...yeah, those can stay in there. But, that really specific spoke wrench for a wheel that I'm not riding? Yeah, back in the toolbox at home. Even that couple of bucks in quarters for a random vending machine... I dunno, but it did save my ride that one time up in Iowa... and I'm still on the fence about that tiny Swiss Army knife in my kit that I have, literally, never EVER used. Sigh.... I'll sleep on it.
More stuff to check after some time away from randonneuring....
My cleats. All the fasteners on the bike... are they snug? Are all my generator light's wires in good shape? When's the last time I checked the battery on my spare headlight and taillight? Is there any cushion left in this handlebar tape?
It's not like our bikes have been dormant, or left collecting dust, but, these sorts of annual checks can prevent a lot of roadside heartache when it comes time to get out there on a long ride. Take the time, and ride assured!
Maybe we'll see you out there this year!