Top 5 mistakes of my RAGBRAI past

As I prepare to embark on another RAGBRAI, this time out of Sioux City, I pause to reflect on all I’ve learned from what I often call this rolling, rowdy master class in bicycling.

From my first RAGBRAI I was smart enough to line up indoor housing for every night of the route. (Sorry to all you hardcore folks who prefer to camp; I just can’t sweat all night in a tent after I sweat all day on my bike.)

My gracious host in Sioux City, for instance, has a backyard pool that will serve nicely as my faux Missouri River dip site.

I like to think that I’ve become a smarter bicyclist thanks to RAGBRAI. Some of these might seem like glaringly obvious tips to some of you, but here are the top 5 things I’ve learned:

1. KEEP UP MY PEDALING CADENCE: On the first day of my first RAGBRAI, I didn’t shift to a lower gear to climb hills. I thought it manly to struggle up each and every one of them. That was incredibly stupid. By the end of the day it felt as if I had crawled the entire route on my knees, which felt hobbled. I sped up my cadence and made sure to downshift the next day, and I was fine.

2.  SIT STRAIGHT AND BALANCED ON MY BIKE SEAT: This seems obvious, right? RAGBRAI is a good way to ferret out each and every little bad biking habit you might have. When my butt got sore from so much time in the saddle, I would shift my weight from one side to the other. That eventually wreaked havoc on my lower back. Lesson learned: Let the butt hurt and stay balanced on my seat.

3. DON’T TRY TO CARRY TOO MUCH ON MY BACK: One year I had the bright idea that I would cart an iPad on RAGBRAI and use it to file all my stories. I slung a shoulder bag with the iPad on my back and rolled down the road. Similar to my bike-seat mishap, the unbalanced pack and the way it rubbed against my back had me doubling over in pain. I’ve long since ditched the iPad in favor of a roll-up keyboard that I use with my smartphone.

4. TWO WATER BOTTLES. ALWAYS TWO WATER BOTTLES. No matter how many water and Gatorade stands that I think will be situated along the route, inevitably I end up in some desolate 10-mile stretch where I crave an extra water bottle. Again, this isn’t rocket science. Please learn from my stupidity.

5. PEDAL CLIPS ARE GREAT: This will be my first RAGBRAI with pedal clips — shoes that lock into the bike pedals so that my (aging) legs benefit from the full rotation of the pedals. I’ve used them ever since just after the last RAGBRAI. This will make every hill feel incredibly easy, right? … Right?

See you on the route!

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