WINforKCWed: Cycling 101

There is so much good "cycling 101" type information online that I hesitate to repeat it. Instead, I will tell you what I would tell my good friend Kara if she were coming out on one of the WOW group rides this spring.

What, you ask, is a WOW group ride? It's Women on Wheels, Kansas City's women-only, no-drop group ride! We ride once a month, in locations all over the city. New riders are paired up with mentors, nobody is left behind, and it's a big group of 30-50 women, all skill and fitness levels and backgrounds. There's a 5 mile option and a 15 mile option. This year's first ride is on March 11 - check out the full schedule here!

OK, so what would I tell Kara?

What to bring:

1) The "must-have" list: You'll need a bike in good working order. You need a helmet and a bottle of water. Even if it's cold out, don't ride without water. Be self-sufficient and don't make your ride buddies have to look out for your hydration.

2) Best to have: A spare tube. Stick it in your saddle bag or your back jersey pocket. Since you're in a WOW group ride, your mentors can help you fix a flat if you get one and don't have tools. If you are out on a ride by yourself, you are taking a chance if you don't carry tire levers, a pump or CO2 cartridges, and a patch kit.

3) Great to have but don't let it stop you if you don't have: Bike shorts. You can ride 5 miles without padded shorts. More than that might become uncomfortable.

What to think about:

For your safety and others' safety, have the mindset that awareness is key. You will not be riding along blithely, playing in traffic, unaware of cars and just hoping they pay attention to you. Think what it feels like to be driving a car past a cyclist, and practice the golden rule. As a driver, you hope that the cyclist knows you are there. So you will be paying attention. And in a large group, you will be learning to ride safely and confidently.

What NOT to worry about:

Being slow. Being a little shaky. Not stopping gracefully. Being left behind. Being clipped in for the first time. Not being clipped in. Whether your bike is good enough. Whether you are strong enough. Whether there will be hills.

Don't worry about any of that! The wonderful thing about riding a bicycle is learning that you can handle anything the ride brings you. I don't know any way to learn that confidence without riding through your lack of confidence — riding STRAIGHT through it, busting a big ol' hole in it.

I would tell Kara that I'm not going to leave her on the ride, and that we're going to have a good time. Riding a bike is a good time!

"But," suppose Kara says, "It's such a long way from these first rides to being able to do the triathlon."

"Not as long as you might think," I say. "And every time you turn the pedals you are putting an even stronger pedal stroke in the bank for race day."

For more info on first-time ride preparation, visit the WOW web site. See you on the ride!