If you plan to join in RAGBRAI, (the famous bike ride across Iowa that runs from July 23-29) but haven't yet gotten started, allow me to assist you with getting up to speed. If you are like me, you may need to get some advice about picking the right equipment for a RAGBRAI adventure. This article will assist you in planning what is necessary for a successful ride, and if you read between the lines, you will also discover how to have a successful ride through life.

Obviously, you'll need a bike. You will have to choose between three types: a road bike, a mountain bike, and a hybrid or combination of the two former styles. Unless you are a serious biker or you want to do a lot of off road biking, the best all-around bike is the hybrid, which combines the best of both the road and mountain bikes.

The next important decision is what will be the color of your bike? This is important for several reasons. The bike is the largest piece of equipment; therefore the color of the bike will determine the color selection of your other accessories. You need to give this decision utmost thought. You don't want to wind up with an unplanned hodgepodge of conflicting colors streaking across the byways of Iowa looking like a color chart for crayons. As with life itself, a little advance planning will yield great benefits. It is critical to accessorize for success, and you can't do so without thinking about colors.

Once you pick the bike's color, you can select your helmet. Here again, you will have a couple of choices: visor or no visor and gel or Styrofoam. The visor is essential if you plan to be a speed demon and want to be totally aerodynamic. I got a helmet without a visor. The other choice is the lining of the helmet. Styrofoam is much cheaper than gel. I got a Styrofoam one. The other decision about the helmet is the color-either the same color of the bike or a contrasting color would work. You will be able to pick me out from the thousands of other bikers by my blue bike and yellow helmet.

Next the shoes: they create a real decision for you. The major choice is between cleated shoes or non-cleated shoes. The cleated shoes lock your feet to the bike's pedals while the non-cleated shoes fit into toe clips. The advantage of the cleat technology is that you will save on energy because the pedal and your body are one. Once I heard that the cleats could save approximately 20% of ones energy, I had to have my bike equipped with pedals to handle cleated shoes. Why work harder than necessary? I learned the hard way that you need to be cautious with this decision. The cleat holder on the pedal needs to be adjusted so that you can easily release your feet from the pedal. If you don't, you will look like Artie Johnson of TV's Laugh-In. I personally have his skit down very well, and I fall a lot further than did he.

Now for your clothing: you will need a shirt and a pair of pants. The first decision as regards to your clothing is the color. You can see that the decision about the bike's color is critical. Once you make the color selection, the only other question has to do with the type of pant padding. Your choices are nothing, chamois, or gel. If you are in shape at all, the biggest problem with biking is that it is literally a pain in the butt. The padding helps a little. I personally think that I shouldn't have lost the ten pounds of fat while getting into shape.

If you digest my suggestions, you will be able to speed up the learning curve necessary to join me on this year's RAGBRAI. However, what is true about a bike ride across Iowa is also true for your journey through life itself. All that I have come to know about equipment, I have learned in several weeks. I didn't have to reinvent the wheel. All that I did was to ask questions. Whether you will be biking across Iowa or not, my experiences are a paradigm for each of us in our ride through life.

This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 6/8/00.