When getting ready for a mass start event, especially your first ones, you think about the usual things you need for a ride: bike, shoes, jersey, shorts, gloves, helmet. You think about the things you’ll need while one the ride: spare tubes, pump, maybe CO2, energy foods, water.
There’s two other sets of things that people often overlook when preparing for your first mass starts: things needed before the ride, and things needed after the ride. Now, I typically over-pack for most events, but you know what? For those events where I haven’t, it sucked to go without.
Bring a copy of your registration. Usually this isn’t a problem, but never hurts to have proof you’re signed up. And bring a photo ID, not just for pre-ride check-in, but always good to carry with you on any ride.
Pre-ride snack: sometimes you might have a long way to travel to get to your event. This could put breakfast a long way off, and leave your tank mostly empty. Bring a simple snack (bananas, raisins, PB&J, etc.) to eat anywhere from 30-60 minutes before the ride. It takes about 30-45 minutes for whatever you eat to start getting into your body as usable energy, so plan ahead. Just don’t over-eat! The body can’t absorb more than 150-200 Cal/hr, so eating more than that could lead to gut rot.
Though this is more a “thing to do” than a “thing to bring”, if you’re riding with a team and have a smart phone, you may want to share your location using something like Google Latitude. I always ride with this on, just in case something happens and someone needs to find me. But when riding in a team, it’s useful because you can check where your teammates are on the ride, and get an estimate of when they’ll roll in as well as making sure everyone makes it in okay.
Perhaps the more important of the two, you want to be able to enjoy the completion of your ride. The best way to do that is to be comfortable. Some ride events do a great job of this, providing a place to shower, sit, and eat, along with some good food. But others… well, best to be prepared.
So, first things first: never hurts to bring a little extra food with you. Post-ride snacks, such as PB&J, juice, sodas. A small cooler with some food and drink – and maybe some shareable snacks like chips and cookies – goes a long way. I’m not saying that you should be a post-ride SAG wagon, it’s just nice to share. It’s also a great way to thank riders you might’ve met on the ride. Offering fellow riders food and drink is always a classy move.
Next, clothing. Some rides are just nice: good weather, clean roads, etc. Others will leave you sodden with rain or sweat, mud or road grime. And you probably don’t want to sit around in your well-ridden clothes. So bring a set to change into: shirt, shorts/pants (depending on the weather), socks/shoes or flip-flops (again, depending on the weather), underwear, etc. Bring a big towel, first to help you wipe off, and next to help you change if there isn’t a discreet place to do so. Don’t forget deoderant (it’s been a long ride). If there are shower facilities (like on very large rides), bring soap as well. Sunblock is a good idea, too.
NOTE: your riding clothes are going to be… let’s say, not so kosher. If you’ve got a long way home, wrap your clothes in that towel you brought, and place it in a cloth bag. NOT PLASTIC, otherwise you’re going to pass out when you open it after you get home!
Okay, so you’re (relatively) clean, changed into fresh clothes, and got snacks ready to eat. You’ve just ridden a bazillion miles… you might want to sit down. Invest in a folding camp chair. They’re pretty cheap (about $10). Pick up a few (one for you, a couple for friends/family). If you’re one the faster end of the riders or rode a shorter route, it might be a while until your whole team rolls in. Set out your chairs, have a snack, and wait for your teammates. Nothing like being cheered on by your teammates as you finish up a ride.
And if you are cheering on people rolling into the finish: cowbells. Riders LOVE cowbells! I don’t know why, haven’t figured that out yet. But trust me… cowbells, lots and lots of cowbells.