I thought I'd start with something simple: The Pre-Ride Check. Everyone probably does this before a ride, but here are some things to think about doing before you swing your leg over the frame and start spinning the cranks.
-Check tires for damage & inflate tires to maximum recommended pressure
When you ride on paved roads and bike paths, you encounter all sorts of road debris. Glass shards, sand, gravel, sticks, branches, etc. can all conspire to make your tires deflate halfway through your ride. Look for large cuts in the rubber and for potential problem spots, like embedded glass or gravel.
-Spin the wheels
Make sure your brake pads aren't rubbing on the rims and that the wheel is trued.
-Squeeze the brake levers
If your brakes don't work, it's best to find out now, rather than screaming down a hill at 40mph.
-Spin the cranks and run through the gears
Again, you'll want to know if your bike is shifting sloppily now, instead of when you're climbing that monster hill in a high gear and blowing up half-way through.
-Inventory your saddle-bag
That little bag is under your saddle for a reason: USE IT. It's a good idea to carry a spare tube (make sure you have the correct [presta or schrader] valve), tire-levers or Quik-Stick, patch kit, pump, and a multi-tool. I love my little CO2 pump, so I also carry an extra CO2 cartridge.
-Check your helmet
Your helmet is your insurance policy. Look for any cracks or weaknesses in the shell and the foam. If you see any, REPLACE IT! The same goes for if you've crashed with your helmet. A bike helmet is meant to be impacted once and then replaced.
Some helmet companies have a crash replacement policy, so check with your helmet manufacturor or your local bike shop before you cough up for a replacement helmet after a crash.
-Inventory your jersey pockets
Always carry some form of identification, cash and/or credit card for a mid-ride snack or post-ride coffee, health insurance card, and of course, your cell-phone. I carry all of this in a zip-lock bag so it doesn't get gross from sweat or wet from rain.
It's a rare day that I don't ride with my iPod. But that being said, I limit myself to low volume and using only my right ear-bud, so I can hear what's happening around me. Music helps performance, but it can be dangerous if it distracts you from your surroundings.
-Remember your water bottle(s) and your sunglasses
Fill with water or your favorite flavor of Gatorade. If you use Gatorade or Powerade, you might want to water it down to half-strength, otherwise it will be too sweet to drink under effort.
It's a good idea to wear some form of eye protection. Speaking from personal experiance, gnats and errant sunbeams at just the right angle can make it really hard to concentrate on where you're going.
Until next time, ride long and keep the rubber-side down.