Above is what’s in the first aid kit I carry in my backpack and never bike without. Overkill? Perhaps, but despite having never been a boy scout, I have this thing about wanting to be prepared — be it for me, a friend I’m riding with, or a stranger in need. Because being prepared on a bike is far better than the other way around — even if it is a far more involved process.

I don’t write much about how much work it is to ride a bike — and I’m talking about the mental aspect, not the physical.

The average person might see a cyclist on the road and lean toward a view of bike riding as some sort of laid-back, carefree activity. Don’t I wish. Certainly it’s far more laid back on a beach path, or the Ballona Creek Bikeway. But on the streets of a city such as Los Angeles it’s the distinct opposite. Urban cycling is quite the care-full enterprise, one that might look casual at a glance but if you’re going to do it right and safely bicycle in the city it really involves levels of preparation before you saddle up and a hyper-awareness that functions on a variety of layers keeping you focused and attuned to what’s going on all around you.

At any given time I’m on my bike, I’m keeping myself informed of who and what I’m sharing the road with in front, beside and behind me. While doing that I’m monitoring surface conditions in front of me for obstacles or damage or changes in the roadway. If I’m riding in the door zone, I’m literally clearing the parked vehicles I’m approaching of driver-side occupants. If there’s a wind I know which way its blowing. I can hear birds singing, people talking, horns honking, tires rolling, music playing, engines revving, brakes squeaking, helicopters helicoptering, doors slamming, dogs barking. Taking that all in I strive to make eye contact with anyone who has the potential to cross my path. I smell the burning clutch, the honeysuckle, the sewer, the exhaust, the perfume, the cooking food, the body odor, the cigarette smoke. I register the slight rises or drops in the grade of the street I’m traveling and adjust my pedaling cadence and/or strength. I govern my speed at all times to ensure not only my safety but so that I can take evasive action if required.

All the while doing my best to maintain that always delicate balance on two thin strips of tire tread.