Staff photo by Tim Barber / Durward Higgins holds the group of items he rides with on his cycle.

There is a conscious decision every cyclist has to make when going for a ride: What do I carry?

Cyclists who tour long distances will carry pounds of gear in saddle packs and on small trailers, while someone going for a long day-ride may take keys, wallet, cellphone, food, repair kit, a utility tool, water bottles, weather gear and more.

It's typical to see weekend warriors and professional riders alike on training rides with their jersey pockets bulging with fuel and gear, each item adding weight in a sport where more pounds mean more work to get to the finish.

And that causes others — like Chattanooga resident Durward Higgins — to obsess over weight. Every ounce could mean a pedal stroke slower.

Higgins is one of the top-ranked masters cyclists in the U.S. He sheds weight wherever possible. His 11-pound bike is so comically light, it wouldn't be legal in international cycling events (which have minimum weight requirements).

"I go to extremes to carry as little as possible," he says.

Higgins, a retired field engineer for General Electric, will carry nothing, not even water bottles, in some shorter races or those built around a mountain climb. His nutrition comes by a careful diet leading to the race.

The 77-year-old has won 12 national championships with USA Cycling, multiple Senior Olympics gold medals, and set a relay age-group record that still stands in the 2012 Ride Across America — widely considered one of the hardest endurance events in the world. It was the highlight of Higgins' cycling career: him and three other riders crossing the U.S. by bike in 6 days, 13 hours and 13 minutes, breaking the 70+ age group record by 27 hours. When USA Cycling added a hill climb national championship up Pikes Peak in Colorado for two years, Higgins raced and won his age-group title both years.

Even his training rides involve shedding weight, but he does carry several essentials to get through the ride if he gets a flat tire or needs help.

"I think the fact I have a phone is kind of an escape valve. I know a lot of guys that I ride with carry more stuff than I do, but I figure if I have a breakdown, I'm just going to call my wife to come get me," he says.

Higgins' must-haves

"I have my little repair kit. That's just in a plastic bag. It's a tube, just one inner tube. I've got one CO2 filler nozzle, the one CO2 cartridge, one self-adhesive patch.

"I have my ID, a credit card and a $10 bill that can be a boot in a tire if needed. If I were to have a bad cut on my tire, I could stick that in there. I take my phone and my car fob."

Higgins' nutrition is key in helping him keep his trip needs to a minimum. Whether or not you're watching weight, you could probably stand to take a cue from a top-ranked athlete.

GO: A lot of cyclists have jersey pockets and carry food and drinks. How do you ensure you don't bonk (the endurance term for running out of energy and hitting the figurative wall)?

DH: Well, I look at about how many hours we're going to go so I know about how long it is going to take, and the nature of the ride, you know, if it's going to have climbs and all. I know that a small bike bottle is going to last me about an hour and a large one's going to last me an hour and a half. That's kind of a rule of thumb in cycling.

I use Hammer products, and I know one scoop for a regular bottle, scoop and a half for a large bottle. If I do a 60-mile ride, I can do that on two large bottles. But I know we will almost always make a store stop, so I'll buy a bottle of water or possibly a bottle of Gatorade to finish the ride on.

For food, just before the ride I have what I call my 15-minute bottle. I drink that 15 minutes before the ride starts. It's not a full bottle, but it's about a third of a bottle. It's got a powder in it that's made by Hammer that is basically powdered beets. It's a nitrate. The name of it is Fully Charged, which doesn't tell you much of what's in it, but it's basically a beet powder. I'll often put in an electrolyte tablet. I also put an espresso gel in it to give me a little caffeine kick. I'll usually have the beet powder in my first bottle, also; a scoop of the beet powder.

GO: Have you tinkered with what you carry over the years?

DH: Yeah, yeah. This beet thing is kind of new. Just the last few years this beet thing has happened. I've been using it, I don't know, maybe three years.

It's supposed to make your body carry oxygen better. Actually, before I started buying this Hammer product, before they came out with it, I was buying beet juice. My wife would order it, bottles of beet juice, and I'd drink that an hour before a ride would start.

I also started growing a lot of beets, and my wife grows them in our yard. People go crazy about beets, but the reason they are so popular is the nitrate. And when you look at a chart of vegetables with the most nitrate, beets are not at the top; arugula is at the top. So we grow a lot of arugula in the yard, and spinach and beets.

I eat more greens like that for breakfast than most people will eat in two weeks or so. You wouldn't believe all the greens that go in the blender for my breakfast.

GO: Anything else people might not think of? You were showing me the piece of paper you carry

DH: [On it is] my wife's name and her cell number, and I think my home number. It also has my blood type, and I think my doctor's name. Which I need to change, incidentally. I changed doctors recently.

GO: What's the importance of having that piece of paper?

DH: That's just for safety. I know when I worked, we had a card in our wallet that had that on it in case we were injured and had to have a transfusion quickly or something.