Confession: I Was (Am?) Afraid of a Pair of Shoes

Five minutes into a 40-mile ride
and I'm already covered in chain grease. 
It happened exactly the way I knew it would. I approached an intersection, turned my head to look for traffic, and realized I was still completely attached to my shiny red road bike. Slowly, comedically, and with a pitiful yelp, I started to tip over. With plenty of time to figure out the most efficient and least harmful way to cushion my fall, I landed relatively painlessly on the pavement. I was in the middle of rolling my eyes at myself when I noticed a little girl with training wheels riding toward me on the sidewalk. She stopped, aghast, and turned to her father, who subsequently asked if I was alright.

Of course I was alright. I'd known the crash was inevitable when the clerk at EMS in Philadelphia sold me a discounted pair of cycling shoes. Everyone has to fall at least once when they're learning how to ride with clipless pedals, right? Might as well get it out of the way sooner rather than later - unless you're me.

The fear of tipping over in the middle of the street was enough to prevent me from taking my cycling shoes and my road bike out at the same time for two years.

I bought the cycling shoes specifically for spinning classes I was taking to train to climb Mount Rainier in 2010. Lucky for me, the day I chose to peruse the shoe department at EMS was the same day a pair of baby blue and silver women's size 41 Northwave cycling shoes, stained with some sort of yellow goo, found themselves on the discount shelf at the beginning of cycling season. (I have absolutely no idea what model they are, but they look quite similar to these.) It was fate.

My bike, SPD-ready pedals and all, waiting to go out for a spin.
The shoes came with me to spin class after spin class, and I felt pretty awesome about the fact that I could finally get the full power out of my pedal strokes... not that I was using them to go anywhere or anything. Regardless, I climbed Rainier, stopped going to spinning classes, and used the platform side of my Shimano SPD dual platform pedals whenever I wanted to ride my road bike. That is, until one fateful day less than a month ago.

I let my brother talk me into joining his Bike MS City to Shore team for the annual 150-mile ride put on by the National MS Society, and by that fateful day in August, I'd done three "training rides" amounting to 30 total miles. (I'm not counting the 30 minutes I put in on a borrowed Minoura bike trainer because I wasn't trying very hard.) It occurred to me that using the platform side of the pedals to ride to Ocean City, New Jersey and back was about as inefficient as inefficient gets. Coupled with my lack of time in the saddle, I was setting myself up for a very uncomfortable ride, even with a pair of fancy padded shorts. So I put on my big girl pants, took a deep breath and ventured out on to the streets of Philadelphia to master the art of riding a bike with clipless pedals, hoping the inevitable crash wouldn't be in traffic. 

My brother and I at the start of the Scenic Schuylkill Century.
I rode around the block a few times, mixing in the occasional deserted side street, practicing sliding the ball of my foot into just the right position to allow the cleat on the shoe to click into place. Once I felt about as comfortable as I knew I could feel on my first ride, I decided it was time to venture toward the Schuylkill Trail to complete my 15 mile ride for the day. The only problem was, at the first intersection I came to after making that decision, I slowed to stop and forgot to unclip. Oops.

It didn't even hurt. 

Well, maybe a little, but it was almost entirely an ego-based hurt. I ate pavement right in front of a stop sign on a small side street, got up, dusted myself off, and made it through the rest of the ride unscathed. This weekend, I rode the 40-mile route of the Scenic Schuylkill Century clipped in to my road bike, which I've affectionately named The Little Red Wagon. (My bike computer told me I actually rode a total of 42.35 miles. I'll take it!) My brother was there too, of course, because there's no way I was going to risk tipping over again without someone there to laugh about it with me. Am I still a little nervous about tipping over? Absolutely, but now, at least I know what if feels like. And there's nothing worse than letting fear prevent you from doing something you want to do.

In hindsight, tipping over wasn't nearly as big of a deal as I thought it was. Have you had an experience like that - taking on something you thought was huge, but turned out to not be that bad? If you've ridden a bike with clipless pedals, do you remember your first fall? 

Comments