Trying not to fall over

Does anyone else panic just a little bit at the idea of having your feet attached to the pedals of a bicycle? Just a little? Well, I tried to put aside that uneasiness today and went for my first ride with “clipless” pedals.

Pippin is wondering where the doggy trailer is so he can come bike riding with me.

New pedals are installed, but Pippin is wondering where the doggy trailer is so he can come with me.

In hindsight, I see that the mantra “Just don’t fall over” isn’t quite right. Maybe something along the lines of “Unclick, brake, plant foot” would be more helpful… But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should explain that I went out for my first ride with clipless pedals, and I didn’t fall over! It actually went quite well.

G had installed clipless pedals on my indoor bike trainer a couple of months ago, so I had the benefit of practicing how to click in and out all summer. By now, I thought that I was familiar enough with the motion that I’d be able to pull it off without collapsing on the pavement, so I asked him to move those pedals onto my road bike.

My hand-me-down clipless pedals are designed for mountain biking but work just fine for a road bike.

My hand-me-down clipless pedals are designed for mountain biking but work just fine for a road bike.

The name “clipless” is misleading because you are literally clipping your foot into the pedal. The reason why it is called clipless is because it is a change from pedals with “toe clips”, which are the loops or cages that you slide your foot in and out of. Toe clips don’t offer an easy way of releasing. “Clipless” pedals, on the other hand, lock you in, but with a twist of your foot will release.

The point of being locked into your bike is mainly efficiency. The shoes lock in to create a firm platform that you can both pull up and push down with each pedal stroke. You save energy and generate more power, which equates to faster speeds and less tired legs.

My shoes have a firm rubber sole for support when riding and comfort when walking. A cleat attached to the ball of the foot fits into the pedal.

My beginner-level shoes have a firm rubber sole for support when riding and comfort when walking. A cleat attached to the ball of the foot fits into the pedal.

As I wheeled the bike to the driveway for my first ride, my stomach did a somersault, and I thought, “Really? You’re really scared about this?” So I bit the bullet, hopped on the bike, started pedaling, and felt my shoe click into the pedal in a way that was familiar from all of the times I had practiced.

When I approached a stop sign, I slowed down, unclicked my left foot, coasted and braked, planted the left foot, and unclicked the right foot to stop fully for my first clipless pedal success!

I didn’t have any goals for this ride, so I took it easy on some roads that I am familiar with. I may have panicked a bit a few times when I was concentrating too much on unclipping and not enough on braking, or when I unclipped, accidentally re-clicked in, and found myself motionless locked to the bike and within a split second of falling over. But that’s part of the learning process, and I know that I need to focus on a lot of different things when I’m preparing to stop. Eventually, it will be second nature.

Every once in a while today I noticed that the pedals were helping to pull up and that I did not have to push down as hard. 12 miles in, I even noticed that my feet hadn’t gone numb, which is usually a given. I think I’m on to something good here, even if it can be slightly terrifying.

For anyone else who is interested in making a transition to clipless pedals, my biggest recommendation is to make sure that you have mastered how to mount the bike and how to start and stop. I know, it sounds like really basic stuff, but if you don’t have the technique right, it will be much more difficult than it needs to be. Hey, if you take it as slowly as I have, you can even avoid falling over on your first ride, which I have to say is encouraging.

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