Saturday, November 10, 2012

Revolution of a cyclist: All clipped in

Cleats are one of the last big hurdles I have to clear before I can call myself a cyclist. If in fact I want to be called a cyclist. That's a question still to be answered. Regardless, if I want to ride with Leif I'll need to start using cleats or accept his gracious ability to ride slowly without sighing every ten seconds. I still know he's riding differently for me.

Last night Leif and I screwed the cleats into my cycling shoes. This isn't some kind of commitment, really, because I have pedals that are flat on one side and set up for cleats on the other. A pedal that can go either way and I can decide from moment to moment whether I want to be semi-permanently attached to the pedals or just rest on them. Which is perfect for me, because while I might think that it's the right time for me to try cleats my body and mind may think otherwise. I've been warned by more experienced riders that it's definitely one of the most difficult things to learn on a bike but one of the things you really need to learn if you want to ride with more confidence up hill and down. And we definitely have hills. It remains to be seen if it will increase my confidence.

So we put the cleats on the shoes last night and I sat on my bike in the living room (which remember is our bike/wine/map room, we don't even let company see that room) and held onto a bookshelf as I clumsily tried to clip in  and out. It's supposed to be one graceful movement out and a simple push in. I looked like I was stuck to the pedal with bubble gum and couldn't get myself unstuck. It wasn't pretty. Leif had a very concerned look on his face. I'm sure he was thinking that he got me all trained this far and it would all be for naught because I couldn't figure out the cleats.

He kept saying "It'll be different when you're actually riding," but I'm not sure if he was saying that to give me confidence or to comfort himself. I desperately wanted to believe him, because I truly sucked in the living room. Truly.

I was already set up with Barbara to ride today. Note my brilliant planning...I asked her to ride with me before we ever attempted the clips at home. No turning back once you've confirmed a riding date unless it's pouring rain. Which I fervently prayed for. I guess more people were praying for nice weather than for rain and today dawned, if not brightly, at least not damply.

So I headed out to meet Barbara and we rode to Cascina Park where on Saturday mornings the masses go to ride, roller skate, skateboard, walk and run. They also go to socialize, read the paper and walk the dog, often simultaneously. Sounds like the perfect place to learn a skill that requires focus and concentration and has the very real possibility of physical danger to yourself and others, right?

She was great, explaining the finer points of getting in and out of the cleats without (hopefully)harming myself or others and then we did a few trial ins and outs while standing still. I chose the cleat-on-one-foot-only method, so basically I had one foot attached and one foot free. Sounds safe, doesn't it? We rode for a little way then she signaled a stop and this is where I was supposed to simply put my free foot down on the ground and stand still.

I did that perfectly. And all hell broke loose. I don't know how it happened but suddenly I was flat on my back on the road. I fell like a giant redwood. Caboom. And like moths to a flame, every male rider and runner within 100 feet of me turned and started to come to me asking if they could help. I was laying flat on my back underneath my bike laughing so hard I could hardly talk. I sat up and waved everyone away, shaking my head and laughing even harder. Because Barbara was next to me with both hands waving in the air shouting (in Italian) "First time using cleats! First time!! First time using cleats!!!!!!" Anyone who hadn't seen me fall heard her yells and turned to see a crazy blonde woman laying under her bike laughing her fool head off while her friend held off potential offers of help like a traffic cop moving along gawkers at the scene of an accident.

Truly one of the most embarrassing moments of my life and that's saying a lot. I'm quite good at embarrassing myself.

I got up and made sure nothing was broken, bruised or bleeding. I was a little dirty and I sort of scuffed up the tape on the handle bar and the seat was definitely listing to one side, but other than that everything was OK. Somehow I managed to be gracefully clumsy and not actually hurt myself, other than a little scratch where my keys poked into my back when I fell. I must have perfected my falling technique since I broke my elbow. I forced the seat into a more central location and got ready to go again. Because damn if I was going to let the bike win. Besides, I had the dreaded first fall while using cleats behind me. No more worrying what it would be like, because it's done.

That was the highlight of the ride. We spent the next couple of hours riding around the park while I practiced stepping in/out, stopping/starting and being clipped in left foot/right foot/both feet (gasp). And we talked. It was a great morning. Even with the fall, which as I explained was going to happen sometime anyway so why not right away. Get it over with and move on. Now to try them in traffic.....

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