Musings on Bicycling and Buddhism

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Voyage Into Clipless

Tales from the Road

So I lay on the path with gravel embedded in my knee and I laughed. Bike on top of me, a couple of people going by and they may very well have figured that I'd completely lost it. But that was a good laugh.

You see, I'd just gone my first 60 some odd miles with clipless shoes and pedals.

With the final 10 miles and the most challenging hills yet to come I was getting a little tired and did not disengage my foot in time. I've got a few scratches and a purple knee but I earned my newbie markings with pride.

This entire change has been a long time coming.

Late for Dinner

I get into things late. When I was seven and I couldn't transition out of training wheels I made the kind of cut-and-dried decision that young children seem so good at; I decided I would never bike again and I would be damned if I kept those training wheels on at that age. Three years went by and I started riding horses in between. At the ripe old age of ten I got on a bike for the first time in three years, and just rode. Wobbly yes, but there was no going back after that.

My story followed that frequently told tale, I bicycled everywhere until I could drive. Then I kept biking. College came, but I did not take my try at urban cycling until I moved off-campus and the advent of Gus the hybrid commuter. When Charlie came along I learned to ride with the toe basket (aka toe clip) pedals that he came with. But ever on the periphery of my cyclist observations from biking around were these shoe/pedal interfaces - part of both the shoe and the pedal that I saw seemingly certain people had. Science fiction bicycle feet.

(And as a linguist, that they're called clipless when they are actually clips is ever so annoying..If this is a new thing for you, read this.)


This past year has brought a lot of changes. At this time last year I had only one bicycle and was still relatively ignorant of how to care for it properly. (Now I have 3 and do most of the maintenance myself.) At this time last year I'd never built up a bike. (Now I've built up several.) At this time last year my longest bike ride had been about 30 miles. (Now I've gone over a metric century a few times.) At this time last year I would never have tried to do some of the things I do now.

Last fall, in one of those manic ideas that seems great at the time, I took my exhausted self on my first 60 mile bike ride. I was struggling so deeply at work and in my life at the time biking alone on an unknown route, in 20+mph headwinds, in November with no support, no specialized equipment, no experience, and a yearning desire to prove something to myself all seemed like a great idea.

I bonked, but I did it. It took me seven hours and multiple times getting lost, but I made it.

While it snowed all winter I dreamed of biking more and further than I could imagine was physically possible for me.

Clipless Voyages

As I trained for the Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon I rode with the Bandit Man many times. The Bandit Man, being as he is, can climb hills with his rocketship legs. To my observance he has never met a hill he couldn't climb. Myself on the other hand, I've meet with hills and they have won, time and again - relegating me to walking up them.

The November solo ride where I bonked had me walking up all the hills for the last 10 miles. And it's those 10 miles that have the most hills. In April the Bandit Man accompanied me on the ride home, part of which was the Boston Populaire route by the NER. With getting lost and making up the last part of the route to my mother's house, that day's ride was over 70 miles. There were many hills. I walked up quite a few. The Bandit Man climbed them all and waited for me at the top.

That was my first long ride this year. In late March I struggled with just 30 miles. In April I was able to do over 50 for the Midnight Marathon Ride (out and back, no hill walking there!). The day after the 70+ mile ride, we rode the 65 miles back. Back and forth the training rides have gone - I've made a route that is just about 70 miles long and finally have it memorized, so that's helped with time and stopping.

But those hills keep pestering me.

Long over the winter I asked the pro-cyclist of my household for her product reviews on clipless pedals. She has consistently answered my ridiculous questions on all manner of topics for which I am incredibly grateful.

And so came my voyage into clipless. On Saturday I rode 70 miles clipless. And 70 the next day.

I had never quite realized how tilty I ride. The shoes have rather helped realign me. My body was confused as it fought to put me back into my off-kilter, one shoulder pitched up and front, hips facing too far to the left position I have adopted unconsciously over the years. Once I stopped fighting this I found that I did not hurt as much and tire as quickly. My legs got more bang for their buck. The time it took to reach my destination was shortened.

I was floored.

Back to the Top

As as I fell over on the Wachusett Greenway, and later at a red light in Somerville I got to laugh. As I've acquired the scrapes and purple knee I wear my newbie badges with honor. I'm learning how to ride all over again and it's great.

Maybe you're never too old to start anew?

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Tour de What You Will by Jessie Calkins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License