The First Time I Clipped In

“Nah, you go tour the bike studio,” I told my friends. “I need to run. I have some anger to work out.”

“But…” C looked at me, confused. “If you didn’t fall, what’s there to be angry about?”

I didn’t really have an answer, in the moment. But I gave the best one I could, which was that today’s ride took all the positive feelings I had about cycling after last week and — to put it delicately — shit all over them.

It was inevitable. Take a girl who actually hyperventilated at the thought of getting on a bike for the vast majority of the 14 years preceding November 2011, present her with a bunch of new challenges all at once, and she’s eventually going to crack. Today was just my day to crack.

There were a handful of us clipping in for the first time, and another handful who were still pretty new, so our coach hung back to ride with us. I thought that would be awesome. Instead, it turned into a long session exposing all of the things I do wrong on the bike, and — god, why am I even writing this on the internet? — at one point I ended up crying on the side of the Paradise Road ride I’d totally dominated less than a week earlier.

I’m not proud of that. And I am proud of a lot of things that happened today, e.g.: I rode my bicycle clipped in! For kind of a long time! And I dealt with stopping and starting in traffic, and I even figured out that just because I can never get my left foot clipped in fast enough, I can just ride kind of on top of the pedal and eventually it will work out.

But. Buuuuut. I was kind of in a good place with riding, last week. I’d cobbled together this weird way of doing things, sure, but it worked. Today felt like being asked (or forced) to change too many things too fast, and now I’m feeling angry and resentful of biking and cyclists and the day I decided to do a triathlon. It will pass, but ugh.

It’s novice-cyclist-ranting-on-the-internet time! Ready? OK!

Here’s the list of all the things I do wrong. I don’t come off the saddle to start or stop; I just lean to the left and get my toes down. I ride in my drops almost always and hate being up on the knobs. I brake too much. I know these things. Some of them I’d like to fix; others, I don’t really see what the big deal is. Maybe someday I will see what the big deal is, but right now, look: I am 5’1″ and I buy my mittens from the kids’ section of REI and there were approximately three bikes in this whole damn city that were small enough for me to even test-ride. I am used to hacking lots of things about my life to make them work for me, so I didn’t think twice about doing the same for riding.

On Thursday, when I bought my shoes, I rode on the trainer in the shop for a bit, and the guy who was helping me was horrified that I was riding in my drops almost exclusively. He told me I needed to start sitting up, and I’d have better control that way, and anyway, didn’t my hands go numb all the time? (Foreshadowing!) I said no, my hands don’t go numb, and actually, I thought I’d like riding on the knobs but I feel like I can’t reach the brakes well enough. He said, “Oh, I can fix that,” adjusted my handlebars up, and sure, on the trainer, it felt good.

But in the actual world, on a road with cars and OMG CLIP SHOES, I still wanted to ride down. It’s where I’m comfortable. It’s where I know I can stop. And so when we started today, I just rode how I always do — and rode myself straight into the same lecture about riding up, this time from our coach. I tried it, I wasn’t comfortable, I went back down. I tried it, I wasn’t comfortable, I went back down. Eventually he went to help someone else, and I was free to go back in the drops.

Except: With the handlebars at their new angle, my hands went numb within five minutes.

Plus, at every intersection I was getting a speech about starting wrong. And I was attached to a bicycle. And my left foot was going numb inside my shoe. And every time I stopped, I’d ride what felt like a mile with only one foot clipped in while I kicked my left foot around like a flopping fish. And people kept saying, “Isn’t it sooo much better to ride clipped in?” and I knew yes was the right answer, but my hands were numb and I was riding in an uncomfortable position because of that and everything sucked and finally I just had to pull over and stop and shake it out. And at that moment, my coach rode up and said, “See, I told you your hands would go numb riding like that.” And I was done.

I get that I should ride up more. I get that I should stop and start differently. I do. But getting me on a bike at all requires some concession to where I feel comfortable. I’ve been happier in the drops since the day I brought Penelope home. It took me a frustratingly long time to consistently start and stop without panicking, and the way I do it isn’t “right,” but see, it’s still a freaking miracle every day that I get on a bicycle.

I’m happy to do the work. I’ll ride up for 10 minutes of every ride until I get comfortable with it. I’ll try to start differently at one start every time I go out. But I can’t just change things all at once. That’s not me. I have to ease into it. I have to do it when I’m ready. And today I was ready for exactly one new thing, and that was the clips, and everything else will have to wait.

But hey: I didn’t fall! So there’s that. And my handlebars are back in their normal position. And it’ll be OK.

I really thought this story was going to go, “OMG! I fell over at a stop sign! But then things were awesome.” It’s funny that neither part of that turned out to be true.

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10 thoughts on “The First Time I Clipped In

  1. Ugh. Your coach sounds like he doesn’t get how coaching works, especially when someone is new to something. I’ve had coaches like that for different things sometimes, & eventually I just had to say, “Listen, I appreciate the feedback but I already know x, y, & z & I’m working on it, so maybe you could just focus on anything I’m doing RIGHT for now.” (It didn’t always help, but sometimes it did.) It’s no fun when the person who’s supposed to be helping you learn just makes you feel shitty. No one can learn when they feel like that. 😦

    • kimretta says:

      I’m usually much better at ignoring the advice I’m not ready to take! This time was so frustrating because I couldn’t go back to my regular way, what with the whole numb-hand thing. I’m hoping that’s now fixed and I can go back to doing what I’m ready to do, when I’m ready to do it.

      I’m realizing my attitude probably didn’t do me any favors here — I definitely acted like someone the coach could joke with and tease, plus overplayed the whole “hehe I don’t know anything about biking!” angle. That was good up to a point, but I definitely didn’t build in any space to be left alone.

  2. Linda says:

    Ditto Angela”s comments. Way to not help, “Coach (?)”!!

  3. shelby says:

    Well: YOU DIDN’T FALL! 🙂

    I remember years ago (when I used to actually ride my bike), I couldn’t figure out how to work the clips so I took my shoes + pedals back to the bike shop where I’d bought them, insisting that there was something wrong. I sat on their trainer for about 45 minutes, practicing, until they convinced me there wasn’t. I then left the shop and attempted to clip in for the ride home – and fell over in the middle of a busy intersection.

    You are learning a new skill-based activity in which things like technique and form matter a lot – give it a little time, you’ll get there!

    • kimretta says:

      I’m starting to realize how very *technical* biking is compared to running. I mean, I’m sure at higher levels than the ones where I run, little things make a big difference too, but for the most part the craziest I get is picking out shoes. (And that can get pretty crazy, but at the end of the day, I’m still “just running.”) When I’m already on finer points of biking technique, or the guy at the bike shop is asking which of a zillion quarter-turns of tension I want my cleats set to, I want to yell, “One step at a time, buddy, I’m just trying to make this thing GO FORWARD.”

  4. Diana says:

    It is SO hard to take perspective and not get overwhelmed in the heat of the moment when you are clipped in, doing something you have feared your whole life, and when you are getting intrusiveness/too much information that isn’t immediately relevant. One thing at a time, coach! I am super impressed with your latest adventure and the fact that you persevered!!

    • kimretta says:

      Thank you! I am so excited for our possibly parallel triathlons in June! Now I just need to decide if I’m signing up …

  5. Kristina says:

    I think it’s amazing that you’ve already been biking WITH people at this point – it took me a year to get up the courage to do anything with other people. As other people have said and as you’ve noted yourself, biking requires specific skills that take time to develop. It’s one thing to know what you are supposed to do, but you have to figure out what works for you.
    Good luck with it! And congrats on not falling down!

    • kimretta says:

      Thanks! I think I’m only biking with people because I spent ~15 years not having the motivation to learn on my own. BUT, when it comes time to learn how to clip, or hold the handlebars in a different way, or start out of the saddle, I really, really crave a few minutes on an empty side street where I can screw up in peace. So that’s what’s on tap for this week.

  6. Naomi says:

    If it makes you feel any better, one day I aspire to be like you! Just the thought of clipping in makes me hyperventilate, but you did it! Progress!

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