Arts & Life, Sports

Confessions of a newbie cyclist

I have been coveting road bikes for years. On summer training rides, I have worked my ass off trying to keep pace with properly equipped friends on my commuter hybrid. I’d decline invitations to go out on rides, or I’d lag behind, huffing and puffing and always wishing I had a better machine.  That is, if I could even hear my thoughts over my screaming quads. So, I saved my pennies, I overwhelmed myself with internet research and then, a few weeks ago, I rode my commuter bike over to my local retail bike shop, Woodcock Cycle Works, to drain my savings account and finally get myself a serious machine.

I spent weeks agonizing about how much money I should spend. I wanted to hit that retail sweet spot that can be so elusive: to choose a road bike that fits my budget, but is also ambitious enough I don’t outgrow my equipment after two or three years and have to start saving all over again; hopefully, with a little cash left over to enter a triathlon or two and see what my new bike and I can accomplish.

[su_quote align=”right”]I thought my commuter hybrid was the perfect bike for me when I bought it five years ago… It turns out that my ‘perfect on the test ride’ commuter bike and I are ergonomically incompatible[/su_quote]Since I was spending hard-earned savings that took me a few years to accumulate, I worried about how I would know I was choosing the right bike. I thought my commuter hybrid was the perfect bike for me when I bought it five years ago because I felt like I was flying when I rode it. It was the only machine that didn’t just feel like all the other bikes I tested. It turns out that my “perfect on the test ride” commuter bike and I are ergonomically incompatible in ways that lead to pain and loss of sensation in my limbs on rides that exceed 15 kilometers.  Thankfully, when buying a road bike that magical feeling on a test ride is confirmed with actual measurements of your body (arm length, inseam, and sits bones).

The last big decision I had to make was whether or not I should take the plunge and get clipless pedals. (For historical reasons, clipless pedals are actually bike pedals into which fancy cycling shoes are clipped.) Its counter-intuitive and, as a newbie, I feel completely awkward using this, allegedly, accurate term. These pedals can increase the price of a bike significantly and, even more importantly, they terrify me.  I went for it, knowing that falling was inevitable and that low-grade dread would be my new companion.

[related_content slugs=”bowman-back-pedals,area-councillor-stricken-with-cyclophobia,the-bad-cyclist-rethinking-traffic,the-winnipeg-pedestrians-winter-experience,winnipeg-winter-cycling-a-guy-can-dream” description=”More about Bikes & Cycling” position=”right”]Kyle Fowler, the service desk manager at Woodcock, called me over as I was nervously wheeling my clipless-equipped road bike towards the door for our first ride together. Kyle offered me the following excellent advice: “Before you start riding, grab onto a fence or a post and clip in and out a hundred times. Make sure you do it at least a hundred times to create some muscle memory. You may even want to plan to start and finish your first few rides holding onto something.” I can say with certainty that his advice saved me from risking a fall while riding in traffic.

There is no way to learn something new without feeling a little foolish, and if you are particularly uncoordinated – like me – learning new movements generally involves looking quite foolish as well. With this in mind, I waited until I exited the shop before changing into my new cycling shoes because I didn’t want to have my first awkward fall happen while walking my bike out of the shop.  Better to have my first fall in the parking lot. Which I did, right in front of a decent sized crowd of Woodcock shoppers and staff.

Anyone who has spent time in a Winnipeg retail bike shop on a beautiful spring evening will understand the kind of traffic they experience.  In the time it took me to change my shoes and mount my bike to practice with my new clips (while clinging desperately to my brakes with one hand and a bike rack with the other), about ten people had wandered past me. Clip-in, clip-out, clip-in, clip-out. Remember to breathe. Try to calm down. If I am completely honest, I bought clipless pedals and fancy shoes despite the fact the thought of them terrifies me because I wanted to look cool. I did not look cool. Hopefully, cool will come.

[su_quote]If you are afraid of falling, I highly recommend taking a dive in front a crowd of Winnipeg cyclist because they are good people.[/su_quote]I fell less than three meters from the bike shop exit, immediately after I let go of the bike rack I was using to balance myself. I got lucky: I fell in the parking lot and not on the wild streets of Winnipeg traffic. I fell hard on my left side, but barely even suffered enough road rash to qualify as a boo boo.  And all those potentially embarrassing witnesses who saw me fall? Well, they were like a salve for my psyche when they offered sympathy, encouragement, and commiserated with me by sharing stories of their own falls. If you are afraid of falling, I highly recommend taking a dive in front a crowd of Winnipeg cyclist because they are good people.

I have my road bike, my fancy shoes, and I’ve had my first clipless fall. I am starting to feel more and more like a road cyclist with every mile. Onto the next challenge: how sort out all the hand signals and etiquette involved in riding with a group, so I am not the cause of a multi-bike crash. Wish me luck!

Shawna Culleton is a newbie road cyclist who is adapting to clipless pedals, riding in groups and conquering her fear of speed. She promotes cycling in Winnipeg as a longtime year-round cyclist, and as an event coordinator for Bike Week Winnipeg.