Archive | April, 2014

Cycling with cleats

11 Apr

After my extensive experience cycling with cleats (ha ha – one ride!), I have decided to put together a list of tips that anyone new to cycle shoes can read and…well… probably disregard!

This week I finally made the change… I’ve listened to friends and family regularly advise me that cycling with cleats and cycle shoes would make a significant improvement in my riding – however, I was still too afraid to make the change. Two weeks ago I bit the bullet, measured myself up, studied reviews on and purchased a pair of cycling shoes, pedals and cleats. They arrived this week and I immediately fitted the new pedals to the bike and the cleats to my shoes. But then came the next challenge… finding the courage to actually ride. So, firstly I sought the advice of family and friends as to how one goes about learning the art of the cycle shoe. These were their initial tips:

  • Practice getting your shoe in and out of the pedal. Practice until it feels like it is almost second nature, and then practice a bit more
  • Try making the tension in the pedal super loose to make it easier to get in and out of the pedal
  • Practice in a safe environment

So, I took all that information on board. The safest environment was out the front of the house – and I’m sure I got more than a few strange looks from the train commuters for a couple of days there… I reached the point where I thought okay, I’m getting the feel of this – let’s try riding. Hmmmmmm now that is a whole lot easier said than done. I was terrified. Terrified. How do you even start? My feet were slipping on the pedals, clipping in while moving seemed impossible, and how does one do all that while trying to balance?? I’ll be honest here – I ended up with a couple of wedgies as I fell with one foot still clipped in (but hey I stayed upright!)… one minor bruise on the leg from an incident with the handle bars and I’d had enough. Perhaps I didn’t want these cycle shoes after all (NB: for those that don’t know me well, I like to do things right – the first time – if it doesn’t work the first time I can be a bit…hmmm how shall I say this… cranky – I decide that I’ll “never” get it and I just might as well not bother… quite a character trait isn’t it!!). So, that was the first night – a couple of very minor bumps and I was ready to throw in the towel and just stick to flat pedals and sneakers.

The next morning I was on a late shift at work so had a bit more time. Was I game to give it another go? Not really… but after some “encouragement” from Dave I decided I better (our favourite phrase ‘toughen up princess’ may have been used). More practice clipping in and out until I was sick of the mosquitos biting me from staying in one spot (and that was after the tropical strength aeroguard!). Then I moved out to the street – supported by a stobie pole I balanced, practiced clipping in and out some more and then decided I just had to try and ride… nope, I can’t do it, I’ll fall – that was all I could think about. Did I already mention I was terrified?? Then I started to think about how often I fall from my current bike while balanced (very rarely) – so why was this such a problem?? How do I start riding when I have flat pedals? I always start the same way – with my right foot on the pedal, then the left one joins the party. So, why not apply the same principles – it’s not rocket science! So out the front on the little strip of lawn I practiced starting – I learned fast that I was able to unclip my feet quickly when I needed to (which was often as I took really sharp 180 degree turns) to head back to my starting point. After a bit I decided I just had to do it – so I ventured out on the road – and I did it! I rode around for just a short while – tried to find a couple of hills and corners, practiced clipping and unclipping while riding, braking, and even when I had a bit of speed up… I tried to simulate what I might need to do, in case I needed to do it. With a little more confidence I headed home, deciding to venture out on my first proper ride with cleats in the morning.

So, that is where you find me now – on the couch, after an 80km ride with my new shoes this morning. I rode to the beach, had some breakfast (well Gatorade and a muffin) and then rode home again. This is the advice I am now giving myself, which you are welcome to adhere to as well:

  • First and foremost – pray for protection – this is your first proper ride with cycle shoes – you might just need some divine intervention
  • Second is almost as important – listen to your father. If his recommendation is to unclip both pedals at traffic lights then go with that (this also applies to intersections and other places where you may have to stop). He is your father; he has your best interests at heart. He has fallen before, so probably has some experience in this matter. If you choose (in your infinite wisdom and experience) to not listen to him, this time you may get away with only an egg, bruise and a little broken skin on your ankle – it could be far worse – learn from your mistakes
  • Bike way works, like road works on every good holiday, will present themselves regularly along your path. At these road works there are generally, as a minimum 10 blokes (though in some cases there will be more). You do not want to fall off in front of these chaps – that would be far too embarrassing… so, slow right down, unclip early and dismount when the sign says so. That will save you fishtailing your bike as you go past… which hey, let’s face it, may have been construed as brilliant bike handling… or rider incompetence… this is all hypothetically speaking of course…
  • Snakes. You’ve learned from your last experience and had the calmness to pass behind their direction of travel this time, rather than exactly where they are headed. Well done. Just keep riding like you’re cool with having passed a snake… and your heart rate will return to normal, and both of you can go about your day as if nothing ever happened. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can get up some speed with cleats – the snake will be long gone.
  • Children. It is always wise to approach a family with children with caution. Reduce your speed to a crawl and still endeavour to keep your balance, stay clipped in and be prepared for anything. Daniel’s Dad will advise him to keep left, but Daniel may be too young to know which way is left, and therefore rather than keep left may do a U-turn to ask Dad what he said…directly in front of you… which brings me to an important point – always know your options – just like if you were driving – swerving around small children at late notice may be required –that can be difficult when you are hardly moving and clipped in… but it is possible… and you may all be able to continue on with your day without further incident
  • Dogs. Always sound your bell so owners know you are passing and can, theoretically, hold the dog on a tighter leash while you pass. 99% of the time this works well. If dogs happen to be passing dogs ahead of you, be prepared for anything – including owners trying to control said dogs as they dart in random directions all over the bike path… approach with caution… it will save on the tears
  • Hills – one in particular on your path is quite short but very steep. It is wise to choose appropriate gears prior to commencing the ascent. While small children at the bottom of the ascent may prevent you from getting any kind of run up, being in the right gear may prevent the handlebars leaving an imprint in your navel…But congratulations on working out how to unclip quickly!
  • Food. It’s important, everyone knows that. If you embark on a decent ride, hypothetically 80kms…, then it would be wise to have some kind of energy before the half way point (and no, dinner 17 hours ago doesn’t really count…). You’ll be much better equipped mentally and physically to handle the ride. Your reflexes will be better. You will feel stronger. You will have the brain power to be able to quickly clip in and out of the pedals whenever required. So, ensure adequate food and fluid intake.
  • Sunscreen. It’s just as important as food. If there is any possibility you are going to go on a decent ride then choosing sunscreen that has a longer duration of action than the length of your ride would be wise. That or take some to reapply later. That cyclist tan may appear quicker than anticipated…
  • Finally, enjoy yourself – cycling with cycle shoes feels really smooth and you feel like you can get up a decent speed without feeling like you are putting in as much work (so, obviously to go faster you need to work harder – but start with a pace you are comfortable with while you’re adjusting to cleats). Cycle shoes also feel like they require the use of slightly different muscles so be prepared to be pretty tired when you get home.

On that note, I think I need a nap…


“Breakfast” by the beach – half way through my ride