The joy of falling


Sometimes you just have to face your fears and get on with it. Jane Still battled coordination and clip-in pedals and came out stronger.

When I bought proper cycling shoes and cleats, my sister told me, “You will fall off.”

Not what you want to hear when you’re naturally clumsy. I am forever slipping over that tiniest smear of grease on the kitchen floor, or that one squashed grape in the fruit and veg aisle.

I don’t know how to land gracefully or safely, and it seems that all the rolls of flab in the world won’t protect your bony protuberances when you land on them from a great height.

When I tried to get on my bike in the backyard and figure out how clamping my feet to pedals was actually going to work, I cried, and I hadn’t even fallen off yet. How on earth was I going to do this? How was I going to manage when the prospect of a fall, and not just from my feet onto the kitchen floor, was a certainty?

I found that the only way to figure that out was to commit to the clamping, and to the inevitable fall; not to timidly push my bike around the yard, but to get onto the street and get up some momentum and trust that the advice I’d been given would keep me upright for at least a time.

I pushed my right foot onto the cleat, and lifted it to the top of the stroke. I pushed down hard, simultaneously engaging the clip with the pedal and driving the wheels forward. I had no choice but to follow suit with the left foot, clipping it in with a chunky click and feeling the bike leap forward.

I rode around the block.

I didn’t fall off.

I unclipped before I came to a stop at my driveway, and still I didn’t fall off. I felt a great wave of indulgent pride wash over me, and it was still there when I set out for work the next day. I exulted in the feeling of doubled power as my legs pulled up on the pedals as well as pushing down. The dread Mega Hill of Death became a mere molehill and I smirked as I whirred past riders who were struggling as I had done only the week before.

Just before my destination there is a difficult intersection where riders have to negotiate a line of cars and position themselves to move off. I am used to darting around and sticking my feet wherever I need in order to jostle for my own rightful position. I did this, but underestimated how much time I would need to free my foot. It stuck fast, the bike slowed, wobbled, and then in a graceful motion of surrender, keeled over to the side, taking me with it — fortunately, onto the grassy verge.

With no physical damage, and cars and snickering pedestrians everywhere around me, I managed to extricate my feet, and walk, duck-like in my treacherous shoes, over to the footpath. My bravado had completely left me and my whole body was shaking. I knew that I had to get to my destination and I wasn’t going to get there clattering around on cleats. I had to get back on the bike.

The rest of my ride was tentative, but I got there. I had learned that I needed to give myself time to get my feet down, but I felt a larger lesson seeping into my bones.

On the way home, I fell off again. This time I was trying to do a standing start up a steep hill, and I couldn’t get enough momentum. My free foot slipped on the pedal rather than clicking in, and I toppled, this time onto the road, and I fared worse than in the morning.

The next day, my legs and hips were a mass of bruises, and I had wrenched my ankle hard enough for it to swell badly, and ache. I began to wonder if I had done the right thing investing in these shoes.  Wasn’t it easier just to keep on with the sneakers and old pedals? Maybe I should just give it up. My sister was doubly right. And what if I fell off again, and again, and again? How stupid would I feel then? How incompetent. Uncoordinated. Because, after all, that’s what I am!

A couple of months ago, I would probably have admitted defeat. The pain of falling, and the possibility — no, probability — of it happening again would have put me off.

However . . . I’ve been having dreams about clipping in and clipping out. While lying in bed my feet have been practising the motions. I’ve rehearsed intersections and hill starts in my head and I’ve remembered the kind hands reaching out and the smiles of solidarity from other riders who’ve been there, and will probably do it again themselves.

This morning I rode in again. I planned ahead. I was cautious and careful. I respected my limitations, and the bike’s. I became mindful of my feet melded to the cranks, and aware of how my body and my bike were moving through space.

And I didn’t fall off. But somehow, I don’t think it would have mattered if I had.


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One thought on “4”

  1. I love this story. I reckon everyone has one like it. At our running training the other night a guy admitted to having a ‘minor off’ on his new bike. As soon as he said that he was trying cleats for the first time everyone giggled and knew exactly what had happened. Welcome to the club. There are only two types of people in the world that ride with cleats, those that have fallen off stationary, and those that pretend they haven’t.

  2. The first time I rode on cleats, I fell off. It was Boxing Day (yeah, Christmas present), a kid on a skateboard shot across a pedestrian crossing in front of me; I jammed on the anchors — and dropped ungracefully onto the road. I wouldn’t have minded much except for the kids outside Macdonalds yelling “Yay, Grandma: do it again!”

  3. A couple of tricks to remember with cleats when starting off up a slope:

    1. Try to get in the lowest comfortable gear for the slope before you stop so it’s easier to push the pedals when you go from a standing start.
    2. If you feel that you don’t have enough momentum to give you time to clip in after the first push on the pedal, lift the driving foot back up a half turn and drive down again, that should provide enough forward travel to give you time to clip in.

    In time you’ll be clipping in without a thought!

    Safe riding!

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