Becoming a cyclist: part three – clipless pedals

Mastering the dark art of clipping in and out - and suffering zero-speed crashes in the process

To the amusement of the car which passed at just the perfect moment, I am lying on the tarmac – my wrist hurts, though not as much as my pride, and I have dropped my chain.

They may be more efficient but clipless pedals, as far as I am currently concerned, are the root of all evil and I want to go home.

Acquainting myself with my new Cube Peloton Race, my first proper road bike, has not been quite the romantic tale I had hoped for.

Clipless pedals offer more efficient riding but are difficult for a complete novice like me to master

I vowed when I got the bike, I would do it properly – no half measures, properly fitted and using clipless pedals for the first time.

But the latter is easier said than done as I found out to my cost.

Like most people riding them for the first time, my first set of clipless pedals involves me clipping into a pedal for the first time – and the irony of that just makes you angrier as you try to master them.

There are plenty of tutorials online from experienced riders on how to clip in and out, but it is one thing going back to basics after years of riding with them and another starting completely from scratch.

Don’t get me wrong, the concept of clipping in and out, I found, is quite easy to master – my bike fitting involved me doing it several times on the test jig at Cube/Infinity Cycles for a start.

A stationary machine, however, is a completely different entity to a very expensive bike.

The effects of my first zero-speed crash, but it hurt my ego more than myself or my bike

What most tutorials fail to mention is, for a first-timer, being fully attached to a bike is a very un-natural feeling.

I was advised to try it on a soft surface to start with, and to lean against something to get used to the balance.

A stint in my back garden, supporting my body weight on a shed, ensured I was quite used to the feeling of it – but with little room to move I hardly felt like I gained anything from the experience.

The best option, I decided, was to just throw caution to the wind and find a stretch of road to practice on.

So, there I was, correcting the chain on my bike in the middle of a local industrial estate after suffering my first zero-speed sit down.

It probably was quite an amusing sight, as I ran out of road – and therefore speed – and unclipped my right foot only to fall left and not manage to unclip my other foot in time.

The concept of clipping in, I found, is fairly easy to master – but it is another thing entirely on a moving bike!

I was prepared for it, as I was warned it is almost a rite of passage in switching to clipless pedals, but I felt as though I was back to trying to ride without stabilisers for the first time again – and I was hopeless at that first time around.

I am lucky though in, just like my patient Mum back when I was discovering two wheels for the first time, I now have a very patient girlfriend willing to help me out.

The problem, of course, is with this being my first proper road bike, I not only had to get used to the pedals but also the size of the frame.

Trying to get used to the fact the seat is significantly further from the ground than all my previous bikes is not particularly easy when you are clipped into a pedal.

It is all well and good saying, ‘if at first you don’t succeed’ but it all quickly loses its appeal when you realise, in essence, you are quite hopeless at it.

After some cajoling from my girlfriend to not just jack it all in and head home – her ‘teacher voice’, honed on misbehaving primary school kids, is not to be messed with – my solution was to strip right back to basics.

Another ungainly stop – a zero-speed crash, they say, is almost a rite of passage in switching to clipless pedals

With my girlfriend holding the back of my seat to get me going, just like my Mum had all those years ago when my stabilisers were consigned to the rubbish heap, I clipped in before riding away, turning a corner and clipping out to repeat the process.

After getting more comfortable with the feel of the bike, I clipped in with one foot, while still being supported, and rode away while clipping in my other foot unsupported.

And so we continued, until I was able to push away without any support, clip in my other foot in the same stroke, perform a little loop of the warehouse car parks and, quite honestly, feel like a boss.

Today, Team Valley Industrial Estate, tomorrow, the Alps.

As I rode around triumphantly, not at all embarrassed by how difficult I had found what quickly became a very simple task, I felt like the young lad at the end of Goodnight Mister Tom.

You know the one, riding down the hill legs outstretched shouting ‘look Dad, I can do it’ – except of course I could not spread my legs, on account of them still being attached to my pedals.

Easy when you know how

Cue another ungainly, abrupt end to my ride.

OK, so I am hardly a master and I rather suspect I will taste more than my fair share of gravel and tarmac before I can be the one passing on advice.

For now, my only advice to people in the same situation would be that it is worth persisting with, even if you do need the support of a wall, shed, partner etc to master the balance to start with.

In truth, it quickly becomes second nature – though unclipping and stopping took me longer to master than getting started.

But, the first step of mastering my new bike is complete. Onwards and upwards as they say.

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