Clipping in

In my mind, I saw myself in the scene from American Flyers, part of a peloton of trained athletes tucked into compression shorts, sparkling white shoes clipped onto metal pedals, gliding around on a 16lb flying machine — the ones we call road bikes.

But that’s not exactly what it looked like. In fact, when I started riding with with road bikers, we didn’t even know how to ride in a paceline, we were side by side, or in the road. I never had the time, money, or guts to clip into my Cannondale road bike, either.

I only recently got my first “real” bike, my Cannondale. In 2012 my friend Margaret went overseas to teach English. I offered to watch her horse for the year, and in return, she gave me a sweet deal on her older roadie. She had two anyway; there was no use in letting the gorgeous creature sit in a garage. As she packed up her house up to leave the country, I went over to check out the bike.

Her garage was full of bikes, hanging on the walls, leaned up against the wooden siding, hanging upside down on the ceiling. She lived in a raft guides house; the sort you find often Fort Collins, Colorado. I scanned all of the bikes in the garage, quickly finding the ones I was secretly hoping would not be the one I was about to invest in.

When Margaret had said “do you want to buy my other road bike?” a few weeks prior, I said yes without having seen the bike.

“No seriously Kaysha,” she said while I steered the sleek dark blue bike with pink rims and handlebar wraps down the driveway. “Make sure it fits you, it should, we’re pretty much the same size,” she said. I swung my leg over and cruised down the drivway, struggling even to find the brakes, having never used drop bars before. The whole front end of the bike felt stiff, like a box with a wheel in it, it was a new world for me. With a jaggedy, rough start I set off down the street.

“Don’t crash it … it’ll crumble. Its aluminum.”

Margaret said while I hoisted the light contraption into the back of my pickup. Good advice for a girl who has no concept of road bikes and has been clunking around on a hybrid KHS bike haphazardly for years. I could barely go for a 5 mile bike ride at that point between my heavy old bike, my asthma, and the altitute. I’m from Arizona, and was riding a bike in the Rocky Mountains.

My first step was to get the ol Cannondale a tune-up. I then started taking the Fort Collins bike routes to work and around town.

2 mile rides turned into 10 mile rides. I began riding “Charlotte” the Cannondale, as I named her, everywhere.

Eventually I picked up a pair of cheap cycling shorts with the padding on them after I realized how much it can hurt, riding 9+ miles on a tiny racing seat. I figured out how to switch gears, I got into shape for riding around town, riding at 5,000 ft , and eventually up hills. Then I moved back to Yuma, Arizona and I was afraid for my bike, afraid I might lose the connection to my beloved bicycle. I was afraid I wouldn’t have anyone to ride with or anywhere to ride at all! In fact, my first ride out on the county roads furthered this fear as I bounced and bobbed along the poorly maintained pothole filled asphalt.

My wrists hurt, I was buzzed by by speeding cars who didn’t have the slightest idea how to interact with bike traffic on the road. A few months later, after indeed letting my beloved Charlotte sit more than I’ll admit.

Randomly, a friend from the Yuma Outdoor Adventures group, started up a conversation about bikes. He gave me a free set of tubes for oddly sized little tires. The bike community is a tight knit one. It likes to pass on the tradition- to pass on things learned and the pass-on on pass-ons that they’ve accumulated.

The passing on of knowledge, of gear, of extra tires seems to be expected in this world. I mentioned how I had been having a hard time finding safe and good riding spots in the area. “ Want to go for a ride?” he asked.

“Hell yes!” I said.

And so it began. Out of that conversation stemmed not only 30 mile Saturday morning rides, but regular 20 mile Thursday evening rides . I found new cycling problems.

My hands began to go numb on rides. Stephen recommended gloves with padding, so that investment came next. The rides started with the two of us, and Josh joined came along. The three of us, it seemed, would get faster and faster each week. I gained more confidence. And then more people started to come on the ride.

Stephen began an official Meetup with two groups for the Thursday ride, a 15 mph and slower crew for bikes of all shapes and sizes to join, and the road bike crew, 15 mph+. I met a lot of new cyclists, some people who had raced before. It was the first time I’d have the chance to ride with people who actually raced and knew how to bike 80 mile + races. They happily shared their experiences.

There I was, my little Cannondale chugging along, keeping up, without baskets on my pedals or cleats on my shoes.

When I hit 25 to 35 mph on the bike my feet would sometimes slip off the pedal, causing a near wreck, and of course instantly slowing down. I worked twice as hard going up hill because I didn’t have the constant momentum building that the clipped in riders had. “Wow, you’re riding without being clipped in? That’s brave,” I would hear.

Stephen came across some brand new cycling kits for super cheap for a few of us, and I got my first pair of white compression shorts, another mind blowing upgrade. “They’ll be your new favorite,” he said. They are. So I kept saving and saving for my clip in shoes. The shoes themselves would be at least $100+, and the pedals started at the same price!

June 26th a shoebox of a different sort arrived bearing the words SHIMANO on my doorstep. On top of them was a package holding a set of cleats and Shimano pedals to replace the cheapest part of my Cannondale.

Charlotte always had looked a little out of place, with her sleek Cannondale lines and Shimano parts, fit with cheap, regular pedals like bumper stickers on a Ferarri.

I had always had a slight fear of clipping in for the first time, a lot of people do. But a soft nudge to the left and my foot came right out of the pedal. I understood the fear of being tired and being stuck on a tipping bicycle, or afraid to forget to unclip at a light — causing a graceful slow motion, crash to the pavement. Feet locked into place on the pedals.

Even my stepmom, who raced bicycles back in the day warned me to go off on my own first to figure the pedals out before tossing myself into a group. I twisted on the new pedals, took the bike out in front of the house, and slid right into the shoes and pedals, and away I went. I never had a problem, although like anything else I’ve had to make adjustments, to get used to pulling up with my thighs, instead of just pushing down on the pedals.

A 20 mile ride, while being clipped in and going 33 mph is much more comfortable and efficient while being clipped in. And yes the ride is better with compression shorts with real padding. And because everyone asks, yes, it makes that much of a difference.”

2014 Shimano PD-R550 SPD SL Carbon Road Pedals & SM-SH11 Floating Cleats and the Shimano Women’s Cycling Shoes SH-WR61

Stephen captured a bit of one of our rides on his new GoPro:

“I always felt that my greatest asset was not my physical ability, it was my mental ability.”– Bruce Jenner
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