Clip art

Falling off the bike is a 'clip in' rite of passage

There’s a definite technique to mastering the art of the cleat. Anthea Hargreaves shares her experiences of clipping in for the first time.

When I bought my first pair of cycling shoes, everyone told me that a low-speed tumble was a matter of when, not if.

And there I was, at an intersection, flat on my back with my legs tangled around my bike like a circus contortionist. It was the moment I had played over in my head. But with that fall, I had just become the latest inductee into the world of clip in pedals.

By nature, I’m not a risk taker. I had my Giant road bike for a year before making the decision to ‘clip in’, and up until that point, I was happy riding within my comfort zone.

But I knew without taking this important cycling rite of passage, I could never make the switch from carefree cruiser to ‘roadie’. I’d long admired effortless road riders as they whooshed past me in a harmonious blur, and felt a primal call to join them. With an equal mix of trepidation and anticipation, I finally bought myself a pair of cycling shoes and cleats.

My cycling friends were excited for me. “You will fall, eventually. But you’ll love it. You’ll be amazed at the difference – once you clip in you’ll never go back,” one friend shared.

The great thing about cyclists is that when you announce you want to start riding – or in my case “clip-in”, there is a shared will for you to succeed. Unlike other sports I’ve played, bike riders want you to see the world from their point of view and love riding just as much as they do.

Now that I’d put my road riding intentions out into the universe, advice started to flood in. “Practice on grass first”, “always unclip with your left – but practice unclipping with your right too”, and finally “don’t think about being clipped in, but don’t forget about it either.” So far, so confusing.

After a few practice runs on my local sports oval, I was ready. On a crisp Sunday morning, I took my first outing, along Melbourne’s iconic road cycling haunt, Beach Road. Because if you’re going to reach an important milestone in your cycling life, why not do it in front of the city’s entire bike riding population - right?

As we rolled out, I pushed my right foot into the cleat. With a chunky click, the bike leapt forward and momentum saw my left foot follow –clicking into place. After all those months of worry, it was almost anticlimactic.

Soon, the first set of traffic lights approached and my pulse quickened. But somehow I managed to twist out, unclip and roll to a stop. Relief.

We rode on, passing several more traffic lights without issue. In fact, the whole ride to Mordialloc was incident free – minus the fact that I hadn’t eaten breakfast and blew up on the way back. Next road riding lesson – must eat, a lot.

When we reached St Kilda on the return, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Maybe I’d be one of those people who could ride into their cycling future, fall-free?

A touch of premature arrogance got the better of me. Desperate for breakfast, we stopped at the final set of lights. With my left foot unclipped, I stood casually waiting for the lights to change. I shifted my weight, but in my exhausted state, shifted too far and toppled over.

I took stock of the situation. My friends up there, and me on the tarmac, a mass of bike and limbs. And then, encouraged by the warm smiles and solidarity of my friends, I untangled myself and got back on the bike.

At breakfast we toasted our coffees to my fall.  Bruised but not beaten, I had finally been inducted into the mysterious world that I’d aspired to for so long. My pride had taken a tumble along with me, but for the sense of achievement and belonging I now felt, I realised I wouldn’t change it for the world.