By Michelle Nicol
I did my first triathlon on an ancient, heavy mountain bike. I’d made some concession to speed by changing the chunky tyres to semi-slicks, but it was still far from a lean mean racing machine. While the rest of the field zoomed passed me, I admired their gleaming bikes and when it came to loading it back in the car, my decision was made. Triathlon was the event for me and within weeks I had a shiny new road bike. And that meant a new challenge. Clipped in pedals.
I’d been told they’d make me faster, more efficient. Allow me to push as well as pull. Besides all the triathletes had them. So, with my lovely new bike parked up in the spare room, whenever I had a moment, I would practise getting my shoes in and out of the pedals. As you would expect from little Miss Clumsy, there were some comedy moments. At one point, I had to unvelcro my shoe to get my foot out and was reaching for the allen key to remove the cleats to detach it from the pedal, when it finally popped out.
Figuring I had to face it sooner or later, I plucked up the courage to try it on the move. Cycling up and down the back lane behind my house, with the reassurance of a wall on one side and a traffic free path. Clipping in and clipping out. And again. And again. Until it stuck. Or I thought it did.
Result = one slightly bashed knee, but no major damage.
The next day, the plan said ‘brick’, so I set up a mini transition in my hallway, and set off into the brave new world of the clipped in pedaller. Just a flat out and back, keeping it steady, out along my usual coastal route. Eyes on the road, taking heed of the traffic, trying to make sure I gave myself as much time as I could to slow down and unclip for traffic lights and junctions.
Petrified of potholes. Cursing the crumbling tarmac, I headed for an off-road track that I’d found on my previous mountain bike adventures, hoping it was suitable for my speedy new road bike. The tarmac strip along the sand dunes was perfect. Something others thought too as I found myself dodging walkers, runners, dogs and kids on scooters. I was enjoying the freedom and the sense of speed and wanted to just keep going, to see how far the path would take me. But all too soon I reached the halfway point. More confident? More downhill, More tailwind? Whatever the reason, I sailed back through the return journey, finding my way through the gears with ease. Nowhere near pushing my limits, just enjoying the ride and getting the feel of this wonderful machine.
Almost home and a chance to stop, hop off and practise a running transition up my street in my bike shoes. My calves threatened to cramp up, so I gave them a good old stamp as I racked my bike, ditched my helmet and jacket and eased into my trainers. Off again and out for the run. And that feeling of being dead legged and slow. But as I ran, I found I eased into it. It still felt hard work. I still felt slow. But I stuck with it. Since then me and my bike have enjoyed a few more adventures. We’ve tackled some hills. We’ve been out in the rain. I’ve been brave enough to go up to the big ring and down onto the drops. And yes, I’ve had a couple more scrapes where I haven’t got my feet out of the pedals.
Part of the joy of a bike is connecting with those feelings of freedom you had when you were a kid. The wind in your hair and the whole world to explore with a bottle of juice and a jam sandwich in your pocket. For me, the return of scraped knees is well worth it.
Follow all of Michelles training and races in her blog!