Humility. It’s a lesson everyone must learn at some point in life. I had the privilege of learning it while re-acclimating myself to bicycling. After loving encouragement from my fiancé, I took up road biking as an adult. Sounded easy enough. After all, I knew how to ride a bike. Duh. And I’d watched the Tour de France every year. It didn’t look that hard.
He bought me a gorgeous Motobecane SprinTour bike for my birthday so that we could ride together. So sweet. A great way to have fun and keep in shape all year long. I’d just hop on and start riding, right? Wrong. Road biking is hard and frustrating and intense. I learned—literally—to fall flat on my face, then get up and try again. As an adult, this is not only embarrassing, but necessary. It reminds us that despite how good we think we are at everything, we are not. There’s so much in this world that we don’t know.
In order to really embrace road biking, I got clipless pedals. Contrary to what you might think from the name “clipless,” this means I clipped my cycling shoes into the pedals, attaching my feet firmly to the bike. It looked so easy when I saw my fiancé do it, or when I saw Lance Armstrong do it. Naturally, I assumed it would be easy for me, too. Wrong again—so very, very wrong. When I wanted to take my foot off the pedal, my leg’s natural instinct was to pull up. This is not the way to “clip out” of a bike. The foot has to move to the side in a flat, sweeping motion. I learned this as I fell to the ground, still connected to my bike. Luckily, the only thing I hurt was my pride. The worst part about my first fall is that it was in public. My sweet guy and I were out on the street, starting off on the inaugural ride. So there I was, in my bike shorts, my pretty pink jersey, my bike helmet, gloves—the whole ensemble—snot and tears running down my face. I kept falling and he kept yelling “Clip out! Clip out!” and manically trying to protect me from falling into traffic. Then, everything fell apart. I started crying out of frustration and embarrassment. He started yelling out of frustration and concern. After two more teary attempts at riding down the street and unclipping, I was ready to heave the beautiful orange bike into the nearest dumpster. Clearly, this was not going to happen.
We gave up for the day.
Later, in the shower, I did some soul searching. I was very angry at my bike for embarrassing me in front of the fiancé and everyone driving on 75th Avenue that day. I was angry at my fiancé for yelling at me and not being more patient. I was extra angry at myself for not immediately succeeding at road biking. I really liked the bike and wanted to be good at it, but that was never going to happen unless I stayed on the thing. I got real with myself and admitted I was afraid of being humiliated as an adult. It’s not very often that adults learn something new, and I was way outside of my comfort zone, doing just that. I promised myself I would get back on that bike, bruised ego and all, and learn to ride if it killed me.
I called a girlfriend that is a seasoned cyclist and enlisted her as my coach. She took me to an empty parking lot and started at the beginning. This is how you get on your bike. This is how you get off. This is what to do when you approach a stop sign. This is how you change gears. This is how, as adult, you learn to ride a bike. Get away from the public, from humiliation, and from the embarrassment that will haunt you for years and certainly convince you that you are physically incapable of succeeding at anything. Find a person to help you, preferably one you’re not sleeping with. Take time and believe in yourself. It’s very simple advice, but after one day, I was a riding fool. My fiancé and I were going to be just like Lance and Sheryl (are they are back together yet?) and ride off into the sunset.
Learning to ride that bike gave me incredible confidence—I could learn to do anything! It opened the door to many new experiences I’d never considered. I was no longer afraid of failing, because I knew with enough courage, practice, and padding in my shorts, I could do anything.
Now, ladies, I will impart some cycling wisdom to you:
Wear in your girl parts, slowly. Invest in shorts. I can’t stress this enough. The bike seat isn’t the most comfortable thing. In fact, it’s uncomfortable, until you’ve, pardon my bluntness, hardened your girl parts. And, you will. You may think people look silly in spandex padded biking shorts, but I’ll guarantee you this—you won’t feel silly the next morning when you wake up and don’t feel like you rode a mechanical bull.
Learn how to ride and grab your water bottle. When you watch the Tour de France and you see a rider grab for his water bottle fixed on his bike frame, it looks so professional, right? Guess what? You can do that, too. Practice in a parking lot. Running into a tree or a bush while practicing is better than running into the back of a car. Having easy access to water while riding makes it so much better.
Embrace the fashion. Purchase a jersey and shorts and gloves and glasses and socks and everything else. Remember that scene in the movie Singles, where Debbie is all geared out on her bike to meet a guy from her singles dating service? She actually dressed quite nicely. There isn’t a weird stigma attached to cycling gear anymore. You’ll find that it becomes quite comfy and makes your ride so much better.
Carry Clif bars in your back pocket. You’re gonna get hungry. These are perfect snacks. Take breaks every thirty minutes or so. You’ll find that riding is addictive and it’s easy to go for a long time. Even easier with snacks. Seriously, I’m telling you to eat—a lot!
Invest in an odometer. It attaches to your bike and measures trip distance and speed, and logs your miles. How cool are you going to feel when you tell people your average speed was 22 mph and you’ve logged over 500 miles on your bike?
Learn how to change your tire. It’s like changing a tire on your car, but a hundred times easier, and more necessary. Unfortunately, AAA doesn’t cover tire changes on a bike. If you’re a lady that knows how to change your bike tire, not only are you protecting yourself every time you go on a ride, you get so much cred from male riders.
Now get out there. Get the wind in your hair and have a good ride.
Photo courtesy of Enrico Corno