"I WAS AFRAID OF CLIPPING IN."
ICOULD HAVE SWORN THE CAR APPEARED OUT OF nowhere. But as I lay sprawled behind its rear bumper, I reflected that this was unlikely – after all, it was parked. Blame distracted riding: I was looking down, trying to clip in to my new pedals. At that time – almost 30 years ago – clipless pedals featured some regrettable designs. My first pair had an anti-rotation feature that held the pedal body in whatever position it was in when you unclipped. In theory, this meant it’d always be right-side up. In practice, it meant it could be in any number of positions – often, unhelpfully, upside down. I had just upgraded from toe clip-and-strap pedals, and was rolling around my neighborhood trying to learn how to use my new se-up when I ran into the car.
For months afterwards, I feared more crashes. It affected my riding: I’d clip out early approaching stoplights, so I could fiddle with the orientation. I’d start at the back of the pack in races, so I wouldn’t wobble into other riders while I blindly fumbled for the pedal. When a traffic light turned green, I’d pedal up to speed one-legged, and then try to clip in. Eventually, I gave up: I scrapped my pedals and got new ones. The Looks I bought helped a lot – the heavier back end of the pedals meant they would always revert to the same vertical position when I unclipped, and I think the basic triangle-shaped cleat (similar to the one on Shimano’s SPD-SL system) is easiest to engage, especially for newbies.
Once I had non-sucky pedals, steady practice gradually allayed my fears. Today, I’m almost always able to clip into my SPD-SLs immediately, without looking down. Sometimes, the right gear – and some persistence – is all it takes.
WHAT HE DID RIGHT GOT BETTER GEAR Bikes with upright geometries, or more travel, can inspire confidence. Protective gear (e.g. full-face helmets, pads) can make it less traumatic if you do go down. Scared of downhills in the rain? Try disc brakes.