Friday, March 29, 2013

Training Wheels: Part 1

So I just finished riding my road bicycle to the office. It's a short ride, only about 3.5 km (a little over 2 miles), but it's uphill. Most of the way. Actually, it's up a mountain. Here's a map of the general route:
(I'll post some riding statistics later.)

See that tiny white building on that mountain? That's about the halfway point, in terms of difficulty. The hill climbing can get a little tiresome, but the overall route isn't too bad, especially when I'm zipping along on my road bike. One problem: I didn't wear my cycling shoes. I wore these puppies.
Pumas ≠ cycling shoes
So here I am, in semi-full cycling gear. I've got the nice compression shorts that hug the curves on my bum, as well as a nice, light cycling jacket with rear pockets, and a helmet that says, I'm ready to race. But the shoes...oh, the shoes. You see, my bike has LOOK clip-in pedals, not some cheap pedal you'd use with street shoes. Instead, I'm defiling the purpose of the pedals by balancing the flat sole of my Pumas on them as I surge up the mountain.

Why would I do something so ridiculous? Especially since I have these beautiful Sidi shoes.

Beautiful, aren't they?

The problem is: I'm scared. I don't know how to use them properly. I have a semi-rational fear of pedaling uphill on the road, only to not have enough momentum to keep in motion and not being able to clip out of the pedals before coming to a stop. I don't want to fall in the middle of a road with cars going by!

I've had these shoes for over 6 months now, but I haven't taken enough time to practice with them. Well, I tried doing that today. Today was my first day riding to the office this season, so I wanted to give it a shot with my Sidi shoes. I decided to do some practice riding, much like what you'd do with your dad when you're getting off of training wheels for the first time. You look like a complete fool, but everyone understands that it's a necessary process to get you comfortable riding. Unless you're 29. And riding a professional bike. With professional-looking gear. They expect you to be a man, not some sissy with scraped knees because you don't know how to stop properly. Well, I tried to overcome that. And I did a pretty good job. I did some laps around the parking lot nearby, practicing clipping in and out with simulated stressful situations. I didn't fall. Yippee.

So I decided to hit some (flat) roads. It was a little cold, but nothing bad. I was riding along a bike lane, feeling pretty confident, so I decided to start riding at my normal cycling pace: Fast. No cars were around, so I felt like I didn't have to worry about clipping out every 2 seconds when I saw a leaf blow the wrong way. Unfortunately, a car decided to zip by and turn right in front of me to head to whatever gym made him so cool. No warning, no turn signal (come on, this is Italy). So instinct kicks in and I squeeze the brakes hard. No problem, not hard enough to flip over the handlebars. But wait a second, I forgot to do something...what was it again? Oh, yeah. I forgot to clip out. So as I brake safely to a stop, I realize that my feet are shackled to the bike and down I go, like the little boy I once was, saying "I can't do it."

But it's okay. Bella figura, right? Nobody's watching, right? Oh, except for that guy standing outside the gym with his cigarette, taking in the humor of the entire situation. No words. No "Sta bene?" Just staring. And the guy that cut me off? He casually pulled into his parking spot and walked into the gym without so much as a glance. Well, at least he's got bella figura down.

So, clumsily, I pulled myself up and after a couple of minutes, I decided to ride on. Actually, to ride home. Today was not going to be the day that I would ride up that treacherous mountain with these shoes. Time to slip back on the Pumas. Not bella figura, not one bit. So with my tail between my legs, I ride on to my office. At least I didn't fall when it counted. At least I was safe. Just like when I rode with training wheels.

So, what to do next? Will I continue to ride with my ridiculous Pumas, or will I train, so that eventually I'll be like a *real* cyclist?

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