To clip, or not to clip…

Tikit with clipless peddles

I ‘ve been debating some time about clipless vs. platform peddles. I’ve always used platforms, and have just resisted the whole idea of being “locked in.” However, after jumping into randonneuring last September, I noticed that nearly everyone who was into long-distance cycling was using them in one fashion or another.

I do fine on most of my brevets, not remotely fast, but I keep going steadily along. However, I do seem to lag on the hills. Part of this is probably training, but I am gathering that I am missing a significant advantage by not being able to pull up when locked into clipless peddles. Plus, I hear of other advantages too, such as not having to spend energy keeping feet on the peddles, being secure over bumps, not having feet slip off peddles in the rain, etc.

I asked the San Francisco Randonneurs Google Group for their recommendations and advice regarding the whole subject.  The SF Randos are a great group of people, so I was not surprised by huge outpouring of emails. One member, Gintautas, offered to loan me his Shimano SHM021 shoes and SPD 520 clipless peddles.

Gintautas’s Shimano shoes.

I met him at the Montgomery Bart station next to my office, and then went to Huckleberry Bikes to get them installed on my Bike Friday Tikit on the way home. Zach, who did my bike fit a few weeks back had urged me then to at least consider them.  My thought was I would try them on my commuter bike for a couple of days, then put them on my Salsa Casseroll for a longer test on the weekend.

While there, Keven, ace mechanic and service manager,  was kind enough to give me a lesson. It seemed pretty easy, but he did caution me to unclip whenever I came to a stop or light. He said it would eventually become second nature, but be careful and remember to do it, otherwise I might flop over.

Well, it actually came to me pretty easy. I rode through commuter traffic in downtown San Francisco, clipping and un-clipping at lights and stops on the way home. I had no problems at all and felt very smug as I pulled into the Caltrain station and prepared to go to the train to head home.

I pulled in and saw the concession stand and thought to myself, “You deserve a beer! (legal on Caltrain) You did a great job! You are clearly far superior to the rest of the un-coordinated types, who all struggled took a long time to get used to these pedals! Yes, you are awesome! You got it right away!”

So I get close to the beer stand, un-clip my right foot,  lean to  the left to reach for my wallet and…. slowly… topple over,  as my left foot was still clipped in, and I couldn’t remember how to get it loose. I remember thinking, “Oh, f*ck….” , frantically pulling at my left leg, as I fell to the ground in slow motion.

Amazingly accurate photo recreation of my fall.

I hit the ground, felt like an idiot, and hoped nobody saw me, when a couple of very nice people came over and asked me if I was ok. I said, “Thank you! I’m fine! Just a little user error!” One, a kindly senior citizen had a perplexed look on her face, clearly not understanding why I would fall over from a dead stop.

So, I got my beer, now not a self-congratulatory beer, but a consolation beer and headed home on the train.

“Back in Black,” a black IPA from local brew-pub 21st amendment, in hand. Delicious!

Consensus on the peddles?

So far, I like them! I absolutely can feel a  difference when I climb
as well as just trying to crank hard into a headwind. It is a
conscious effort to pull up, when I do I can feel the effect. It
is undeniable, so I don’t understand the view by a minority that it
makes no difference. No question in my mind that they do.

I’m not sure at this point if I want my Tikit to have them all the
time. I use my folding bike for quick trips to the store, and am not
sure that I want to change shoes every time I go for a quick jaunt to the store. But then I worry that I won’t be “used” to them for weekend rides if I don’t use them during the week. Something to consider…

I’ll keep using them for a while for sure. I really haven’t put in nearly enough miles for a full evaluation, but so far, so good!

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Commuter Bike Racing, or How to Feel Like a Man in Two Short Minutes!

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I have been guilty of commuter racing for some time now. I think the best part of it is that your opponent is usually unaware of the competition. It makes the inevitable victory so much sweeter…;)

But rarely do I get feedback from any of my valiant adversaries. I was fortunate enough to get such feedback this morning.

I catch a train at 6:14 am in San Mateo, California, which takes me to San Francisco, where I work. From the train station, I have about a two-mile trip to my office. Occasionally, I will engage in a friendly little race to my office. Again, the situation is usually that I come up to some carbon bike, or whatever, at a light and I think to myself “NONE SHALL PASS!” If you have ever seen the Black Knight from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” you know the voice I hear in my head.

I guess I enjoy it because I am riding my steel bike with fenders, front bag, trunk bag, and propeller helmet, and I know I they think I am  slow. I get a very rewarding, and completely underserved, ego boost when I blow by them.

So on the train this morning I engage in conversation with my new commuter friend, Kent. We’re both about the same age (I’m turning 51 this Saturday). Anyway, he noticed the Randonneurs USA logo on the back of my visibility vest, and was curious about the sport.

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Ty's RUSA visibility vest. I wear this always . Every little bit helps!

He  rides a nice carbon road bike with aero bars, and rides pretty regularly, about 40 miles every weekend, and was intrigued. I gave him my “newbie” perspective, and encouraged him to ride in the SF Randonneurs Populaire this Saturday, March 31st.  He is not sure he is quite up for that yet, but does want to learn more about it. I gave him my card, in case he has any questions, or has trouble remembering how to spell “Randonneur” when he searches for more information when he gets to his office.

So the train arrives, we both pack up, and leave separately. He was ahead of me at the first light. When I pulled away he said “Hey! I came up behind you the other day. I thought, ‘I can beat this guy, steel bike, fenders, propeller on the helmet’ … and then I couldn’t keep up! That wasn’t right!”

We both laughed and I told him that I did the same thing with my folding bike, a Bike Friday Tikit http://www.bikefriday.com/bicycles/commuter, as the smaller wheels actually accelerate faster from a stop.

I also told him that  in my opinion, carbon bikes don’t have all that much advantage in the scheme of things. He had asked me earlier if he needed to get a special bike for randonneuring and I had told him that though the classic randonneur bike is steel with fenders, there are plenty of people out there in full carbon bikes, etc.  It is really personal preference.

So yes, I am a commuter racer. I know it is silly, and I know my shrink would probably have something to say about it, but I do try to keep it safe. I don’t blow through red lights, and I don’t cut in and out of traffic. It makes it fun, and also makes the short ride at least a bit of a workout.

Funny thing, but with the randonneurs,  I’m pretty slow, a regular Lantern Rouge. But  on the wild and wooly streets of San Francisco, fighting the commuter biker wars, I’m Lance Armstrong… or maybe Bob Roll?