My first road bike: Unclipping…and falling

The day of my first fall on a road bike was also the day of my first ride. It was a typical hot, humid, Wisconsin summer day – the air shimmering with moisture and buzzing with insects.
I was 10 minutes into my first ride and had practiced clipping and unclipping from my pedals at least 20 times. My husband, Brad, who also was a road bike newbie, had finally convinced me to leave our sheltered cul-de-sac neighborhood, and I was nervously approaching a steep hill that led to the paved bike path by our house.
This particular hill lies above a swampy marshland, through which passes a paved bike trail, bustling with joggers, cyclists and approximately 10 million hungry mosquitoes. At the last minute, I decided I wanted to practice stopping and unclipping one more time before I attempted this hill and risked careening into the slimy pond.
The time that elapsed between the decision to stop and initiating the stop, however, was not long enough and, before I really knew what was happening, I was on the ground, still fully attached to my bike, being swarmed by mosquitoes as I struggled to detach my feet from the pedals.
I noticed a slow trickle of blood oozing down my left calf as Brad laughed at me from astride his bike.

Unclipping karma

It was karma, really. Brad had purchased his bike a month before me and had gone on a number of rides. The one time that he failed to unclip, two weeks prior, had occurred right in front of me as I left our house to go for a run.
My front-row position had allowed me to see the realization of his fate spread over his face as his heel jerked once, twice, and failed to detach from his bike, pulling him slowly to the ground. I am a supportive spouse so, naturally, I reenacted his fall and facial expression to everyone I knew.
Now, 10-minutes into my first ride, I was lying in a pile of bike, blood, and hungry mosquitoes, deeply regretting my choices.

An athletic dabbler

How did I get here? Well, like most things that happen in my life, I ended up purchasing a road bike as the result of an impulse decision to sign up for an athletic event for which I was not prepared.
I’m what I would call an athletic “dabbler.” I sign up for events with little regard to what training or equipment I will need. I like to climb mountains – with a guide, of course, and mostly rented gear. I slowly run a lot of races. I recently signed up for a triathlon before realizing that I can barely swim. It took me years of practice to become a proficiently mediocre skier. Why not add biking to that list of “accomplishments”?
So, last winter, during a blustery run of -15 degree weather, I was scrolling through an event newsletter and came across an advertisement for Race the Lake, an 88-mile bike ride around Lake Winnebago in late August.
“Sure,” I thought, from the warm confines of my couch, chip debris nestled comfortably on my sweatshirt. “I occasionally bike to work on my crappy hybrid bike. Once in a while, I bike 30 miles to a brewery. I’ve shuffle-jogged a marathon. Why not?”

Road bike reality

Fast forward six months, and that impulse $35 decision has cost me…well, a lot more than $35.
After months of research, punctuated by spirited disagreements with my bike racer friend (who, unsurprisingly, had a lot of opinions on the matter), learning terminology like “clinchers,” and practicing my pronunciation of “derailleur,” I purchased my first road bike from Machinery Row in Madison.
It is a silver Trek Domane SL5 with purple accents and has a matching purple bottle cage. I would like it to have two matching purple bottle cages, but otherwise it is perfect. It is a bit heavier and its tires are a bit wider than my friend would have liked. But I am a weenie, and those wide tires make me feel solid and secure. It has disc brakes – their usefulness of which is apparently a big debate in road cycling. But those disc brakes allow me to coast downhills with confidence. It’s great.
After my fall, we rode for 18 miles without an incident. Cruising down the bike path, I crossed paths with kitted-up, real cyclists, clipped in and pushing hard. They nodded at me, like I was one of their tribe. A real cyclist. Even though I don’t fully understand my gear options and definitely unclip at least 20 seconds before stoplights, and even though I might still look like a Fred with my bib shorts and jersey that doesn’t match, I guess I am.
Next week, join me for my first “bike fit.”
Katie Kelberlau Nadolny is a veterinarian, newbie road cyclist and lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three dogs, Maggie, Vegas and Lola.