12.19.2005 | 7:02 pm

I think I could make a case that humiliation is the most motivating of all sensations. Last Friday, for example, as I rode into work, I hit a patch of ice as I was turning left through an intersection. I went down, hard, whacking my left knee and banging up my left elbow and wrist. My left ribs are pretty bruised, too.

The thing is, though, I didn’t notice any of the pain for several minutes, because of the nearly blinding sense of humiliation I felt — I pictured how I must look, still clipped in, trying to get untangled and upright, all while holding up traffic.

Yeah, I’m the perfect advertisement for Not Riding Bikes.

But the embarrassment of last Friday was nothing compared to the humiliation of when I first bought clipless pedals.


New Pedals

I had ridden the mountain bike into the shop and bought the shoes and pedals together.

Excited by the positive, locked-in feeling of riding with my feet mechanically attached to the bike, I rode around the parking lot for several minutes. I practiced clipping in, riding, and clipping out.

I became a little bit disdainful of the people who had told me that everyone falls when they first get clipless pedals. These were easy.

I started riding home. The road the bike shop was on was all torn up, in the process of being re-paved. Perfect for riding my mountain bike on. I rolled along on the dirt road, enjoying myself. I then rolled up to a stop light and put my foot down.

Except my foot wouldn’t go down.

Instantly panicking, I completely forgot about the numerous times I had calmly twisted my left foot outward to unclip. I yanked straight back and up — the way I was accustomed to with clips and straps. Once! Twice! No luck.

So I did what gravity demanded I do. I fell over on my side. With several cars behind me, and traffic zooming by in the other direction.

I then thrashed around, trying to separate myself from the bike. My panic grew as I realized the light would not remain forever.

Finally, I remembered: twist. I clicked out got up, and — being careful to not look at anyone — waited for the eternity it took for the light to turn.

Really, the only things missing for this to have been a Keystone Kops film would have been for me to have a waxed mustache and be wearing one of those derbyesque helmets.


  1. Comment by Unknown | 12.19.2005 | 7:25 pm

    Fatty, we’ve all done it. I remember once going out with a couple of guys on the road. Ian was dressed like a Mekon, black helmet, black mirror oakleys, black Assos shirt and tights, brand new black Look shoes. We got a bit lost and decided to stop and ask an old lady for directions. My other friend and I pulled up next to her and started to ask for directions. Ian pulled up next to us, stopped, then toppled over sideways. The old lady looked down at him, didn’t say anthing, and just walked away.

  2. Comment by Unknown | 12.19.2005 | 7:34 pm

    Wow, your Friday spill so closely matches my own crash 3 weeks ago. We just completed a night ride with a fair amount of technical rocky trails & rock gardens. The end of the ride is in the city & involves a staircase drop into the parking lot where we start. I had a really good fast technical ride, so I was feeling good. So, I hop up on the sidewalk (I know, I know), am looking to the side for the drop, glance ahead and see a fire hydrant about 5 feet in front of me. Nothing to do but hit that puppy head-on at about 10mph & do a Superman, landing on both outstretched hands, bike flying into the street (at night). I had sprained my wrist, but didn’t notice from the humiliation. Total frickin rookie move. Powered by embarassment, I was able to ride back to the truck, load the 29lb bike in, tell everyone I was OK, & drive home. Next day, the pain was so bad that I could barely pull socks on my feet and my wrist was weak for 2 weeks… (hmm, that story was way too long).

  3. Comment by tayfuryagci | 12.19.2005 | 7:35 pm

    that is BAD, real bad. one of the most embarrasing things that can happen to a cyclist, ever. I can symphatisise with you (is there such a word?). quite recently I TOTALLY wiped out, right in front of the most crowded bus stop in the CITY! about two hundred prople watched me go down, my backpack flying off and the weirdest thing: my headlight attached to the handlebar breaking. I got up, put myself and stuff together and rode off like nothing happened. It was extremely embarrasing.

  4. Comment by Unknown | 12.19.2005 | 7:40 pm

    p.s. Babbled so long that I forgot my original point. Fatty, I think any cyclist worth his/her mettle has done the infamous Zero-speed-crash-at-the-red-light-cuz-I-forgot-my-feet-are-locked-into-little-vicegrip-contraptions. Not that I’m bragging, but it’s especially memorable when you fall over at a busy intersection and people are visibly clapping and honking their horns. Kind alike when someone spills a tray of dishes in a restaurant…

  5. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 12.19.2005 | 7:54 pm

    I could here the silent movie piano music playing as I read the last 4 paragraphs.The worst I’ve suffered was after a decade or so of clipless life. This is especially bad because it involves nothing but amateur stupidity. I pulled up at a red light in broad daylight fully intent on trackstanding until the green. I had done it literally thousands of times, but this time as I stopped, for reasons still unknown to science, I turned my front wheel down the camber of the road instead of up. Time slows down for these events just so you can absorb maximum humiliation. And there I lay, kicking like a lunatic trying to detach myself from the source of my embarassment. Holding up a line of 20 or more cars.

  6. Comment by Zed | 12.19.2005 | 8:14 pm

    I bought my clipless pedals in January or February when it was still solid ice on the streets. I worked at a newspaper at the time, though, so I had no shame. I remember stopping and sitting in the middle of the sidewalk to adjust the cleat with my multi-tool and having a pair of college girls walk past and give me a weird look."Are you all right?"Hey, I didn’t mind. I was cool. I had clipless pedals. I think I did my first clipless endo a few days later.

  7. Comment by Tom Stormcrowe | 12.19.2005 | 8:40 pm

    I don’t have clipless, I use clip and strap. I had just gone back to clip and strap pedals earlier this year. As we know, I had been off a bike for years, and I used to use them when I was a kid. I repeated the first time I used clip and strap when I was younger and had the infamous zero speed crash when I FORGOT I had the clips on! This of course happened when the Pudue Cycling Club in it’s entirety just happened to be riding by, nothing like a dumbasset $@%$up happening when the cyclists you’d most like to emulate just happen to be going by! I gotta admit, they were a great bunch of guys, though, as they stopped to make sure I wasn’t hurt, and gave me the face saving excuse that most of them had dumped it while learning to stop and stay still, still clipped in as well!:GRIN::

  8. Comment by Unknown | 12.19.2005 | 8:41 pm

    For what it’s worth, I haven’t fallen yet from using clipless pedals. But I seldom put my foot down at lights anyway. I just do my trackstand and wait. I’ve been trackstanding on my road bike since 1977, and so far I’ve only fallen once. And of course it had to be the one time someone said to me, "You could fall down doing that" and I said, "No, I never fall….[thud]".

  9. Comment by tayfuryagci | 12.19.2005 | 8:57 pm

    How can someone do a trackstand? Is there a special trcik to it? I have been trying to do it for a very long time and the longest I pulled of is about a second long.

  10. Comment by Unknown | 12.19.2005 | 9:44 pm

    Tayfur – ride a fixie. That’s how. Fatty, your tipover sounds like my crash in D.C. off Columbus Circle a few months ago when I started commuting – I think I mentioned this on my blog a while back, but I’ll share it here to give everybody a hearty laugh, Anchorman style. The main difference between our crashes is that I tried to send my 1995 vintage Deore MTB rear derailer across four or five gears at once in order to sprint away from a slightly uphill stoplight, just like I do with the shiny new Ultegra derailer on my road bike. Except the Olde Skool tech let me down, I threw the chain right in between the cogs and chainstay as I mashed the pedals, locked up the rear wheel, went from 5 mph to zero in precisely zero seconds, and then tipped over in rush hour traffic without unclipping, still mashing on the pedals, flat on my back, upside down, legs in the air flailing, like a cross between a flipped crab in a wheelchair, and a barking spandex-covered walrus. It never even occurred to me to unclip. Then the film crew from the local NBC affiliate – on the spot for some local interest story – captured it all on tape apparently, and they ran over and checked to see if I was okay. All of them were riders – all three guys said things like "dude, I do it all the time." "Stupid clipless pedals… hate ‘em." Wrong diagnosis, but I appreciated their attempt to mitigate my embarassment.I was sure that film would turn up on or someplace, but I haven’t seen it yet. They were long-hair dudes, a little older than the typical George Washington University rif-raf, and must have all been gentle reefer-fueled MTB’ers, or maybe some mature, understanding randoneers, because your typical hardcore roadie in this area would have passed that thing around the web in a heartbeat. Admittedly, it must have been funny – and I would have laughed if my shin wasn’t bleeding so bad. There was a tremendous amount of road rash for such a slow crash, and then unclipping I managed to let the chainring puncture the right shin in about four places. I assure you, the GWU co-eds stepping over my prone body in order to get to their last class were left with a strong impression. I don’t ride home that way any more…

  11. Comment by Tommy | 12.19.2005 | 9:58 pm

    I’ve been riding with clipless pedals since I discovered the first-generation Look cleats on a trip to Madison, WI back in the mid-80s. I’ve been riding SPDs since the early 90s.But I’ve never fallen over in traffic (or out of traffic, for that matter).Perhaps I did all the falling in public I needed to do when I was teaching myself to use inline skates during my junior year in college. I fell down almost constantly and always in front of, beside, or near large groups of people. I was embarrassed about it at first, but after a while it was just a thing I did. By my senior year I was getting around without falling down, except when I wanted to see how well a new set of knee pads or wrist braces would protect me.

  12. Comment by Andrew | 12.19.2005 | 10:15 pm

    About twice a week I commute into work and stop at the nearby health club to get washed up and changed. The club caters to the elderly, one of whom was sauntering by the bike rack by the entrance of the club. I decided I would relive my youth by charging up to where he was standing, then brake hard, skid, and perhaps scare the wits out of him. It was a good plan, too, except I forgot that I was clipped in. I panicked as I keeled over into the bike rack, the senior citizen getting a bit of a chuckle out of it. Mercifully it was 6:30 AM, so he was the only one who noticed. I think it was clearly a case of karmic retribution.

  13. Comment by Don't click | 12.19.2005 | 10:39 pm

    A quick story from a longtime lurker. My bestfriend executed a perfect zero speed crash while borrowing my bike 4 years ago to see if he wanted to try clipless on his bike. He got the hang of it quickly and was clipping in and out with no problem. He then decided to speed up to some girls on campus that he knew, and in the excitement of the moment, forgot to clip out. As he fell over, he managed to fall in such a way as to knock over the girl he had a crush on. He swapped bikes with me right there and didn’t try clipless again until this year. And she never went out with him.

  14. Comment by Unknown | 12.19.2005 | 11:56 pm

    I had the good fortune of buying used clipless pedals first, with used cleats. I never had to go through the steep learning curve woes. Did I ever pay you for those?

  15. Comment by Unknown | 12.20.2005 | 12:01 am

    In an effort to adhere to the rule of brevity imposed by dug, I hit the ‘publish’ button too quickly.I gave a set of new pedals away (in order to avoid the hard fall syndrome–I kept my nicely broken in ones) to a friend when I bought my first real moutain bike. We rode a technical trail with lots of ledges. He thought he had it down after about five minutes in the parking lot. Let’s just say that the learning curve was steeper than most of the ledges. Dude, that has GOT to hurt, and that, and that, and….

  16. Comment by Cinco | 12.20.2005 | 12:35 am

    Let me guess…left turn from Marymoor Park onto W. Lake Samm?? That one has been really frosty lately, especially in the mornings. I ride through there too, it can be tough. High density area too so the gawk factor has to be up there. Get better!!

  17. Comment by Unknown | 12.20.2005 | 2:09 am

    ….I wrote a similar post yesterday about the asphalt’s come-hither approach on my own weekend ride. The short story is I was standing upright and — unbalanced — fell in to traffic, under my bike (the longer story is posted on my blog) and was bruised and cut up in the process. My original contention was that cyclists other than myself falling was a great myth – something I heard a great deal about but never witnessed. Judging by the posts of fellow crashers, sounds like I’m not alone. I can now look forward to crashing in to a fire hydrant….-erica

  18. Comment by Harry | 12.20.2005 | 4:40 am

    Ok its one thing to humiliate yourself in public… In public nobody will know who you are (or hopefully at least) – you will just be that ‘anonymous cyclist idiot’ who is there for comedic value to be enjoyed by all. It is unlikely that underneath the lycra and helmet etc. that any non-cyclist will be able to positively identify you to further embarrass you further at a later point. Your best option in one of these circumstances is just to as calmly as possible regather yourself, get back on your bike, and continue on like nothing happened. Sure people might laugh, but who really cares in the end if they don’t know who you are?But it is a completely different case when you are with someone you know. Especially when you are the ‘elite’ cyclist and they are the mere ‘rookie’ who you are advising about all matters related to cycling. So here is the situation: my friend has just come around with his new bike for his first ride with me. After getting his bike set up we are ready to go, and I am explaining various things to consider from my vast experience. Naturally my friend here is in awe of the expanse of my knowledge. So then we get to the clipless pedals discussion. I tell him how important it is, no matter what you do, to make sure you don’t overbalance while still clipped in as it can be highly embarrassing. We have now covered everything he needs to know and we are ready to ride. I casually clip in showing how easy it can be, and for still unknown reasons to me I did exactly what I told him not to do and fell flat on my face. The result is naturally none other than COMPLETE HUMILIATION, a lot of laughs on my friends behalf, and a moment that he will never forget to remind me about.What I have learned from this is that if you are going to pretend to be an elite roadie, make sure you can at least pull it off.

  19. Comment by AO | 12.20.2005 | 5:02 am

    i’ve not (yet) had the misfortune of falling over due to failure to unclip.i did once lay my brand-new motorcycle (CBR600F4) down as i turned left across two very busy lanes of traffic during the morning rush hour. i remember looking at my bloody knee, but not feeling any pain. i also remember the complete humiliation as traffic came to a stand-still as i quickly ran over and struggled to pick the bike up and push it to the least you have the excuse of icy conditions. mine occurred on a perfectly sunny summer morn on a perfectly clean, gravel-free street.

  20. Comment by Unknown | 12.20.2005 | 10:24 am

    For my first attempt at clipless, I had the foresight to set them up in the garage. Leaning against the wall, I carefully clipped one foot in, then tried to unclip. Too tight. I tried a bit harder. Still couldn’t unclip. I gave my foot a big wrenching twist. Click! My other foot clipped in, just as I started to lean away from the wall. I crashed to the floor. Total miles between installing the pedals and crashing – zero.

  21. Comment by Unknown | 12.20.2005 | 1:08 pm

    I’ve had a few crashes (but only a few) with clipless pedals, but my proudest moment was crashing with clips and straps. Yep – I’m that good. This was in the very early 90s and I had been riding pretty seriously for a few years. I hadn’t upgraded to clipless yet, so I was riding with straps and cleats. I was living in Boulder at the time and I was coming home after a couple hours of riding. I hit a big intersection (Valmont and Foothills for those who care) and got stopped by a light. This is a big intersection – there’s 6 total lanes of traffic on Foothills and 4 on Valmont. While at the time I could do a trackstand until I got bored (Fatty and Tayfur – it just takes practice – I eventually could do one no-hands on my mountain bike), I’d loosened the strap and pulled my foot out as I was tired and didn’t want to take any chances. The light’s pretty long. Eventually the light turns and the left turn light comes on for my road (both directions). The turn light goes yellow – I roll forward a bit, putting my foot in and wrenching down on the strap expecting the light to go green any second. Note I’m still rolling forward, now just entering the intersection and the light hasn’t changed! Aaarrrgggh! The oncoming traffic is getting a longer turn light!!! In a panic, I hit the brakes to avoid being run over. Coming to a stop quite that quick, I wasn’t prepared to trackstand at all and immediately tipped over. Now the real embarrasment – if I’d had clipless I could then unclip my foot and get up. With the strap, I had to try and reach down, under me and the bike, to my foot to release the strap enough to get my foot out so I could get up. It felt like it took about 1 century or so to do so. Thankfully none of the many pro riders or ANY other rider was around to see my "graceful" fall.

  22. Comment by Jake | 12.20.2005 | 1:52 pm

    The same thing has happened to me in the freezing fog here in Seattle. I take it real easy when its below 38 degrees and I know we’ve had fog. Its tricky going from sunlight into the shade. Clear one second, sheet ice the next. Glad you’re ok.

  23. Comment by Unknown | 12.20.2005 | 2:37 pm

    I went clipless last year(late bloomer I know) with some egg beaters and thought they were ace. There are about 5,000 at my company and I unfortunately picked the morning rush to ride my Giant Yukon in. At the turn in I had to stop due to traffic and the first-timers-unclip-itis hit me :( With plenty of co-workers around I flop to the pavement and the worst part was I couldn’t unclip for what seemed like an eternity. I’m a clyde too so here’s this fat guy flopping around on the ground stuck to his pedals. I can get used to clipping in but I still can’t stand the position of the pedal to the foot. When running clips on my roadbike I guess I had the pedal much further toward my toes. I might just go back to clips.BTW excellent blog. I know you make good coin at your job but if you ever get tired of it I’m sure you can get some writing gigs.

  24. Comment by Unknown | 12.20.2005 | 3:34 pm

    As fun as sharing our humiliation is, ought we to maybe help out the lurking newbies who are now terrified of clipless pedals? I hope this isn’t threadjacking, if it is, Fatty, please feel free to shower me with condensed essence of bike gloves the next time you see me. My lessons learned include: On a regular bike with a freewheel, clip one foot in, spin that pedal up to one or two o’clock, take one stroke forward and hop on the bike and into the saddle, coast a little and clip the other foot in when the cleat finds the binding. Just noodle your foot around on the pedal until you feel the front of the cleat engaging the binding, then step down firmly on the pedal. If it’s taking a while to seat the cleat into the binding, don’t freak out, just pedal with one leg until you can coast again; or pedal smoothly with your loose foot on top of its pedal, and then clip in once you can start coasting again. For stopping, as in all safe riding you should be concentrating and scanning the road to anticipate stops and intersections and gravel, and when you start to slow you should clip one leg out *early* before you grab a handful of brake. Double-sided SPD pedals seem easier to learn on than Look style pedals, which I prefer to ride now but which are single-sided and require a little more fussing to clip into. For fixed gear junkies – where I’m a NOOB – I know the same two o’clock method is often discussed, but I usually find it easier (with double sided SPD pedals) to just start pedaling away with my feet on top of the pedals, and clip in when I get the chance. The two o’clock method requires an agile hop into the saddle. Also, does anybody use Look pedals on their fixie, and if so, how is it?

  25. Comment by Paul Beard | 12.20.2005 | 7:29 pm

    I always shake my head at people that won’t use clipless pedals because they think clips and straps are easier. At least with clipless there is a (slight) chance to unclip if falling over. Unlike trying to reach for the strap to release…I went from Look pedals to Speedplays and found out at the wrong moment that the release doesn’t work the same. Look – kick out heel and release. Speedplay – kick out heel and roll outside of foot down or you’re learning how much the pedal floats without releasing.My latest move was to change spd cleats then discover when stopping that they wouldn’t release. I had to adjust the pedal with an allen key while I was attached just to get out from under the bike.

  26. Comment by Paul Beard | 12.20.2005 | 7:50 pm

    Trackstanding for tayfuryagci:It’s easiest to learn/practice where the road cambers/banks to the curb (has a slight slope down from left to right). You can even practice on a very slight uphill road.Practice w/o clipless pedals so you can quickly put a foot down if needed. Essentially, roll as slow as you can until your about to stop and point the front wheel to the left (uphill) and resist the bike wanting to roll backwards. You shouldn’t have to flail the front wheel around – it’s the effort of pedaling but not moving uphill that is zen of trackstanding.It’s also easier to only apply the front brake when stopping to track stand. If the road is sloped/cambered, your leg will then resist the roll-back and you don’t need the brakes.I learned trackstanding on a 10-speed so I didn’t find the fixie much easier or different.

  27. Comment by Unknown | 12.20.2005 | 10:14 pm

    My company gives me a check for unused vacation and sick time. Comes in handy this time of year.Sounds like you’re developing mad fixie skills. I just may have to build my vintage Batavus into one, just to kep up with the blog-Jones. Or Fatty.As far as drivers go, the most dangerous seem to be teen girls on cell phones or OLGAMF’s in land barges. Maybe we need to turn to Chuck Norris for help.Boz

  28. Comment by Ryan Schmid | 12.21.2005 | 8:17 am

    On one of my first rides with clip less pedals, I rolled up onto a sidewalk to push the button for the cross walk. The curb was abnormally high, at least 150% the height of a typical curb. At any rate, I pushed the button too hard, literally pushing myself off the curb. Feeling my entire body/bike falling sideways into a very busy street, I of course panicked and was unable to unclip. I ended up falling clear to the ground, and leaving a very deep bruise in my left hip. I was obviously extremely embarrassed. A guy waiting at the bus stop started walking toward me. Annoyed and wanting to avoid talking about the ridiculousness of my mistake, I tried to ignore him…then it happened, he said after watching the entire episode, "Hey man, have you got any change for the bus?" Indignant that he had the nerve to ask me for money after observing my blunder, I said no and rode home.


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