Dignity, and the Lack Thereof

03.7.2009 | 4:00 am

Monday (Labor Day), Kenny and I rode the Mt. Nebo Loop: 112 road miles, 7,717 feet of climbing. It’s quite possibly the best road loop in Utah, and Kenny and I picked a perfect day for it. The weather was mild, the mountain was beautiful, traffic was negligible, and we had a tailwind on the 40 miles of flat road at the end of the ride. (You can look at the climbing, speed, distance and other data for this ride at http://eldennelson.motionbased.com — Click on Mt. Nebo Loop.)

Really, it was just about perfect.

Except for just one thing.

About 2/3 of the way up the 22-mile-long climb, I noticed that my left shoe was sliding around on my left pedal. Which meant the cleats were loose. I knew without even bothering to look that I’d need a Phillips screwdriver. What I also knew without bothering to look was that I had no tools with me whatsoever. Kenny didn’t have any either.

So, I did the obvious thing: I started looking for a vehicle parked on the side of the road, one that looks like it might have a screwdriver. A truck, for example, would be a good bet. A Porsche Boxster would be a less-good bet.

Before long, I happened on a truck on the side of the road. There was nobody in it, though. I continued on until — surprise! — I saw a guy sitting on the side of the road about 20 feet from the truck. I could immediately tell that he was trying to spot elk. How could I tell? Camouflage, binoculars, and elk hunting season might have something to do with it.

“What luck,” I thought to myself. “This guy’s right by his truck and is doing nothing in particular! I’ll bet he’ll be happy to loan a cyclist a screwdriver.”

So I rolled up to him, slowing to a stop, and saying “Hi” to catch his attention.

And it’s a good thing I got his attention before I came to a stop, because if I hadn’t, he wouldn’t have witnessed the following sequence of events:

  1. I came to a complete stop, still clipped in.
  2. I started tilting, slightly to my left.
  3. I swung my left foot out, to clip out of my pedals.
  4. My cleat and pedal remained firmly attached to one another.
  5. I continued tipping to my left.
  6. I tried more desperately to unclip.
  7. I stayed clipped in.
  8. I crashed heavily on my left side, three feet from the man in camouflage.
  9. I said, “Oof!”
  10. I struggled to get from under my bicycle for an eternal minute, eventually removing my shoe so I can separate myself from the stupid thing.
  11. I asked the incredulous-looking man if he could loan me a screwdriver.

Evidently, three of the four screws that fastened my cleat to my shoe had come out, so that the cleat pivoted freely around the final screw.

Luckily, the man did have a screwdriver. I tightened the one remaining screw into the cleat, then removed one of the screws from my right shoe’s cleat and moved it over to the left shoe. And thus was I able to salvage the ride, though not my dignity.

You know what, though? I can’t help but wonder how the hunter tells this story. I imagine it begins with, “So I was just sitting there minding my business when this stinky, sweaty pansy in skin-tight shorts rode his bike right up to me. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fear for my safety. Then the guy just fell over on his side for no reason whatsoever and started wrestling with his bicycle.”

Then he and his friends would speculate for hours — and rightly so — on what this strange event meant.

PS: This post rescued from my Spaces archive. Originally posted 09/06/06.


  1. Comment by misspollyanna | 03.7.2009 | 5:11 am

    Great story that has give me my fix of daily giggles! I think every cyclist can sympathize with this one. Same thing happened to me out on a spin but luckily I didn’t fall beside the construction workers, while on the hunt for a Philips head’. Thank you for re-posting!

  2. Comment by Jim | 03.7.2009 | 5:26 am

    A 112 mile loop in the mountains, and “I had no tools with me whatsoever. Kenny didn’t have any either.”

    I think the medical term for the level of higher brain function shown by this is “vegetative state.”

  3. Comment by Mike Roadie | 03.7.2009 | 5:54 am

    Would have been funny if you did fall over, though!

  4. Comment by Dino | 03.7.2009 | 6:22 am

    I’m fairly certain I had a beer with that trucker not so long ago. He certainly tells a funny story about a ‘power ranger’ trying to get intimate with his push-bike but the language was a bit more flowery than can be used on this blog.

    Great story that is bound to find its way into the ‘Urban myths’ collection somewhere down the line.

  5. Comment by Linda | 03.7.2009 | 6:26 am

    Oh, I have SOOO done that…LOL

  6. Comment by stuckinmypedals | 03.7.2009 | 8:16 am

    Been there. Fallen like that.

  7. Comment by Jason Griese | 03.7.2009 | 8:17 am

    Great story, I as an Ironworker work with those guys the Elk hunters And other non cyclists and yes , we will never win their admiration or understanding.

    Me 16 years hold holding perfect track stand for the duration of the red light next to 2 college girls talking bout me. I know they wanted me . and whoooaaaaa crash down I went like the mighty oak . They didn’t laugh too hard.

  8. Comment by BigShorty | 03.7.2009 | 8:42 am

    I was “training” or, at least attempting to train for the original Tour de Donut in IL when I had the idea to go to clipless pedals. Being a cool guy and all I tried them out in the driveway for a while, then headed to a local bike trail to put them to use. Things were good, practiced clipping in and out…….confidence builds……then I came to a stop near the local county road next to my favorite bar, who incidently was having softball league night. As I slowed up for the road crossing (attempting to look cool and fast) I was hit simultanteously with a calf in my left calf while attempting to clip out. Panic struck and as I began to fall, I could see the rider of an approaching harley start to smile and then point as I fell over like a tranquilized elephant. Then, of course, it caught the attention of several acquaintences who were playing softball at the time..

    Ahhh, the joy of outdoor excersise! That ride cost some ego points and $10 @ the bike shop to true the front wheel.

  9. Comment by Fuzzy | 03.7.2009 | 8:51 am

    Fatters, that made me larf!

    Having a Clipless Moment is as much part of becoming a ‘Real Cyclist’ TM as stealing the first kiss from the girl of your dreams in the playground at school, is part of becoming a ‘Real Man’.

    Luv n’ Stuff.
    Fuzzy from the UK.

  10. Comment by steventoby | 03.7.2009 | 9:18 am

    I had almost the exact same crash last November with a few notable exceptions: It was in my driveway, and nobody saw (that I know of).

    I had just finished a good training ride and eased into my driveway. I went to clip out and got nothing. It felt like slow motion going down as I repeadedly tried in vain to release my shoe. After the mushroom cloud dissipated from the concussion of my fall, I had to remove my shoe to detach myself from my bike. And of course, the first thing I did was jump up and look around to make sure nobody saw the humiliating scene.

    Now, before every ride, I check my cleat screws!

    Win Susan!

  11. Comment by russ | 03.7.2009 | 9:51 am

    Look on the bright side, whilst you were down he could have “cleaned” you and mounted your head on his trophy wall, close escape really.

  12. Comment by Jeff | 03.7.2009 | 9:53 am

    My wife thinks it strange to hear me laughing so hard in the other room. She’ll never understand :)
    I’ve had a few good tips, one right in the middle of downtown, people all over the place… Two little old grandmas in the car next to me seemed quite worried and asked if I was ok, I said “yea, I’m ok, it happens all the time” haha, yea, a little embarrased. C’est la vie.

  13. Comment by Aaron | 03.7.2009 | 10:19 am

    Yep, been there, done that. I once had the same thing happen, but on my mountain bike, and was right on the edge of a good bit of exposure. Well, you can guess which way I fell over. Yep, right off the edge, and tumbled down the hill, of course.

  14. Comment by Hat | 03.7.2009 | 11:30 am

    Yep. It happens to us all. My cleat was down to one screw and I couldn’t twist it to get it to release from the pedal. So I skidded to a stop, somehow got my foot out of the shoe, and drove home in my stocking feet with one shoe still affixed to the pedal on the bike on the roof of my car.

  15. Comment by blair | 03.7.2009 | 2:09 pm

    Okay. I promise to stop laughing.

    The next time you post this story.

    And, in compensation, you can laugh at this one:

    When I first got cleated pedals I practiced dozens of times clipping in and out and got good at it.

    And I got used to doing what I’d done with straps, which is to ride right up to within a foot or so my garage door, on my sloping driveway, then clip out just as I stopped.

    Anyone see this coming?

    Well, yes, one day I got there and realized that it had worked in the past because I had habitually started cranking up the driveway from the exact same crank angle at the bottom. But not this time, and I found my clipping-out foot at the bottom and forward, and the foot I was going to use to drive up and back where it would be useless once I released pressure on the crank with my clipped-out foot. Which was moot. Because I twisted my foot and…twisted my foot and…visualized an escape wherein I would bounce my front wheel off the door and try to roll backwards in a controlled manner to where I could maneuver around (across the rocks just off the driveway if necessary) and back into the street to try to wrestle with it there or, if necessary, learn to clip-out with my other foot.

    It worked. Up to the part just after the word “door”.

    I crumpled onto my side and found it easier to clip out without having to also apply pressure to control the bike.

    Now I clip out 50 feet before I get to the driveway, or an intersection, or some iffy road surface.

  16. Comment by JC | 03.7.2009 | 3:04 pm

    Thanks for the laugh. At least you had the missing screw excuse. I was mentoring a TNT cycling team and riding alongside a newer cyclist, explaining how easy the clipless pedals were to use and how it really wasn’t hard at all to get used to them when we came to a stoplight. I was so into my explanation that I completely forgot to clip out. I gently tipped into the grass beside the road and showed her it was also not dangerous to fall while using them.

  17. Comment by erik | 03.7.2009 | 3:14 pm

    This is the post that hooked me years back. Nice to see it again.

  18. Comment by markowe | 03.7.2009 | 3:42 pm

    Haha, the old clipless topple – I had one caught on film, much to my chagrin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDU1jkqltyU

  19. Comment by Animator Thom | 03.7.2009 | 5:17 pm

    I don’t think that has ever happened to me.

  20. Comment by Bluenoser | 03.7.2009 | 5:59 pm

    Hey Fatty,

    Ron over at the CosyBeehive wrote a thing about loosening your opponents cleat awhile back. Worth a read.

    I got to wear my Fat Cyclist Twin Six XXL long sleeved wooly jersey today for the first time. It was sooo comfortable it made my ride probably one of the top ten of my life, and I’ve ridden a lot of rides.

    Mini tools are wonderful things… don’t leave town without one.


  21. Comment by Clydesteve | 03.7.2009 | 11:48 pm

    Elden, that is a better Artie Johnson in clip-ins than ANY I have ever done.

    Probably my best was at the barbers shop. One second I am outside her window, the next, I am gone (on the ground).

  22. Comment by Dee | 03.8.2009 | 1:00 am

    When I got clipless pedals, I practiced on the bike trainer and rode around the block a few times to get the feel of it. Must not have been enough since I fell oh-so-ungracefully in front of gobs of people during a 30 mile ride. It’s refreshing to know that veteran cyclists still have moments…even if they do have an excuse. ;)

  23. Comment by Janneke | 03.8.2009 | 2:10 am

    Hihihi I had an almost similar experience once with a wooden signpost on the top of a hill in the Czech Republic. The post looked ok but was rotten to the core. I thought I’d lean on it while waiting for my friend to come up the hill… As I leaned comfortly it broke at the base, taking me with it down the embankment of the road into the ditch 5 metres below… Fortunately nothing serious happened other than a mudbath… My friend subsequently fell of her bike from laughing so much…


  24. Comment by Fuzzy | 03.8.2009 | 7:06 am

    Janneke, that is awesome and a real hoot!

    Fatters- you have been outdoen Sir!

    Luv n’ Stuff
    Fuzzy from the UK.

    WIN Susan!

  25. Comment by mary | 03.8.2009 | 7:42 am

    this post had me in tears and out loud laughter. especially the part about what the elk hunter thought.

  26. Comment by Kala | 03.8.2009 | 1:15 pm

    Hahaha, oh Fatty. This is exactly something that would happen to me!!

  27. Comment by gw | 03.8.2009 | 2:44 pm

    I use Loctite on the screws myself, never had any fall out yet.
    Could save you some future embarrassment.

  28. Comment by Jenny-Jenny | 03.9.2009 | 2:04 pm

    Been there. At a busy intersection in the middle of Bothel WA.


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