The Clipless Pedal Monologues

03.4.2015 | 1:15 pm


A “Great Ride, Great Cause” Note from Fatty: As you probably know, I’m a big fan of BikeMonkey. They put on the amazing Levi’s Gran Fondo, as well as Rebecca’s Private Idaho, as well as Boggs.

As you may (or may not) know, I’m also a fan of fundraising for good causes. Especially when those good causes are for good people (which they pretty much always are). 

And right now, a good Friend of Fatty — Angie Gibson — is working with BikeMonkey to help raise money for a friend’s medical treatment. By creating an awesome ride: Hermano, a 71.4-mile roadirt adventure in Northern California. 

If you can join the ride, do. And if you can’t join the ride, you can still help. Why don’t you kick in a few bucks? Thanks!

The Clipless Pedal Monologues

About twenty years ago — a few scant weeks after I had been persuaded to trade in my rollerblades for a mountain bike — I swapped out my flat pedals for clipless pedals.

I have not stopped conversing about these pedals ever since. Sometimes out loud. Usually in my head. Frequently with (at least) a hint of panic.

And always to myself.

Day 1

OK, right foot’s in. That wasn’t so hard. Let’s go. 

I’m moving. I’m riding with clipless pedals! I think that means I’m an advanced rider now. Except I haven’t found where my left foot needs to go to get it to connect up.

There it is. 

No, that wasn’t it after all. I’ll move my left foot forward a little bit. Huh, it won’t slide. Maybe I’m in after all.

Nope, I can lift my foot off the pedal. Not clipped in.

Why are these called “clipless” pedals anyway? Everyone says you “clip in,” so there’s obviously a clip somewhere in this contraption. Their name is the actual opposite of what they are. That doesn’t bode well for their functionality.

I just felt a scrape — metal on metal. I think my cleat must be touching the pedal. Push…down…harder…and….

I’m in! I’m clipped into my clipless pedals!

I just need to remember when I get to that stoplight: twist my heel out. Before I get to the stop. Not up. Out.

Slowing. Twist! Good, my right foot’s out.

And I’m stopped. And…I’m tipping left.

Twist out! No pull up! Pull up! Up! Up! Up! Why won’t my foot come off my pedal!?


Damn it. I needed to twist out. Not pull up. I knew that. 

Everyone said that would happen. That it happens to everyone.

But I don’t think it happens to most people so publicly. I’m laying here, on my left side. In the road. At a stoplight.

And my bike is on top of me, in such a way that I cannot twist out of this stupid pedal. 

This, I think, must be how an upended turtle must feel. 

Day 2

OK, you’re coming to a stop. You’re stopping. Twist out with all your might. 

You did it. You did it. It’s going to be OK. You don’t need to put training wheels on your bike after all. 

Day 5

Shouldn’t there be an upside to these things? So far, they just make me fall over a lot.

Day 30

Pull up. Pull up. Up. Up up up. Wow, you really do get a lot more power when you pull up. I just need to keep practicing, and soon I’ll have an upstroke that’s automatic.

(Five Minutes Later)

Huh. I seem to have stopped doing an upstroke. When did I do that? Sometime during the past couple minutes, I guess. 

Up. Up. Up. Up.

(One Minute Later)

Seriously, I’ve stopped doing the upstroke again?

Day 75

I just put my foot down, and I didn’t think about it. I just came to a stop, twisted my foot out of the pedal, and put it down and I did it without planning the motion for the previous thirty seconds.

This is a big deal. I think I’m getting the hang of these. Finally.

(Five Minutes Later)

OK, left foot on cleat and push. Nope, didn’t place the foot correctly. 

I wonder if I’ll ever just clip in without thinking about it.

Day 750

Up. Up. Up. Up. You’d think I’d have made the upstroke a habit by now.

Day 3500

OK, push down. Nope, not far enough forward. You’d think that after doing this for ten years I’d know exactly where to put my foot to clip into my pedals, every single time.

Day 5000

Huh. I just realized that I’m pulling up. I have an upstroke habit. And it only took me fourteen years to develop it.

Day 7000

Push in. Nope. Wrong position. I’ll get it on the next rotation. Nope, didn’t get it that time either. There you go.

Well, it’s not like I’ve been trying to learn to clip in right for twenty years or anything. 

Except I have.

Day 7001

Whoah, waah woh…


So I guess this is what an upended turtle (still) feels like.


Snow Day

03.2.2015 | 12:12 pm

You’ll have to excuse my absence for the past several days (and for the next couple of days). You see, I’ve been getting job and family stuff taken care of so that The Hammer and I could head out on our annual anniversary trip. 

You see, tomorrow is our five-year anniversary. Yep, five years.

Five years ago

Every anniversary, we head out to Zion National Park and stay in one of the cabins at the park lodge for a few days. We mountain bike. We road bike. We hike. We run on pavement. We run on trails.

We pretty much do what we love doing together. For us, it’s a perfect vacation. A perfect vacation which requires a huge number of very different kinds of shoes.

IMG 1668

Yes, this is really all the shoes we brought along on our trip. For a fun exercise, see if you can determine the brand and name of each pair of shoes, as well as what activity each pair of shoes is for and to whom each pair belongs.

Right now, however, neither of us is wearing any shoes, because it’s snowing in Zion National Park. A blizzard, basically. Stay-inside weather.

So, not a bad time to sit by the fire and tell you about yesterday’s unexpectedly awesome hike.

Screenshot 2015 03 02 10 30 48

Friends to the Rescue

The Hammer and I reserved our cabin and arranged time off from our jobs months ago, so we watched with increasing dismay as the weather forecast for Southern Utah has turned unseasonably cold and unseasonably wet. But we loaded road and mountain bikes for both of us anyway, as well as shoes for pretty much any occasion.

And a good thing, too. Because our bike shoes have remained unused, and our bikes have remained locked up to the truck, getting colder and wetter as our trips progress. 

On our first day here, though, The Hammer got me out on a run on the road up the canyon to the end of the “River Walk” trail and back to our lodge. We’d guess that it’s about a nine-mile run, though — thanks to a very narrow canyon, The Hammer’s GPS had some trouble getting us a reading, leading to what I consider the most awesome Strava track of all time (check it out soon, cuz The Hammer says she’s going to be deleting it within a couple days).

But the weather didn’t look good for the next few days, and there was just no way I was going to do a big run every day of the trip. I’m just not conditioned for that.

And then Kenny and Heather rescued us, by crashing our anniversary trip.

“Let’s hike the East Rim Trail,” they said. Eleven miles, point to point. None of us had ever done it before, but on paper it looked like a lot of fun.

Paper, as it turns out, didn’t remotely do this beauty of a hike justice.

East Rim

Zion National Park is famous for its cliffs and red sandstone beauty. So it was just a little bit surreal to start our hike in a snowstorm, with the red cliffs covered in snow and us dressed like this:

IMG 1609

What was really great about it, though, was how the snow completely changed the experience of hiking in Southern Utah. The color palette changed from being dominated by reds and browns to white and green.

IMG 1577

A half foot of powder wasn’t enough to make for really slow going, but it was enough to soften and mute our footsteps.

IMG 1575

Somehow, being able to see snow clinging to the walls — and resting at the bottom — of Jolley Gulch made it even more vertigo-inducing.

IMG 1592

Here’s Kenny, contemplating whether rolling a giant snowball off a cliff counts as trundling.

IMG 1594

There’s something really wonderful about hiking with a group of people who are all more-or-less the same temperament and fitness as you. We chatted and laughed the whole time, staying warm by staying in motion. Taking quite a few pictures on the go, but rarely stopping for more than a minute or two for another group selfie.

IMG 1648

What was kind of amazing was how, as we descended 2500 feet in about six miles, the depth of snow gradually decreased, and then disappeared.

IMG 1650

In the end, this trail connects with the Observation Point trail, where all the recent rain has made the moss on the rock walls grow vivid green:

IMG 1661

Total time, about 5:15. A longish, but by no means brutal hike. So unlike what I’ve ever experienced  — or would expect to experience — in this area.

Unexpected awesomeness is sometimes the best kind of awesomeness.

And that’s not even taking into account the “Big Ass Double Burger” with sweet potato fries I ate at Oscar’s afterward.


Second Impressions

02.25.2015 | 10:02 am

First impressions matter to me. They matter a lot. In fact, they form a bias I have a tough time overcoming at all

But it can be done. 

Which is what today’s post is about.

First Impression

When I first got a Cannondale Scalpel 29 Carbon Team for long-term testing, I was — as is completely understandable — so excited I wanted to take this beauty to bed with me. 

But lots of bikes — almost all bikes, really — are gorgeous-looking. I’d suggest that for die-hard cyclists, how a bike looks in its showroom state doesn’t really qualify as its “first impression.”

The real first impression you have of a bike is how you feel when you take it out on that first ride.

And on the Scalpel, that first ride didn’t go so well for me.

catcher's mitt

On my very first descent with this bike, in a hairpin turn, I tipped over, put out my left hand to catch my fall (stupid), and bent my pinky finger back. 

This, of course, had nothing whatsoever to do with the bike. It was user error, pure and simple.

[Side Note: Even though I fully acknowledge that I crashed because of clumsiness, I’m tempted to go on a rant here, asking why mountain bike manufacturers spec out ridiculously narrow tires with their high-end bikes. It’s not just Cannondale, all major bike manufacturers do this. I suspect it's so they can claim as low a weight on the bike as possible. But I’m not going to dwell on this, except to say that before I rode the Scalpel again, I replaced the 1.95 tires the bike ships with, with some much-more-reasonable 2.2s.]

But still. The wreck colored my perception of the Scalpel. I now associated it with falling down. And as a result, I was way less excited about this technological marvel of a bike than I ought to have been.

[Another Side Note: I wonder how often this happens with real bike reviewers. You know, people who legitimately review bicycles. Not that I expect they crash anywhere near as often as I do, but the truth is, about 84% of how any given bike feels on any given day has to do with what you personally bring to the ride. If you’re hung over or hungry or had a quarrel with your dog or have a cold coming on, no bike — no matter how amazing it is — is going to impress you as much as it would if you are personally having a banner day.]

I knew this impression was unfair, and I wanted to give the Scalpel a fair shake. To associate it with something besides my own error.

And last weekend, I had the opportunity to do just that.

Second Impression

For my first time ever, I plan to race what’s emerging as one of the premiere early-season endurance races in UT: The True Grit Epic. It’s fifty miles of rocky, often-technical singletrack and doubletrack in Saint George, Utah. 

Yeah, I know I said earlier that I was considering the 100-mile version of this race. That was somewhere between Folly and Hubris on the scale of Stupid Things to Say.

Why? Because last weekend, as part of a “Camp Lynda” group ride, The Hammer and I went to pre-ride the True Grit course.

And fifty miles was plenty

I brought the Scalpel, knowing that this light full-suspension racing machine is in fact perfect for this kind of course. I knew that if I was going to fall in love with this bike, that it was going to happen here, on incredible trail.

IMG 1837

And, within an hour of riding — sure enough — I had fallen in love with this bike.

For the first time in..well, ever…I was able to hang with both Kenny and Brad on all but the most technical of descents.

Down the ramp

Once, in fact, I actually caught up with Brad on a fast downhill. This has never ever happened before. Ever.

And the Scalpel’s a crazy-good bike for climbing, too. 


For one thing, this full-suspension, geared 29er weighs a grand total of 22 pounds. Yeah. And for another — and this is important to me — you lock out the front and rear suspension with the press of a single button, letting you swap this bike from a full-suspension descender to rigid climber, instantly.

I didn’t count, but I’d guess I did this swap more than 200 times during this ride.

Unfortunately for me, the bike can only do so much. When you’re out of gas on a climb, you’re out of gas:


Dropping the ten pounds I’ve still got to lose will go a long way toward resolving that issue. Nothing in the universe can make you a better climber than you’ve earned the right to be.


Oh, and here’s a picture of Brad, sticking out his tongue while poking me in the ear:

IMG 1399

Because: comedy.

Important Additional Observations

Riding a very technical and challenging course (42.5 miles, 5610 feet of climbing, countless technical moves) this early in the year is incredibly educational.

First and foremost, I learned that the True Grit course is amazing. It’s tough and technical and beautiful and — above all else — really fun

It’s an amazing showcase of the fantastic trail network that’s evolving in St. George. If you can possibly find a way to get over and race it this year (or next year), I highly recommend it. (But be ready for it — it’s not an easy race at all.)

Secondly, I am very, very afraid of The Hammer this year. You see, while I have always talked up how strong she is, my big male ego has remained comfortable…because I was always still stronger and faster than she is.

On this pre-ride of the course — specifically, on the second half of it — this was not at all the case. Over and over, she would drop me on climbs, then have to wait for me to catch up.

Here she is, comfortably hanging with me on a climb I am killing myself on.

No problem hanging with Fatty

Every year since we’ve been together, The Hammer has narrowed the gap between our riding abilities. That gap has now been fully closed, and is now beginning to open in the other direction. 

Time will tell if my big male ego can handle it. [Hint: If I stop talking about how well The Hammer is riding, it’s because I can no longer bear the shame of it.]

And finally / thirdly, I’m really lucky to have the good friends I’ve got. If Kenny hadn’t hung around, waiting for The Hammer and me, we would never have been able to ride that course. (I just hope it’s well-marked on race day, because I have a hunch that Kenny won’t want to wait around for me then.)

Oh, and here’s a selfie of Brad, Kenny and me

Brad, Kenny, Fatty

Because: comedy.

Superduper Cool News

02.20.2015 | 10:59 am

I’ve been busting at the seams, and not for the usual reasons. Basically, I’ve been dying to share some great news, and now I finally can.

It’s about me (as everything is, if I can possibly make it so), but it’s not just about me. And it’s the not-just-about-me part that has me really stoked.

I’m talking in circles and dancing around the point. As usual. So let’s cut that out and get to the point already.

I am a 2015 Team World Bicycle Relief Ambassador

Yup, The Hammer was one last year and did amazing things to spread the word and raise funds for World Bicycle Relief. This year it’s my turn. And I already have some things in mind that I think you’re going to really, really like. 

Stuff I’ve done before, and stuff I’ve never done before. I am so stoked.

But here’s the thing. That’s only half the awesome news. Here comes the other half:

Dave, Amy, and Rob Thompson are ALSO Team WBR Ambassadors!

The Thompsons

For the past several years, I’ve gotten to know the extraordinary Thompson family; they’re some of the nicest, most generous folks I’ve ever known.

Dave is an amazingly strong rider (not to mention a genius engineer), Rob is tenacity personified, and Amy is just a remarkable soul (and remarkably tolerant / supportive of Rob and Dave’s adventures).

And they are absolutely positively the very embodiment of the WBR slogan, “The Power of Bicycles.” 

Here’s what the official announcement has to say about the Thompsons:

Amy, Dave and Rob Thompson, Family Cycling Team Extraordinaire
In 2008, Amy & Dave Thompson’s son, Rob, suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of a car accident. After a five-month hospitalization that began with a five-week coma, Rob returned home and wanted one thing — to go on a bike ride.

Unable to walk or stand at the time, Rob’s request broke Amy’s heart. But Dave took it as a challenge and began a search for a tandem that he could ride with his son. When the search proved no results, Dave built one — a tricycle that he and Rob power together!

Their first ride was one mile.

Within a few years, they were riding regularly and went on a 20-mile ride. Last year, the family cycling trio completed a 60-mile ride! Rob, who is still in a wheelchair, is now an avid and successful cyclist.

Together, Amy, Dave, and Rob will serve as our first family as Team WBR Ambassadors, truly symbolizing the Power of Bicycles. 

Being a WBR ambassador at the same time as some of the very best Friends of Fatty is pretty much the best thing, ever.

A Few Hints

I’m going to be talking about WBR a lot this year, and I’m going to be including you. Here are a few hints about things you can expect, with a promise that there will be details soon (ish).

  • Grand Slam Will Be Back: Last year I took a break from my annual “Grand Slam for Zambia,” so I could finish my book. This year, the Grand Slam will be back, and it will be huge. We’re going to set an audacious goal, and we’re going to have an outrageous number of incredible prizes. This will happen in July.
  • Let’s Go On Tour. Hey, you might have heard that Team MTN Qhubeka will be racing in the Tour de France this year. But did you know that Qhubeka is part of World Bicycle Relief? Yes, they’re actually the same organization. Which means that World Bicycle Relief will be represented at the Tour de France. Does this possibly mean that there might be some Tour-related schwag coming your way? Mmmmmaaybe.
  • The Jersey Will Have a Very New Look. I’ll be revealing the 2015 jersey very soon. And while I don’t want to give away too much, let’s just say that if you’re wearing the Team Fatty jersey this year, you’ll also be supporting World Bicycle relief, both with your money and on your sleeve. 
  • Back to the Yurt. The Hammer and I loved our trip to the Gooseberry Yurt last year; it was a fantastic fundraiser. I think we ought to do it again. Don’t you?

And there’s going to be more. It’s all going to be fun, and I’m (obviously) very excited. And together, we’re going to make a big difference. 

I’m stoked to get started.

PS: Read the official announcement here.

Something Tonight, Something Tomorrow

02.19.2015 | 1:06 pm

I’m buried under my day job right now, so don’t have time to be hilarious. Which is too bad for you, because I’m feeling particularly funny right now. For example, I just had a thought that made me chortle, then guffaw. Ordinarily, I would share that thought with you, but today, I’m keeping it to myself.

What a shame.

Still, there are a couple things I want to remind you of: a reminder about tonight, and a tease about tomorrow.



Don’t forget that this evening I’ll be joining Jonathan Lee, one of the honchos at TrainerRoad. We’ll be talking about the mile record, tips for training, approaches to getting thinner and faster (and where the balance between those two things lies), and taking lots of questions. 

You don’t need to be a TrainerRoad subscriber to join the call; this is a chat about getting fast with a guy who knows what he’s talking about. So bring your questions and thoughts. 

Make sure you register (click here to register) before the event, and then join us either on your phone or computer (or both) tonight at 7pm PST / 8pm MST / 9pm CST / 10pm EST.


Tomorrow, I will have an exciting, major announcement I’ll be making here. I’m super-duper stoked about it, and I think you will be too. 

So make sure you check in sometime tomorrow, OK?



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