I’ve always liked cycling and have been a spin class devotee for several years. I’ve also had various hybrid bikes and guess you would have described me as ‘a fair-weather cyclist’. Then last October I decided to get a road bike through my work’s cycle to work scheme. The bike was a very nice addition to my dining room until March, and the fairer weather, when I decided venture out to Richmond Park. After weeks of park laps I made an online plea for cycling buddies and a member of BellaVelo suggested I went on a ride with them. Since then I’ve faced and conquered various ‘firsts’ - getting out of bed at 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday (eek!), rocking up at Richmond Park to meet a group of strangers (eek!) and mastering ‘clipping in’ (double eek).
The first two challenges were tough enough. I’m a snoozer and love Saturday lie-ins. I also tend to be a bit shy and avoid socialising with people I don’t know unless I have a) a wing man b) a glass of wine in hand or c) a wing man and wine, which is my preferred scenario. I can’t give the Bellas credit for getting me out of bed (that goes to my partner, Lee) but they certainly made me feel quickly at ease so that I came to view them all as kindred spirits rather than strangers. On my first ride, and every ride since, I have been warmly accepted by everyone. I already feel a strong sense of belonging to a wonderful community of women who look out for each other, build each other up and are on a mission to get as many women into cycling as possible. And you know what? It’s infectious. Now I’ve lost my Bella virginity I’m extending the same warm welcome to new-comers and extolling the virtues of the group to other women.
The third ‘first’ I conquered was mastering clipping in. Every cyclist faces this challenge and it seems we all experience epic fails before we earn our clipping in proficiency badge. If you go on any cycling forum you’ll be bombarded with cyclists competing for the award for the scariest or the most comical clipped-in fall. Thankfully these forums also offer tips on getting to grips with clipping in. They say the trick is to embrace the falls and view them a rite of passage rather than a reason to give up. And I’ve certainly earned my stripes in terms of falling over. You could say I’ve been there, done that, bought the t-shirt (or rather BellaVelo cycling jersey). They also recommend taking baby steps which for some (and me) means easing yourself in with multi-directional mountain bikes cleats and double sided pedals with one flat side that allow you to clip in, not clip in, or just clip in one foot.
That’s the theory but putting it into practice is another thing. I practiced in my local park on grass, forgot to unclip when I stopped, and fell over a few times. Then I cycled to Richmond Park (clipped out obvs!) and once there I clipped my left foot in and clipped my left foot out, then I clipped my right foot in and my right foot out, then both, then my right, back to both (you get the picture) before clipping out for the cycle home. I returned to Richmond Park and repeated my clipping in hokey cokey but then forgot whether I’d put my left or right foot in and fell over. My fall wasn’t scary or even comical (no awards for me), but it did dent my confidence and made me reluctant to clip in again.
My next attempt at clipping in was on my first BellaVelo ride and I found myself clipping in for short periods and mainly riding clipped out. The ride leader and others in the group gave me some pointers, explaining that it soon becomes second nature and encouraged me to keep on trying. So, on my next ride, I explained my fears to my group and they all encouraged me clip in for the WHOLE ride. Clippin’ heck! I found that cycling in a group made it much easier. Not only did I benefit from their encouragement and support, I also found it easier to copy them and clip out when they did. On my next ride I did the same thing, copied the others, and slowly trained my brain. Now I’m clipping in and out like a boss. On my last ride I found myself sharing my experiences and tips with others with the ‘fear’ encouraging them to take the plunge.
My next challenge is descending without sitting on my brakes. Again, I’m getting a lot of tips and encouragement from the others. I’ve also signed up for a BellaVelo course in August which covers descending other skills I need to improve. Next stop- the Tour de France (a girl can dream). The future is bright, the future is BellaVelo.