A sure sign that I am not a real bike rider yet is that I don’t know how to pronounce the brand name of my new Merida bike. I initially assumed Meh-rih-dah and thought I might call my bike Meredith as a kind of extension of this. Plus I love that name. But the more I stare at the beautiful matte black frame and minty green writing, the more I think it might be Mee-rider – as in ‘oi, where’s me rider gone now??’
[EDIT: I have been reliably informed since this post went live that it is pronounced Mah-reed-ah]
So, the name is still a bit up in the air. Please comment with your suggestions below (note that I have already considered and dismissed Lucy, Ursula, Lizzy and Blue)
Luckily, I can ride her without a name, so on Sunday afternoon I decided to prepare for my first proper bike ride.
One of the many advantages of my new bike is the pedals, which you can clip your shoes into. In true triathlon style, such pedals are called clipless pedals. Yes, you clip in. Yes, they are called clipless pedals.
Stupid name aside, my flashy pedals will allow to me to really relax into pedaling without fear of my feet flying off, also known as Shinpainphobia. Plus you can pull a pedal up with one foot whilst you are pushing down with the other, so overall you can give it a lot more effort. To clip in you need special cycling shoes that have a hard, non-flexible sole and holes to screw your clippy bits (called cleats) into. I scored a pair of second-hand cycling shoes in my size from EBay for $35 including postage – RRP $199.00. No need to applaud, I’ve already congratulated myself on this bargain numerous times.
I am almost embarrassed to blog about my cleats because it really sounds like a rude word to me. Just try not to let your mind wander too far as I continue to report on my pedals and shoes for the next paragraph or so.
The Other Lauren at the 99 Bikes shop where we bought my bike had given me the hot tip that to practice clipping in, I should hold on to the back of a lounge chair for balance and just sit on my bike slipping my cleats in and out. She made it sound much harder (but also less rude) than that and had me quite worried about the hours of cleat clipping practice I’d have to do. However, I am pleased to announce that for the first time on this triathlon journey I have found something I am naturally quite good at – cleat clipping is fairly easy! I reckon the trick is simply to believe you’re going to clip in and out – confidence will get you 95% of the way I think.
In fact I’ll go so far as to say that actually walking in the shoes (which don’t bend, and have crooked cleats screwed to the bottom of them) is harder than clipping in and out. I’m already feeling nervous about finishing the swim leg in my first triathlon and trying to run with my bike from its designated rack space to the ‘mount’ line (you get a penalty if you mount before the line) without falling flat on my face.
On the plus side, there is something about walking around like a penguin wearing high heels back-to-front, which makes you feel like a real cyclist. If nothing else, wearing these sparkly white shoes that will probably never get dirty because they’ll hardly ever touch the floor, I feel as though I’ve truly made it somewhere in my training endeavours. I suddenly understand those crazy people at the coffee shop on a Sunday, wearing their lycra and bike shoes. They’re pleased with themselves. Don’t hate them – they have no idea that the rest of the world is unimpressed. They feel super-athletic, just like I do in my new shoes. And if you see me at the shops in my shoes and cleats, just stand back and enjoy the spectacle as I try to fit my inflated head through various doorways unsuccessfully.
In the meantime let’s agree, cleats are cool. But not rude, apparently. Who knew.
The bike computer that Shane sorted out for me sits in between my handlebars and for some reason after I had practiced my clipping in and out the screen rather unhelpfully just read ‘English?’ and no matter how many buttons I pressed it wouldn’t go away. Shane had gone out so I had no other way of fixing this (and yes, I did try simply saying ‘yes’ in the vague hope it had some fancy voice-activated setup system, which Shane later confirmed was foolish of me) so I resigned myself to a data-less ride.
Having shunned all padding for my poor bottom as a direct result of my huge ego, I had nothing to set up or modify on my new bike in that regard. I didn’t bother getting changed out of the shorts and t-shirt I had on already which probably let the look of the bike down a little bit. I may need to get some real lycra stuff just to complete my costume.
I also don’t have a water bottle that fits in my gorgeous white bottle cage (white to contrast with the black frame; very nice) and I was slightly embarrassed by the obvious cheapness of my crappy helmet if I’m honest. But I wasn’t going far and I didn’t plan on stopping at any coffee shops; I was just excited to get out on the road.
So I set off at an admirable pace and upon reaching the end of our street, tried to signal to turn right. I hadn’t factored in how much trickier it is to balance on skinny road-bike wheels compared to mountain-bike wheels and within a millisecond of taking my hand off the handle bar, I put it back on again. Apparently I would not be signalling on my first bike ride, then. Luckily there were no cars behind and I was too excited to stop, so I made a mental note to add signalling to my ‘practice list’ and tried not to worry about it.
I zoomed along the country roads, shuddering over every pothole and loose piece of gravel and sorely missing the nice suspension of a mountain bike. But I stayed on. I got to a left hand turn and was lucky not to have any cars behind me or overtaking me, because I lost all confidence and took the corner far too wide, swerving almost onto the other side of the road. Again, the thin tyres feel so different from mountain bike tyres – so I also need to practice turning.
My heart beat a bit harder coming up to the next left turn, which would take me onto a much busier road. I considered pulling into someone’s driveway to jump onto the path, until I saw the traffic light was red so I’d have to stop anyway, allowing me to place my bike in a strategic position for turning before taking off. I gave myself at least 100 metres to brake before the lights, rolling in at what I hoped was the casual, laid-back pace of a confident rider. I successfully unclipped my left foot from the pedal and pulled up at the intersection. I instinctively tried to put my right foot down as well, but it was trapped obviously. I felt my face crack into shock and fear mode, but once I was sure I wasn’t going to fall over I quickly regained composure and sat at the lights trying to look as tri-athletic as possible.
By the time the light went green, I had a car behind me also turning left. The driver let me take off first and didn’t try to overtake until the corner had been navigated, so all was well. Cycling along the busy road was probably the most nerve-wracking part. Even though there is a generous bike lane most of the way back home, every time a car overtook me I started wobbling, presumably because I was just so frightened. Each time I realised a car was coming, I couldn’t help but start shaking. I imagined my mum telling me off for attempting anything so dangerous and immediately hardened up to prove to her that she doesn’t know what she is talking about anyway. Because triathlon has brought out the obstinate teenager in me.
Pulling off the busy road a few hundred metres from home, I had a small uphill and two more corners to navigate. A couple of quick glances over my shoulder confirmed that no cars were behind me so I tried to just enjoy it and I even picked up the pace a bit to get a burn in my leg muscles.
I made it home in one piece and Matilda the dog was sitting behind the gate, yelling at me in dog language that I am the best cyclist she has ever seen, but also wimpering that she doesn’t have her own bike to join me with because I made it look so fun. She high-fived me as I stumbled breathlessly through the gate and we spent a few minutes congratulating each other on our wonderfulness.
It was only a 6km ride, but I completed it and that is all I need to do for my baby triathlon in February! As soon as I’ve practiced turning corners, can signal with confidence and the bike has a name, I do believe I’ll have one aspect of my Bribie Island Triathlon in the bag.