So there I am, out on my bike early on a Sunday. A traffic light comes up, and I clip my curbside shoe out of its cleat. I put my foot down. But it's the wrong foot, the foot that's still clipped to the pedal. And so, in slow motion, watched by a dozen disbelieving people, I fall over and lie on the tar. And I find out that you can’t kick a bike off if you’re still cleated in.
My fellow cyclists were chivalrous, helping me up and assuring me that "everyone does it". But if "everyone does it", why have I never seen anyone else fall off a stationary bike?
I put the question in a newsletter to the Health24 community, and asked them to do the generous thing and share any stories. So I can now confirm that, amongst others, Ivan Stoyanov, Michelle Roux, Vanessa Anderson and Michael Bridgens have all done it, Vanessa once in the parking lot at God's Window in front of assembled tourists, and Michael in front of a council truck. Stephanie Janse van Rensburg did it while waiting for a race to start, and yes, she was in front of the pack. Lauri Minder, Elaine Pretorius, Zelda Robert and Lucia Hewitt say they have done it more than once.
Others added truly juicy detail. And so, with their permission, and in the interests of warning the rest of you who have yet to fall off your bikes, here’s a message: you’re not a cyclist until you’ve suffered the indignity.
How about doing it “on the finish line of the Karkloof Classic in full view of your adoring family as you are reaching for the Aquelle? I ended up on my back with both feet still clipped in, bike on top of me, nearly knocking over the timing computer and resembling a cockroach that’s just been Doomed!”
Deon’s riding partner, Bruce MacKinnon, thought it hysterically funny, only to do exactly the same about two weeks later.
“At age 46 or so, in training for my first Argus, and the first time on a bike in 40-odd years, I was persuaded to get clip-ons by a gung-ho friend. I fell over in his driveway… hysterically got on again, pushed off and wobbled after them into the road.
“When I got to stop street at the end of the road I fell over again.”
Liz fell nine times in all on that ride, most memorably “in the middle of the intersection outside the Killarney Mall as my friends had snaked right into Riviera Rd leaning into the bend like Tour de France pros and I was frantically trying to kick off my bike like some huge mutant insect glued to my feet. The entire Houghton population going for their Sunday morning papers and croissants watched from their cars in amazement at the sight."
At the end of the ride, a battered and bruised Liz could have been forgiven for smacking her friend.
“In complete bewilderment at how I could be quite so incompetent, he showed me how to do it, only to say, ‘Hey these clip-ons are sticking, why didn’t you tell me?’”
“I did the Argus very happily with ordinary old-fashioned pedals.”
“I must stress,” says Deon, “this DID NOT happen to me...” But someone Deon knows decided to take up cycling about a year ago. “He purchased a 2nd hand Raleigh RC3000 kitted out with everything an aspiring professional cyclist would need to maximise his future career's growth curve. His maiden practice ride was reason for quite a stir... his wife and half the street rallied around to witness the start of something great. He clipped in his right pedal, held the brake (to prevent taking off without everyone having had a fair opportunity to capture the moment on their cell phone cameras), clipped in the left pedal and ever-so-slowly began his descent onto the front lawn...”
Niels Colesky also has a heroics-gone-wrong memory to share. “I was riding my brand new Giant NRS 3 at the start of the Knysna mountain bike race. I was popping wheelie after wheelie getting more and more (over) confident at what has always been a black art to me.The gods rewarded me by letting me put too much effort into a wheelie and the front wheel went up, up and over. On my previous bike, which just had pedals, this would have posed no problem. Alas, these cleats were new and I was locked into and onto the soon-to-be-on-top-of-me bicycle.
“I had an audience that was substantially larger than the one you had on Sunday.”
“I heard that stationery bike accidents are more dangerous (you are more prone to injury) than when you are moving,” says Stephanie, “which makes a bit of sense, in terms of the fact that you at least have some momentum (i.e. you can roll and tumble) when you are moving at speed.
“It happened to me on the very first day that I had cleats on. The @*&% at the bike shop didn’t tell us that you can adjust the cleats, so they were so tight I needed an angle grinder to get myself out.
“Anyway, I was heading for a busy intersection, and started to brake. When I realised I couldn’t get my foot out, and I was nearly on top of the speeding cars in front of me, I screamed to my cycling buddy (his first time in cleats too), so he raced to help me, but in his panic, also fell off his bike. Instead of falling on the tar, I fell on him and his bike. My face connected with his handle bars and knocked my front teeth partially out, my mouth and lips were cut up, my shoulder was hurt, I had road rash all over and I snapped something in my wrist, which was subsequently operated on and as a result, I now have arthritis in the joint!”
Moving on from cleat misery, there were a couple of stories involving dresses that made our eyes water. Don’t cycle with a dress on at all, warns Deleen (surname withheld). “In the late 80's, one afternoon on my way back from work in Stellenbosch, my pretty long dress got stuck between the gears. It wound up so tight around my ankles that I couldn't get off my bicycle properly. In the process I lost one shoe. A very handsome male student saw everything that happened and very kindly picked up my shoe, just to have all his friends cheering from the hostel windows.”
You don’t need a bicycle to mess with your dress. Sharon (not her real name, for good reason) dropped me a line to say that she thinks sometimes dresses need to carry a blush-warning. “Summer arrives and out comes my white maxi boob tube summer dress. I am on the escalators at the mall (well-populated on a Saturday afternoon). My friend and I are so busy chatting that we notice almost too late that we've reached the last step, and yes, I step on my dress and the whole thing comes down..... all the way down. Down to where you would normally hike up your skirt. I do not own a strapless bra, and like I say, I was feeling confident, so I clearly didn't think I needed one.”
As we head into summer, Health24 is looking around for necessary health warnings. I think we’ve established that bicycle cleats and dresses should carry health warnings. Have you anything to add?
(Heather Parker, Health24, November 2010)
Ten reasons to start cycling
Fashions can make you sick