I fell off my bike and bruised everything (including my ego)

It only took a few weeks but I finally got my bike fitted and my shoes cleated and everything ready for me to take Felicia, as I have christened my new Felt tri bike, out for her maiden voyage this past Saturday.  It was my first time wearing clipless pedals and, as you have probably already gathered from the title of this post, it did not go all that well.

I had actually written up a whole post about the experience of my first – and my second – low-speed crash but I’ll save you the boredom of reading the details and just tell you that in both instances, I clipped out with my right foot and then, oops, leaned to the left.  My left foot was still clipped to my bike, so it was unable to do as it has spent the last three decades doing – that is, pop out and save me from certain injury at the last second – and I landed hard on my left side.

Actually, the first time I fell, I mostly landed on Brian’s bike, which, while unpleasant, wasn’t terrible.  I wound up with some grease marks and a couple of pebbles stuck to my skin, but nothing I couldn’t deal with.  The second crash, though…that was a doozy. The first point of impact was the heel of my palm, which hurt so badly I briefly thought I might have broken my wrist, and then before I knew it, I was on the ground with my limbs all tangled up in my bike and my damned left foot still stuck to my pedal.

I had a brief cry in which I shed about four tears, then I got back on my bike and spent the ride home in a state of barely sublimated terror, forcing myself to practice clipping in, riding for two minutes, then clipping out, over and over again.  By the time I got home, I had burned through my adrenaline stores for the day and could barely do more than drop myself into the bathtub for a hot soak, where I proceeded to pick pieces of asphalt from my palm and knee.

I was in a lot of pain for a couple of days, pain that affected almost every part of the left side of my body. The front of my left leg – where my shin meets my foot – was all bruised and scraped and swollen, and  have a rather massive bruise blooming in the inside of my left knee. The worst thing, thought, was that I actually had nightmares that night, and for the next day or two, every time I thought about my bike I had heart palpitations.  What kind of freaking triathlete – who hasn’t even had a real crash, mind you – has heart palpitations whenever she thinks about her bike?  Ugh, I felt so much layered shame when I thought about the reaction to falling off my bike.

On Tuesday, I spent some more time practicing on my bike (which again, was still incredibly scary for me) and I’ve also spent some time reading and processing this shit, because I’ve come to understand that, for me, a big part of being an athlete is not just the training I do for my body, but also the training I do for my mind.  Whether it’s working on building mental toughness or confronting fears head-on, the psychological work I do is just as important as the time I spend in the water or on the trail.

So these are the things I’ve figured out that are going to help me continue to do the work necessary to get my ass on that bike with something approaching confidence:

1. Everyone who makes the transition to clipless pedals has a low-speed crash at first.  Everyone.

It seems like everyone has a story like mine and that every blog post I read about this learning curve includes the inevitable “and then I fell” part. In many cases, a lot of those people did exactly what I did: clipped out with one foot, then fell to the opposite side.  That I fell is not evidence of my inherent suckiness at riding with clipless pedals or proof that I shouldn’t even bother. It’s just part of the process of learning to master what is objectively a rather challenging skill.  (By the way, thanks to Brian, Sam at Fit, Feminist and (Almost) Fifty for her advice, and to many of the ladies who commented on this blog’s Facebook page with advice and encouragement.  I <3 you all.)

2. Everyone who rides with clipless pedals says they are worth it.

I am trusting everyone who says they are worth it and that they do become a lot easier with time and practice.  This is a lot of faith I am putting in people, most of whom I have never met, but I’m doing it anyway because I figure that if so many people swear by them, that not all of those people can possibly be lying about this. I mean, I suppose they could be and they all just feel peer-pressured into saying they like them, much the way I’m sure a lot of people are like “Oh, yeah, Infinite Jest is the greatest book ever!” despite never making it past the first chapter, but I doubt that’s what’s actually happening.

3. If men in their seventies can figure this out, there is no reason why I can’t.

The couple of times I’ve taken my old road bike out since my fall, I’ve found myself looking at all of the cyclists who go past me with clipless pedals and thinking that all of those people had probably fallen and now look at them, riding along like it ain’t no thing.  In fact, at one point I passed a guy who I swear must have been in his seventies on the Cross Bayou bridge and he was cycling along with clipless pedals, and I actually said out loud to myself, “Oh for fuck’s sake, girl, you have to figure this out.” Now, granted, Clipless Pepaw was also wearing an Ironman cycling jersey so he could probably wipe a cycling course with my chamois-clad butt, but still. My point remains.  If people who are older and less physically resilient than I am can do this, so can I.

4. The pain wasn’t what scared me most about the fall.

I’m an endurance athlete, which means I’m pretty comfortable with the experience of pain and discomfort, as paradoxical as that sounds.  Learning how to do pole tricks is another painful thing I willingly do.  (Seriously, try to squeeze a metal pole between your bare thighs and tell me that it doesn’t hurt like the fire of a thousand suns.)  I also like getting color injected into my skin with clusters of tiny needles and I regularly pay estheticians to rip hair out of my face with hot wax.  I can deal with pain.  Hell, sometimes I embrace it.  The pain wasn’t the scary part about falling for me. Instead, it was the complete lack of control I felt.  The sense of falling and not being able to stop it is the stuff of which nightmares are made of, but unlike my nightmares, I am not falling from a 2,000-story building. I am falling four feet off a bike. Yes, no one likes falling, but hey, at least the end of the fall comes a lot sooner when it happens with a bike.

5. Other people willingly subject themselves to pain and the possibility of injury for the sake of their sport.

I’m reading “The Sweetest Thing” by Mischa Merz, which is about women’s boxing, right now, and it struck me a couple of nights ago that I was all traumatized over a couple of accidental bruises on my legs. Meanwhile there are people in the world who climb into rings knowing full well that they are about to be punched in the head.  Hell, I was reading this post at a roller derby blog yesterday – specifically this: “most people can’t skate when they first start, almost everyone falls on their ass a million times” – and I realized that I am not a special little snowflake here, that falling and hurting yourself is a part of a lot of sports. In fact, a scraped palm and a bruised knee are minor compared to what other athletes go through for the sake of their sport.  Basically, I need to SUCK IT UP, BUTTERCUP.

6. I’ve conquered all kinds of scary shit already. Why is this any different?

Brian, bless his heart, has reminded me of the myriad of things that I’ve done despite the fact that they scared the crap out of me: running Big Sur even though I had anxiety over the two-mile hill leading up to Hurricane Point, forcing myself to become comfortable with open water swimming so I could compete in triathlon, even learning to ride my road bike with its skinny tires. He reminded me the first time I went for a ride on it, how I wobbled around the parking lot and kept looking at him with wide-open terrified eyes.

And it’s not just sports things, either.  I have always been afraid of public speaking, and I deal with it by speaking on panels, reporting on live TV and doing live interviews on the radio.  I hate rejection, but I pitch story ideas and essays to publications anyway, in hopes of seeing my byline in print.  I traveled to Chicago by myself and stayed with people I’d never met in person before, all because I wanted to meet my zine friends and take part in a zine fest. I drove across the state and spent the night alone in a hotel room – for the first time in my entire life – because I really, really, really wanted to report on a shuttle launch.  Hell, I left an abusive relationship with three garbage bags full of stuff and a handful of dollars to my name.  Learning to ride a bike?  Pffft, that’s child’s play compared to some of the shit I’ve survived.

The story I tell about myself is not that I am fearless, but rather that I no longer allow fear to deter me from the things I want in life.  And in this case, what I want to do is learn how to ride that fucking bike, and I will, even though it scares the crap out of me.

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57 responses to “I fell off my bike and bruised everything (including my ego)

  1. I feel for you on the ego part! I’ve had a couple of falls running and the run home with blood pouring down my leg was shameful :-) Well done for getting back on the (bike) horse

  2. I am the clumsiest person in the world and use to eat it off the bike probably once a month for the first year I was riding clipless. I even did it once at a stop light with motorists behind me that had to wait through and entire green light cycle while I got myself together.

    Practice makes permenant. It will get easier, and the more confident you become the less likely you will be to fall. For me, once I stopped freaking out every time I had to stop because there was a chance I *could* fall, I stopped falling. :)

    • I feel bad for laughing at your story about making the drivers wait through a life cycle, but I swear I am only laughing because I can see myself doing that exact same thing.

      This point – “For me, once I stopped freaking out every time I had to stop because there was a chance I *could* fall, I stopped falling.” – is a really good one. I am one of those people who overthinks everything and it is often to my detriment. This is just another example of that!

  3. Oh I can so relate to this post right now. I just got a beautiful new road bike and am learning to clip in and am TERRIFIED of clipping in and falling. Keep at it, it’ll get better!

  4. Woo thanks for the linkage!
    I literally feel your pain, what we put ourselves through in pursuit of sport! At least with Derby, pain and bruises is practically celebrated! I doubt they warn you about falling off your bike…. :)

  5. I too crashed hard on my first ride with clipless pedals (broken helmet and road rash from my cheek down to my hip). So hard that I put my bike away that summer because I just couldn’t get back on it. I couldn’t believe I spent all that money to keep riding my old mountain bike in the last couple of triathlons that year, but I was just too scared of the road bike. The one thing that SAVED me, was that winter I started taking spin classes and realized the bikes at the gym had slots for the clips on the undersides. I started bringing my tri shoes to class and before long I was a pro at clipping in and out – all on a bike that didn’t lean to either side when I wanted to get on and off. When I pulled out the race bike the following summer, I clipped in and rode off without a second thought and haven’t had an issue since. So if you have access to a spin bike or you can put your bike on a trainer, that may be just what you need to practice and give yourself the confidence to get back out there. Good luck!

  6. I’m kind of the same way with skiing. While I’ve been doing it for years and years, I really, REALLY hate going fast because I feel out of control. I took a really hard fall a few years ago (total yard sale), and while I didn’t actually hurt myself (at all, luckily), the idea of careening down a mountain and dying just doesn’t really want to creep out of my brain. As such, I’ll do harder runs, but I’ll cut so much into the mountain to slow myself down that my quads are burning, and I’ve probably limited the amount of runs I can get in by like 25%. Nothing says “I love skiing!” like hating the idea of skiing!

    If it makes you feel better, I’m pretty sure that falling is considered an innate fear, so you’re not only overcoming fear, but biology. (NBD badass alert) :)

    • Haha, take that, biology! WE WILL DEFEAT YOU.

      It’s funny how the fear from a fall or some other traumatic thing – even if you don’t even hurt yourself that much – can imprint itself so deeply on your brain. I appreciate that our brains do that for us, because they just want to keep us safe and I like that, but sometimes it feels like it can be so counterproductive too.

  7. Hi Caitlin,

    I fell off my bike back in February, while going 30mph+ down a hill (I hit a hole in the road at the bottom). I won’t describe it in detail (even reading about other people’s accidents makes me cringe as though it happened to me!) but suffice to say multiple items of clothing were shredded and the whole left side of my body was bruised and grazed to hell. For several nights afterwards I had a recurring nightmare in which I was cycling down the hill and unable to stop myself falling off. I woke up with a racing heart each time and became convinced I could never ride my bike again.

    Anyway, to cut a long story short, I persevered with short, flat rides for a long time, and practiced slowing down at the top of steep hills before applying the brakes as much as I needed to, even if it meant descending embarassingly slowly with small children overtaking me. I learned some tricks for greater stability (keep your pedals level, grip the top tube with your knees, keep a relaxed grip on the handlebars etc). Then, one day in August, I went for a ride and went down a hill without thinking about it. It was a fun, wind-in-the-hair kind of a downhill and I felt a bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to pick up much speed. Only when my husband pointed out it was the very same hill I’d fallen off six months earlier did I realise how slowly but surely I’d conquered my fears. I’m sure the same will happen with you and your pedals.

    Riding a road bike can be seriously intimidating. Your blog is a great encouragement and I love that you share your failures as well as your successes. Every post helps to demystify triathlons and road cycling for women. Good luck with your training.

    • Oh god, that’s so scary. I have only recently started to hit those speeds while going downhill, but my fear has always been something ridiculous like my front tire falling off. I’ll keep an extra close eye out for any possible holes after reading this. I’m so glad, though, that you were able to work your way back to the place you’d be at before. There really is something so amazing about tucking in on your bike and speeding downhill, and I’m glad I’ve gotten to the point that I can enjoy it instead of being terrified.

      Also, thanks for your kind words about my blog. I know the kind of writing/blogging that helps me the most addresses the full spectrum of experiences around sports and competing – the positive and the negative – so I’m glad I am able to contribute to that in some small way.

  8. Hello “Clipless Pedal Dominatrix Caitlin”! I am very confident that soon you will be “bitch slapping” that right clip! And I can’t wait to hear you blogging about it. The nerve of that right pedal! Obviously hasn’t learned to respect an athlete with beauty, brains, and MENTAL strength. STRONG enough to slap her war wounded knee with her war wounded palm and press on! I am so proud of you Caitlin! You are not just an athlete…you are a Supergirl Athlete! I love that you said you prepare not just your body but your mind when train. That was so motivating for me. I think you fell greatly compared to my fall. I went into a curb and face first over the handle bars and cracked my front tooth on the curb. My war wound left me with a new nickname (Chip) and a ton of dental work. But try and stop me from riding and get run over!

    Keep up the fantastic drive:)

    • Thank you! And OW to cracking your front tooth. I’m glad you were able to be so good-natured about it but jeez, it sounds really, really painful. Clearly it is YOU who is the Supergirl Athlete here. :)

      • Hey Caitlin Lol!
        I must say due to my inherent Tomboy-Feminist- Beauty Queen-Diva-ness my “Ego” hurt more than the fall itself. The Universe fortunately allowed me somehow to connect my front tooth and the curb exactly at the right time and the right angle lol! How weird is that? What…I guess I had my mouth wide open for the whole twenty minutes I was flying (“Supergirl Athlete”) through the air yelling…”Sssssh*t”. I have a few girlfriends that ride street bikes and ate asphalt on a hot summer day in hot pants N heels ( when did it become soooo tuff being a woman :)) and took to the tub of hot water like you. Mann oh mann… now that sounds truly truly painful! I guess the hot water must be the remedy to a quick heal up.

        Anyways, In terms of the FEAR thingy…it’s only as big as our thoughts allow it to be. Remember what the experts say “Fear” actually is…
        FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL! I like to use the word “FAKE” for false Lol.
        Bye-bye!

  9. This is my favorite sentence of the day: “Now, granted, Clipless Pepaw was also wearing an Ironman cycling jersey so he’s could probably wipe a cycling course with my chamois-clad butt, but still.” Good God you make me laugh!

    But this was the part that I loved, “The story I tell about myself is not that I am fearless, but rather that I no longer allow fear to deter me from the things I want in life. And in this case, what I want to do is learn how to ride that fucking bike, and I will, even though it scares the crap out of me.”

    I started running and kayaking more to get fit than anything else, but I am finding that one of the biggest benefits is how fitness is helping me learn to be brave. That would have never occurred to me, before. Stories like yours are also so inspirational to me – I love knowing that badasses like yourself struggle with this stuff too, and then turn around and overcome it! You can do it, lady!

    • ” one of the biggest benefits is how fitness is helping me learn to be brave.”

      YES! SO MUCH THIS!

      (especially appropriate since I went bouldering tonight and got The Fear a few times)

    • Aw, thanks! You know, I often don’t feel like much of a badass because of how much I struggle with my own brain, but then I think that the struggle and the persistence is what makes all of us badasses.

      And yes to your last paragraph! This has been the most addictive part of embracing a fit lifestyle for me. It’s not the muscles or the medals, but the fact that I have tapped into this reservoir of courage and toughness that I had no clue existed. I think it’s why I’m such a huge evangelist for women and fitness/athletics, because it certainly changed my life in a really amazing and positive way.

  10. “The story I tell about myself is not that I am fearless, but rather that I no longer allow fear to deter me from the things I want in life.”

    Love this, people put their lives on hold because of fear. The liberating feeling is acknowledging that fear is a normal reaction, embracing it and overcoming it.

    You’re going to smash triathlons next year (or are they all year round cos you live in the sun?)

    • Thank you! I was definitely one of those people, as I put my life on hold for most of my 20s due to fear. I refuse to let that happen again.

      Triathlons are not all year around over here – come November we pretty much switch over to all running events until April. However, there is a triathlon in December in Key West that seems pretty appealing…

  11. I coach roller derby fresh meat, and fear of falling is the biggest obstacle to overcome. Falling hurts. Losing control is scary. And I think everyone is also worried that falling proves that they aren’t good enough, or that other people will judge them. It’s harder to change a thinking pattern than a body habit, in my opinion. I have enormous respect for my skaters who have never played a contact sport before, or who have never been on skates before, and who are starting an adventure way outside their comfort zone. I think trying it once is the first huge personal success, and trying it twice is the second major success that doesn’t get recognized often enough.

    One of the things I try to do is clown around if I fall down in front of recruits (take a bow, start a cheer, strike a pose, etc.) to show that resiliency and being brave is mostly learning to remain lighthearted even when I want to be embarrassed or frustrated. While I don’t fall on purpose, I do think it’s important for me to model that even good skaters don’t always stay on their feet, and that perfecting a skill involves multiple attempts.

    • Contact sports seriously terrify me, and I have so much respect for anyone – newbies and old pros – who plays them. There’s something very elemental about using your whole body in that way, especially since it tends to run counter to a lot of our instincts about self-preservation.

      You sound like a good coach, by the way. I’m sure your newbs appreciate that you are willing to exhibit resilence in such a good-natured way. :) It probably makes falling down seem a tiny less scary.

      • Thank you! We all have our fears. I love how you write about yours, it provides great insight about how bravery is a process, rather than an inherent characteristic.

  12. I’ve got lots of “fell while slowing down at a red light” stories, but my favourite low-speed crash was one time while on some park trails I saw a little kid fall off his bike and begin to cry. I didn’t see an adult near him so I stopped to help him and make sure he wasn’t badly hurt. Of course, as I stopped, I fell off my own bike. By that time, his dad had jogged over to him and they both just watched me fall, and then the dad came over to make sure I was okay. So embarrassing.

    But worth it too, especially on hills! I”m still afraid of using clip-ins for city cycling because I need a few seconds warning to feel safe about clipping out… if a car veers or a dog runs out or something, and I need to make a sudden stop, I like to be able to put a foot down immediately, not to think about clipping out. I still fall!

    • Okay, so I feel kind of bad about this, but I laughed so hard when I read this. And then later, I was relaying this story to my husband and I started cracking up again. I’m glad you are okay, but holy shit, that is the best story. Embarrassing but also so, so awesome.

    • Lisa OMG you are the sweetest thing! That is such a sad sad story. And I agree with Caitlin that is the best story by far. Like uh… “Come on out Lisa” onto the stage with the father and son on Oprah story!” And I too, like Caitlin, have to apologize for cracking up to this story because its too easy to get an exact visual of it Lol. I’ve worked 10 years as a preschool teacher so hats off to your kind heart :)

  13. Yup, been there. I’ve also crashed (3 times) thanks to clipless and still think they’re worth it =) Definitely embarrassing. A wise blogger once said that if you fear falling off your bike, you’d never get on! I like that, and try to not think about the possibility of falling.

    • Good point about how thinking about things really amps up the fear. My inclination is to be all “but I can’t not think about falling off my bike!” but I know that, for instance, I’ve for the most part stopped thinking about fish and marine life while open water swimming. Like, I know it’s out there but when I’m in the moment, it’s not at all what I’m thinking about, and it’s only when I do let my mind wander that way that I start to get scared. I’ll have to work on applying that to my cycling.

  14. My bf did his crash in front of a red light. I did mine while we were arguing which way to go (I’m not that good at multitasking… arguing about the way and thinking to unclip was too much on the first ride.). I also fell on his bike, then. I told the guys in the office that I bought clipless pedals… and when I came to work with a huge bruise on my leg, they didn’t have to ask.
    What I thought the scariest was how slow the fall was. I was completely aware of what was happening, and could nothing do against it.
    The second time I prevented a fall by pulling my leg out with such force that I hit the frame of the bike with my knee. That gave an even bigger bruise than the fall!

  15. I remember my first slow motion fall. It was at a stop light, and just like everyone else, I unclipped with one foot, and leaned to the other side. It did indeed feel like it took forever to hit the ground. I remember the shaky ride home (we were already on the way) and the lightly bleeding scrapes, chain grease, bruises, etc. it doesn’t happen any more, and I love riding this way.

    Now, I just have to overcome my fear of clipping into my pedals on the mountain bike (while on the fire roads and trails), but you’ve inspired me to try it again.

    • I’m glad to hear you now love riding with clipless pedals. I need to hear people say that because it gives me something to shoot for on the other side of this, like a reminder that it is all worth it. I actually took my bike out a couple of days ago and felt a bit more confident with the pedals, and I’m sure that today when I go out again I’ll feel even more so.

      Good luck with clipping in while mountain biking! That is very courageous of you, and I hope you get it figured out without too many injuries.

  16. Yep. I’m a figure skater. And sometimes I’m about to try something, and my mind is like, woman please. You will catch your blade, you will break your wrists, you will damage your knee, you will hurt your tailbone again, you will rupture your achilles tendon (happened to my friend recently while skating). I have to pause, take a breath, and remind myself I know how to fall properly, I’m also pretty damn good at staying upright when I do catch a bad edge. And besides, if you’re not falling, you’re not working hard enough. Rinse and repeat.

    It may be scary, but it’s worth it.

    • Oh god, your friend. I can’t even imagine. I hope she heals quickly.

      I’ve never done figure skating but I used to ice skate as a teenager and young adult and you are reminding me of all the falls I took while trying to learn how to do something as simple as skate in a straight line. It’s impressive that you keep trying to do those amazing figure-skating tricks, even knowing full well that you could hurt yourself. It’s inspiring, that’s for sure.

  17. I know you’ll be a pro at it in no time. Great post! Helpful for me.
    In the process of shopping myself. Going to the clipless pedals eventually but plan to get comfortable with the bike first. May have it as soon as tomorrow!

    • Sweet! Looking forward to reading your updates about the new road bike. I’m sure you’ll love it once you get used to it. I love my road bike and feel like it’s become part of me.

  18. I think the scariest part of clipless pedals is worrying about falling. You’ve gotten that out of the way already and you’re still here, congrats! I fell the very first time I rode out in clipless pedals and did it in such a way I took out the woman next to me too. That was the first but not the last time by far. The most embarrassing thing is I seem to curse “Sh*t, sh*t, sh*t, sh*t” uncontrollably on my slow motion falls. Good thing I don’t bike with kids…

    I still clip out ridiculously far ahead of any stop signs/lights and likewise don’t fully clip in until I’m well on my way. And I also am grateful for the maxi dress trend that helps me hide my skinned knees!

    Practicing clipping in/out in a trainer could help your peace of mind as well. Good luck!

    • LOL, I can just imagine you saying that, and me saying it as well! (I am also a reflexive curser, but that’s okay because I read somewhere that swearing when you get hurt actually dulls the pain. Science!) You know you’re falling and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. Weirdest feeling ever.

      I should invest in some maxi dresses or skirts at least. My bruised knees and shins are out of control, both from this, pole and deadlifting. My legs are turning into a total Monet situation: lovely from a distance, but a total mess up close. :)

  19. I totally relate.. especially with the title. Next year I’m planning on making the transition to click-ins. I was never into competitive sports, so I’ve never really pushed myself beyond my comfort zone. Mountain biking has totally done that for me, and I feel so powerful. Even the crashes can’t take that feeling away.

  20. Like you said, we’ve all done it, all lived through the fear, the embarrassment. While I have a couple stories myself, my husband’s fall beats most for embarrassing moments, he tipped over at the end of the bike portion of one of his first triathlons. Just keep practicing and pretty soon it becomes a habit that you don’t even have to think about.

    • Oh yikes, that’s actually one of the things that has me reluctant to use my tri bike for my upcoming race. It’s one thing to still be unsure of myself when stopping and getting off the bike, but it’s a whole ‘nother thing when incorporating those wobbly post-bike legs into the mix. I hope he was okay!

  21. Don’t feel ashamed of being scared!! After I got hit on my bike, I became a paranoid wreck. The first time I left the house (excluding going to hospital, of course!) and walked 100 metres to the corner store, I had a complete anxiety attack. I was too afraid to cross the road, even without any cars on it. Like you, it wasn’t the pain that scared me, but the feeling of complete helplessness and lack of control. The feeling does pass. Working on building up my mental strength really helped, and what enabled me to get back on my feet without fear. Although I have made significant physical strength goals over the past few months, my mental strength is a million times greater.

    • I think it’s amazing that you got back on your bike after everything that happened, both with your accident and all of the various issues afterward. I can’t blame you at all for being afraid and I think it’s great that you found a way to deal with all of that and move on.

  22. Yeah, we all do it. It’s like learning to drive stick-shift. In the beginning, you have to consciously think about it (and sometimes mess up), but after a short while it’s second-nature. It doesn’t help that you are learning this on a TT bike, which is already awkward compared to a road bike. Try getting into the easiest gear and riding the bike on grass to practice. If you fall, the landing is much easier. Also, try to avoid sticking your hands out when you fall. I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping my hands on my bars as I crash (I race, so crashing happens more often for me than your average cyclist).

    If you naturally lean to the left when you stop, then try unclipping your left foot. When I started, I naturally unclipped my right foot but leaned left, so I learned to unclip my left foot. Incidentally, unclipping the left foot means you have a reduced chance of getting the dreaded “Cat 5 Tattoo”.

    And yes, clipless is worth it. You go from riding a bicycle to being part of the bicycle.

  23. I recently had a bad crash where I broke my neck, nose, 3 teeth including a seroius concussion and a subarachnoid hemorrhage. It’s scary but I accept it as part of riding a bike. Where I live is not too friendly to cyclists. There’s something in the news almost every day about a cyclist being seriously injurued or killed either by accident or in some rare cases on purpose by motorists. That being said though I understand where your fear c

    • Comes from. But in some twisted way it becomes part of the lifestyle. I work in a bicycle shop and talk to a lot of triathletes who go through exactly what you’re going through with your bike. I found an elegant solution. The best way to practice clipping in and out is on a stationary trainer! You get really good at it without the fear of injury and can transition to the road with more confidence! Hope that helps abit. :)

  24. Yep! I so have had the same experience with transitioning into clip-less pedals! I have learned to tell myself when I am about to stop so I can clip out in advance.. Sometimes that doesn’t work and my cat like skills have to come in. It’s so embarrassing to literally fall over when clipped in. I just try to remember always clip out on my right and look ahead for my stop first.

    Great article by the way!

  25. I’ve started mountain bike riding recently and am scared shitless of falling face first in the dirt. But I know that I will fall, if I don’t its because I’m being super lame and not pushing myself. It’s a hard thing to deliberately sign up for pain, but the joy of riding is (hopefully) worth it!! Thanks for your post :)

  26. Im definitely with you! I bought a car without knowing how to drive stick shift because this was the only way to truly learn how to drive it. I plastered signs all over the windows stating ‘new stick driver’. I sweated at every red light to get into first gear and stalled at every inopportune moment. Surprisingly, drivers respected the heads up on the signs. They waited patiently at missed lights, drove around slowly and even cat called encouragement. I drove that car for the next 10 years. You’ll get it. The best thing is that you keep challenging yourself!! Good luck!

  27. Pingback: Shopping for a New Set of Wheels | Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty·

  28. I just stumbled along your blog when I googled “fear of falling off my bike”..LOL. I’m relearning how to ride a bike on a new road bike with clipless pedals. I really want to do a triathlon this summer and the bike is my biggest hurdle. I had a low speed fall over crash last week and a high speed straight into a bush/flower median crash light night that re-enforced my desire to wear a helmet. My biggest problem is my mind..takes me a good 15 mins to gather the courage to get going and at one of the first signs of trouble, my brain freaks out and my body freezes up. I told my husband I need hypnosis…and some balancing excercises to help me straighten out on the bike. Long story short..your blog was like a look inside my head…thanks for some great words of wisdom.

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