Re- Thinking Clipless

I’ve been riding bikes seriously since the Reagan administration. Most of that time has been spent clipped into one form of pedal system or another. Mavic, Look, Crank Bros., Shimano. I’ve pedal thousands of miles with my feet affixed to the pedals by some sort of retention system. Early on I accepted as true that affixing your feet to the pedals increases efficiency. We’ve all seen the articles and if the pros do it, it must be true.

I’ve been relatively accident free notwithstanding that clipless pedals can make getting off the bike in a crash a bit more challenging. In fact I haven’t had a crash or fall on the road in over a decade. On the mountain bike trail is another matter; I’m not particularly skilled on technical trails. A few years ago I switched to flats on the mountain bike because I wanted to be able to “bail” and get out of the pedals quicker. The change immediately improved my confidence on tech terrain.

I’ve put flats on my road bikes a couple of times in recent years when having a full time walkable shoe outweighed the potential benefit of dedicated clipless shoes. Over time, my blind reliance on the myth of efficiency has faded but I’ve been reluctant to put flat pedals on my road bikes full time because it’s simply uncool. Never mind that flats and real shoes are actually more practical for most of the riding I do; for example, commuting and gravel rides with occasional hike-a-biking. Practicality be damned!

This past weekend forced me to reassess my relationship with pedals. I broke my wrist during a low speed tip-over caused when my front wheel became wedged in a seam in the pavement. I was perfectly positioned to go head first over the bars, but managed to unclip one foot and shift my weight to the side causing me to fall to the left, pinning my wrist between the bars and the pavement. I never did get the second foot out of the pedals and, for an instant, the bike was actually on top of me as I rolled onto the pavement. I’m sure that bystanders thought I was wresting my bike and losing.

As soon as I went to resume my ride—-I was 18 miles from my car—I put my hands on the bar and knew my wrist was broken, or at least badly sprained.

My day job involves getting healthcare providers to think and behave differently in terms of teamwork and communication. We advocate debriefing after every patient care interaction to actively reflect on what happened and how to manage it better. I used my 18 mile return trip to debrief myself. The decision to make the U-turn where I did was the first link in a chain of events that culminated in what is pictured above. I assumed my fat 650B tires would roll right through the seam. They may have at speed, but not at the slow lurch I was proceeding at. I put myself in a bad situation, the only saving grace is that it wasn’t in the middle of a busy street.

I made good decisions once the crash started. I knew not to go over the bars, to unclip ASAP and try to get a foot down. I wasn’t quick enough but I kept my hands on the bars, which likely saved me from a more severe injury if I had extended my arm and hand to break my fall. I spared my forearm, hand and clavicle. Riding back to my car wasn’t the brightest idea; on the other hand, calling for help would’ve panicked my family.

The pedals were a contributing factor to my injury. To be clear, I’m not saying they are defective or dangerous. I’ve used them for years and they work as designed and they are set appropriately. For that instant in time, however, they weren’t the right tool for that situation and this rider. Could someone else have unclipped sooner? Maybe, but “someone else” wasn’t riding the bike, I was. Would the tire have gotten stuck with flat pedals? Yes, and I most likely would have still tipped over but would not have fallen to the ground.

I can’t change what happened last Saturday. It’s over. I have the second broken extremity bone in my life, which I suppose is pretty good. But I’m re-thinking those pedals. First, I think my risk tolerance today is lower than where it was 30 years ago when I was doing speedy road rides. I don’t want to have this happen again…ever. Second, there’s mounting evidence that you don’t gain that much efficiency from clipless pedals, especially not doing the type of riding I do at my fitness level. I’m not riding Le Tour (though Lachlan Morton just rode parts of the course in sandals!). Finally, I’ve had enough of clunking around in tight shoes with metal cleats on the bottom. I’d rather ride comfy shoes and be able to go into work or the store without the clickity clack of metal on tile. Any potential benefit from clipless, at this point in my life, is outweighed by safety, comfort and practicality.

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Fall is for Hiking

The cooler weather and changing colors motivates me to get out for a long hike, an overnight trip that can be accomplished in under 24 hours. A sub 24 overnight, s24o.

Working with the NY-NJ Trail Conference book, Hike of the Week, I constructed a variant of hike #35 leaving the Tuxedo Metro North Rail Road station hiking a ten mile loop to Lake Sebago and back.

Plenty of great views.

Harriman State Park is notoriously rocky. Really rocky. Hammock camping is the way to go here, since it gets you up off the ground and away from those rocks. Plenty of trees to choose from.

I left home, camped and was back home in under 24 hours and that included an hour-plus car drive to the trailhead. Water is scarce in the park and, as such, many overnight campers plan routes that pass one of the many lakes. There is bear activity at two of the shelter campsites (Fingerboard and Bald Rocks) so be diligent about protecting your food or chose another location to camp at.

The s24o is super efficient. You get to hike, camp out and enjoy nature and return home in time to attend to your domestic responsibilities. I finished both physically exhausted from the rocky miles and mentally recharged from spending a night alone in the woods.

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Thank Goodness for Bicycles


They take us places, contribute to fitness and keep us sane in sometimes-insane times.

I’ve been on a roll lately in terms of  bike commuting. My schedule has afforded the flexibility to ride into work in the morning and, in recent weeks, I’ve been able to commute up to 3 times a week. That’s a lot for me, since I often have early morning activities and have to be in a suit.

Then a certain virus emerged and found its way to NY. Our world has been upended to say the least. People are reasonable to be afraid of becoming exposed or sick from an enemy they cannot see. And there’s a fair amount of paranoia and hoarding. There’s not a roll of toilet paper or a tray of chicken to be found, notwithstanding that Covid 19 does not cause diarrhea and you don’t treat it with chicken thighs.

I wish people would calm the heck down and conform to what government officials are advising regarding social distancing. I drove past a coffee shop packed with people sitting next to one another this afternoon, as if completely oblivious to what is going on outside. I’m not optimistic about Americans’ ability to limit their social interactions in a time of crisis.

I’ve been socially distancing myself while getting some riding done. Solo rides, no groups, no stops for sit-down food. Lots of interruptions to do business on the phone instead of in person. I figure one of the best ways to avoid illness in general is to build fitness, build cardiovascular health, reduce stress.

I’m trying to pedal away from Covid and the stress it brings to my life.

Stay safe. Wash your hands!

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