My training for the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge is progressing nicely, but I've noticed that it's not just my lack of speed that sets me apart from other cyclists.
I'm the only 'serious' biker pedalling in my trainers. All bonda fide cyclists seem to wear specialist shoes and cleats - the small fitting on the base of the shoe that clips into the pedal and holds your foot firmly in place as you ride. The result is considerably more efficient pedalling. Because you're 'attached' to the pedal, you get more power by being able to pull up through the pedal stroke, especially when riding up hills, out of the saddle.
I admit that I've been hesitant to get myself into cleats. A few years ago, in an attempt to incorporate exercise into my daily routine, I rode my mountain bike 10kms to and from work each day. I'd decided to give cleats a go and it was a dismal failure. I just couldn't get the hang of releasing them safely. To get your foot out you need to quickly and sharply twist to release the pedal. I could never get my feet out in time and I would topple over for, what appeared to be, no particular reason. I'd be lying on the road still firmly attached to my bike copping puzzled gazes from passers by. Each day I'd set out determined to succeed but I'd turn up at work even more grazed in the same places. Humiliated and sore I gave up and sold my shoes to a mountainbiker on Trademe. Hopefully she got more use out of them than I did.
My trainer, experienced cyclist and author Amy Taylor gives good advice for those wanting to master the art of cleats. First, get yourself a good pair of cycling shoes. The more expensive the shoe, the stiffer the sole where the cleat attaches, meaning more power is applied to the pedal.
Taylor says practise makes perfect when getting used to cleats. Apparently it's a 'cyclists' christening' to fail to clip out quickly enough and fall over in the beginning, so don't follow in my footsteps and give up too soon. There are tension binders in the cleat which can be set to a loose fitting so it's easy to clip in and out until you're used to them. Amy suggests practising on a grassy open space first before heading out on the road.
So this weekend, I'm shopping for another set of shoes. And this time I'm sticking at it. At least I'll look the part.