I started going to cycle classes at the Y a few years ago. I even have the fancy cycling shoes that clip into the pedals. This, of course, makes me a cycling expert.
Sadly, my expertise ends at the part where you clip in and ride an actual road bike in the actual world. You see, on the stationary bikes at the Y, you don’t have to worry about things like terrain, traffic, or falling over. You just clip in and ride. (Well, I guess technically you COULD fall off one of those, but that may indicate a drinking problem more than a bike problem. I digress.)
Unlike a stationary bike, when clipped into the pedals of an actual road bike in the actual world, people can totally fall over. How, you ask? Well, imagine coming to a stop on your bike and being unable to put a foot down on the ground because they’re BOTH ATTACHED TO YOUR PEDALS. That is LITERALLY the scenario when you’re clipped in on a bike. So, if you don’t UNCLIP soon enough, you’re screwed. I’ve heard these stories time and again, and while other people seem to think it’s hilarious, I am terrified of falling over. (I am also terrified of being run off the road by a car, running into a ditch, and flying over the handlebars. But mostly just falling over sideways at a stop sign.)
My husband, Matt, has wanted me to ride with him for awhile now, and when a friend generously hands down her road bike to me, I can’t avoid the challenge any longer. Matt and I go to the bike shop to buy a helmet, and I mention my fear of falling to the expert-cyclist-employee. He says, “Everybody falls. At some point, you’re going to get distracted, forget to unclip, and fall over. Stop worrying about how to NOT FALL, and start making sure you know how to FALL WELL.”
Hm. Okay, I’m listening. Teach me your ways, cycling yoda.
“For example,” he says, “it’s best to not stick your arm out to catch yourself at all. But that’s not realistic because it’s such a natural impulse to try and break your fall. So, just be sure you don’t have your arm locked straight out when you’re going down. Instead, keep your arm bent a little as you land. It’s easier to deal with a broken collarbone than a broken wrist.”
Mayday. What!? My face clearly reveals my horror because he immediately exclaims, “Oh, that probably sounded terrible. You’ll be fine! Just don’t lock your arm out! You’ll be great!”
Not long after, we’re in our driveway, ready to roll. I’m trembling, but I am going to get on this bike dammit, and hopefully wherever I fall, it won’t involve broken bones. Or oncoming traffic. I clip in my right foot. “Now what?” I say to Matt.
“It’s just like the bike at the Y. Just do what you do there.”
Spoiler alert: it is NOT just like the bike at the Y.
With my right foot clipped in, I lift my left foot (completely ignoring all rules of balance and motion BECAUSE THOSE DON’T APPLY ON THE STATIONARY BIKES AT THE YMCA) and proceed to fall over onto my right side. Like, immediately. It’s the weirdest sensation. I’m falling and there’s literally nothing I can do to make it stop. (Except throw out my arm to catch my fall BUT NOT ALL THE WAY BECAUSE OMG PLEASE DON’T LET ME BREAK ANYTHING.)
I do not break anything. But there is blood. And I cry.
I proceed to say things like, “I can’t do this. This is so dumb. I’m not doing this.” I go inside and wash off the blood. I’m a little bit hurt and a lot embarrassed. I don’t really know why I feel embarrassed. It was only in front of my husband, and I had already been told by literally every person I know who has ever clipped into a road bike: EVERYONE FALLS. Yet, it feels like the most stupid failure on my part.
Matt says, “Come on, babe. You really need to get back on the bike.”
“Um. No. I can’t do this. I knew that would happen. I’m not doing this.”
“Look, I’m going to talk to you like a coach. Stop crying about this and get back on the bike. You are totally overthinking it. You are completely capable of doing this.”
I go back out to the garage and stand by the bike. I stare at it. I am paralyzed with fear and humiliation. Finally, Matt calmly says, “Just get on the f$@*% bike.”
And I do. I straddle the bike and clip in my right foot. But, before I lift my left foot (and before we repeat our last mistake), Matt clarifies, “So, this is NOT like riding the bike at the Y. This is completely different. You have to be MOVING FORWARD to have balance. Be sure you have forward momentum before you clip in your other foot.”
I take a deep breath. Well, maybe six deep breaths. And I move forward. I feel the momentum under me and add my left foot. And I ride. When I’m actually moving forward, both legs engaged, it’s incredible. I love a lot of it, and I white-knuckle my handlebars for the rest. I don’t fall anymore that day, which feels like a small miracle.
Several days later, the scrapes and bruises have healed, but I’m still chewing on three valuable lessons from that day:
1. You’re going to fall. Learn to fall well.
We can waste a lot of time and energy worrying about falling or failing or not measuring up. As a recovering perfectionist, I have spent much of my life trying to avoid failure. Or trying to measure up to something – everything – anything. The problem is, failure is inevitable if you’re really DOING anything. If you’re not EVER failing, what are you really even doing? Rather than trying to avoid failure, why not invest that energy into failing, or falling, well? Sometimes the more we try to self-protect, the more we end up injuring ourselves. Sure, there will be some self-protection — but don’t stiff-arm the world in an attempt to break your fall.
2. Get back on the f$@*% bike.
Just because you fell doesn’t mean you can’t ride a bike. It just means you fell. It just means it takes practice. Just because something requires effort doesn’t mean you’re not any good at it, or that you’ll NEVER BE any good at it — or that you aren’t ALREADY good at it. You just FELL! Yes, it hurt. Yes, it felt humiliating. Feel that. Cry for a minute if you want to. Wash the gravel out of your skin. And then get back on the f$@*% bike.
3. You have to move forward to find balance.
“Finding balance” sounds like quiet zen, humming and meditating. Sometimes I try that. Well, maybe not the humming. But I do try to quiet the noise, shrug off the demands, and find some peace. Some balance. And that was my mindset when I first tried the bike. It went like this: clip one foot in, deep breath, quietly gather all my courage. And promptly fall over. But the problem wasn’t my “quiet zen.” The problem was, I wasn’t moving forward. The same applies in my life: yes, I need space to rest, clear my head, and find some balance in my life. But, too much rest and head-clearing, and I get all out of whack. Take a moment to steady yourself, find your bearings, and then MOVE FORWARD.
In what ways are you afraid to fall?
Or is there an area where you’ve already fallen, and you’ve been afraid to get back up and try again? What are you waiting for?
How about finding that elusive “balance?” In what ways can you move forward to find the balance you desire?