Them's the brakes

Part two of our beginner's blog on road cycling

Cycling's a bit easier on the knees they told me. Some people also believe that if you play football regularly (especially on hard surfaces) that eventually your knees won't be able to take the pounding and it'll all end in tears. I've played a lot of footy in my time so getting out on a road bike seemed a good knee-saving alternative.

Except today as I sit here writing this article my knees are in agony. To be fair it's mostly my own fault. I've just bought my first road bike (in part one of this blog here) having decided to get back into cycling after a brief 10-year hiatus, and on Sunday I got out for the second time, having felt pretty comfortable using clipless pedals in the previous ride.

Maybe it was because I was that bit more tired but I had a shocker: fell over on the first road then another three times going up and down the hills of Bath as I tried to unclip at junctions and when swerving in as cars squeezed through the narrow gaps between parked cars and walls.

Okay, so it's common sense really: a road bike, hills and clipless pedals doesn't make for the best city bike combination. And yes I've released the tension as much as possible on the pedals to ease transitions, and experienced with different ranges of tension. Raw knees have made me think again.

(Read BikeRadar's own guide to using clipless pedals here.)

Getting out to the open countryside is the next step now that I feel a bit more confident unclipping and having worked out how to switch gear even. What I've learnt pretty rapidly is that cycling uphill (of which there's a lot of in Bath) means that you have to unlock your foot very quickly from the pedal because as soon as you stop pedalling the bike stops almost instantaneously. A couple of times I shot into a gap to allow a car to pass only to not get my foot out in time and end up sprawling on the floor like some mechanical semi-human crab twitching slowly and still strapped to the bike.

It's all a learning process, and a man's knees ain't nothing but a map to the scars, right? Well, I guess it's more about preparing yourself in advance and getting the foot unlocked before you come up to a junction.

I've also experimented with unlocking both feet if possible as a few times I've unlocked the right foot and stupidly lent my weight to the left. Though this is a bad idea on reflection.

My top tips after a few sessions:

  • Approach junctions slowly at first, until you get your release technique honed
  • It can be worth keeping one foot released if you know you're going to be stopping frequently
  • Practise, practise, practise your release technique – a BikeRadar colleague told me to imagine you're stubbing out a cigarette with your heel if having problems releasing
  • Adjust the tension of the release mechanism to help

Kneesy does it then: bring on the open roads, longer distances and knees that aren't bright red...

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