September 16, 2004

    Recently I switched from a Trek mountain bike to a Canondale R500 road bike.
    In the process, I tried clipless pedals for the first time. Please take in my tale of woe. Any advice offered would be greatly appreciated.
    I got clipless pedals on Friday, fell Friday night, and promptly had my clipless pedals taken off Saturday morning. I had never tried clipless pedals before and the business of learning a new bike with radically different components and the new dynamics of stopping were just too much. I have a scab on my knee the size of an orange. I think I’m going to take the rest of the season to familiarize myself with my new road bike before attempting clipless pedals again. I now have toeclips. Are clipless pedals really that more advantageous than toeclips? How long does it take to get used to those d*mn things? What are the advantages and disadvantages to clipless pedals versus toeclips? I’m doing a century in a few weeks and I wonder if I’m prematurely disadvantaging myself with my clipless phobia.
    I went from a huge, hefty mountain bike that I had for twelve years to a road bike. I was never fitted for the mountain bike. I went into a bike shop, pointed at a mountain bike, and basically went home with it. With my road bike, I received a professional fitting on a size cycle at [a local bike shop]. (They were fantastic, by the way, extremely knowledgeable, patient, and hospitable staff). According to my professional fitting, my mountain bike was entirely too big for me and stretched me beyond an efficient cycling position.
    With my new measurements in hand, I purchased a Canondale R500. I had the 500 built specifically for me based on my professional fitting results. Despite all of this care, my road bike feels entirely too small, fragile, and dangerously awkward.
         I can’t tell if my new road bike is just too small or whether it will take months for me to get acclimated to a bike that (1) fits me properly and (2) is a road bike.
    The experience of being on a waif of a road bike in comparison to my hefty mountain bike is like night and day. Although I’m stretched out on my mountain bike, I have had it for over twelve years and it fits me like a glove. I’m not worried about getting a skinny wheel wedged in railroad tracks or sidewalk crevices. My mountain bike absorbs the shock of potholes. My road bike, on the other hand, leaves me feeling unstable, tipped too far forward, crash ready at a moments notice, and shriveled up. Are these normal feelings associated with transitioning from a hefty mountain bike to a frail road bike? I can’t tell if the frame is just too small or if I can fix my ill-fittedness by get a longer and higher stem and adjusting my seat further up, tilted up, and pulled up?

Blanche C.

    You raise a bunch of issues, and I’ll take ‘em one at a time.
    I glean from your message that you live in a big city. Many people like mountain bikes, with their wide tires and flat, platform pedals, for city riding. Road bikes often don’t do as well; their skinny tires bend easily from potholes, and having one’s feet clipped into the pedals make it hard if you’ve gotta start and stop a lot. This explains why some folks have two bikes: A mountain or hybrid bike for city traveling; and a road or racing bike for going long distances fast, as they do when touring or racing.
    I find your experience with clipless pedals all too common. They take lotsa learning, and you shouldn’t learn in traffic. Learn to use clipless pedals in a quiet, wide parking lot with lots of room. Wear long pants and sleeves and (of course) a helmet. Go short distances slowly and practice clipping and unclipping. Work up to sudden stops where you have to unclip quickly.
    Whether you use clipless pedals or toeclips for everyday riding depends on whether you want or need the faster speed that such pedals give you. If you live in a hilly or particularly windy place clipless pedals and toeclips could make your life lots easier. Personally, I don’t like having to wear special shoes or clothes for bicycling.
    It sounds to me like your new road bike doesn’t fit you correctly—despite the fitting exercise you went thru. I believe a bicycle should never make you feel uncomfortable. But you should expect feeling some difference (tho not pain or discomfort) when you switch from a bike that has you sitting upright to one that has you leaned over.
    Having shop staff tell you that a bike you’ve ridden comfortably for a dozen years causes “inefficiency” frosts me—but I’ll suppress the urge to rant about the American bicycling industry.
    I suggest you take your road bike back to the shop you like so much and have them check you out on the fit—and specifically address your complaints. You might solve your problem by, as you mention, simply changing the handlebar stem so you don’t stretch forward as much. (See pictures of alternatives in my book, Urban Bikers’ Tricks & Tips.) But if you’ve got a frame with a horizontal length truly too short for you, no amount of adjustment will make it feel right.

Mr Bike

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