Monday, May 25, 2015

On Bike Shoes, and Separation from the World

Looking out the window at the gray sky and green leaves of a late spring day I considered where I might ride.

From a practical standpoint I do not need to go anywhere today. So what would my objectives be?

When I trained, the objective was clear and the equipment selection was obvious. I would dress for the weather and wear cycling shoes. I would strap in at the start and, barring any mechanical problems or quick visits to the woods, remain fastened to my pedals until I returned home.

The cleated rider flies above the world, separated from it by the adaptation to soaring. It is not obvious, because we ride on tires touching the ground, but we might as well be a thousand feet up. We flow with a rhythm all our own, disparate from the motorists that brush us aside and the pedestrians stolidly striding.

When I ride to the grocery store, I dress in ordinary cargo shorts or pants, and wear non-cleated shoes. The pedaling is less efficient, but it's more important to be able to walk around the store without clacking and skidding. The normal clothing also helps me blend in with my fellow citizens.

Not training, shopping or commuting, for what do I prepare?

The cleated cyclist is like one of those birds that's regal and magnificent in flight and a hopping, flapping disaster on the ground. Inset cleats popularized by mountain biking are some help, but even they can protrude enough to make footing dicey at times. Is that a good enough compromise? It is for some. And since slotted cleats are exotic and rare these days, requiring special efforts to obtain, few riders are likely to go to the trouble.

The cyclist's separation runs deeper than footwear. If I plan to stop, what security measures should I take? Every time I shop by bike I have a constant twinge of anxiety that my bike will be damaged or gone when I come out.

I have not had a bike stolen since 1971, but that was my beloved Phillips 3-speed on the first day of high school in the biggest, most urban school I had ever attended. I had ridden it as a bit of comfort and familiarity, because this was a new town and a new school and I was a tad intimidated. The theft of the bike was symbolically the removal of a chunk of my childhood that was not returned to me by the purchase of anther black, English 3-speed. The replacement never seemed to ride the same way.

Later, in college, my Peugeot 10-speed was vandalized twice. Since I was a monumentally insensitive prick in college, I could never be sure if the damage was caused by a frustrated thief who could not overcome my lock or by a girlfriend who recognized the bike and wanted to throw me a little grief. Or it could just have been someone who did not like bike riders and disapproved of my choice of parking place. You never know, as a bike rider. I'm decades down the road from having angry girlfriends, but that leaves plenty of other potential antagonists.

Thousands of people use their bikes every day without damage or loss. But on a per capita basis, I would bet cyclists suffer more damage and loss than motorists in the course of what should be routine errands. You're vulnerable on the move and vulnerable when you're parked. You're just out there, available to the judgmental emotions of any passerby.

Motorists are much more profoundly separated from their world, but much less aware of it. Because they are doing what most everyone else is doing, the fact that they're doing it sealed in a glass and metal can, hurtling at deadly speeds, crushing small life, and -- occasionally -- big life, is completely lost on them. Because what they are doing is "normal," and they can lock the vehicle to create its own security, they can move with blissful thoughtlessness. Bash, crash, hurtle and park. Shuffle on in to the emporium and shuffle on out again. Throw the bags in the back seat and hurtle away. Meanwhile, the weirdo on the bike is still unlocking, packing groceries into panniers, coiling up the lock, putting on the helmet and mounting up to exit the parking lot with the jostling multitude of canned humanity being normal.


Steve A said...

My SPD cleats don't click on hard floors.

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