You’re Doing it Wrong
The single most controversial piece of gear on our bikes is our pedals. Yes, they are flat. No, we are not clipped in. At this point, some cyclists pedal away resolving that we are hopeless beginners. Other cyclists subject us to a lengthy discourse on efficency and speed which boils down to the fact that we’ve been doing it wrong all this time.
Yes, after 15 months and 10,000 miles, we still haven’t gotten it right. We’ve met some people who honestly wonder how it is possible to get up hills without clipping in, as if before the advent of cleated shoes, cyclists resigned themselves to walking up every hill.
Of course, the pedals are just the beginning of a long list of things we didn’t get quite right. Laura doesn’t have drop bars, we’re carrying a paella pan, we don’t have STI shifters, our handlebars are too high, our alcohol stove is too slow and we’re carrying a cribbage board. According to current cycling wisdom, it is a small miracle we were able to pedal out of our neighborhood, much less across the country.
Thankfully, we are not the only ones who have been doing it wrong. We know people who have toured on Bromptons, on hybrid rental bikes, who have carried guitars and surfboards with them. There’s even a popular CrazyGuyOnABike cyclist that has pedaled around the world on a penny farthing. He is definitely doing it wrong.
The prototypical “wrong” cyclist is Arthur, who we met last summer in California. He was a recent grad from Wisconsin who decided to spend his summer touring down the Pacific Coast. He wasn’t wearing any cycling clothes, just gym shorts and black sweats. His bike was the proverbial boat anchor of bicycles – the Schwinn Continental. You know the bike, lovingly welded together from the finest lead pipe money can buy. It is so heavy and dense, it is reported to have its own gravity. Yes, Arthur was doing it completely wrong, but somehow he was blissfully unaware. And because he was unaware, he was also blazing down the coast at a clip that amazed most of the other tourists around him.
Bicycle touring is not immune to fads, trends and know-it-all-isms. There are prescribed “right” ways of doing things and “wrong” ways of doing things. While most of it is really just harmless fun and nothing to get riled about, we’ve also seen where gear self-consciousness has kept people off the bike, and that is just plain wrong, my friends.
We have met couples who are just starting to get into touring. Along the happy progression from newbie to serious cyclist, the decision to go clipless is made. Conventional cycling wisdom tells you that it will make you go faster (and that is the only legitimate thing you can do on a bike, right?). What follows is a tragio-comic drama. One partner takes to it like a fish to water and the other is about as graceful as an emu on skates. The partner who struggles gets frustrated and tries even harder but still can’t get the hang of it. At some point in all the failure and the repeated thinking that clipless is what “real cyclists” ride, the person gives up on the dream and misses out on a whole world of wonderful experiences – all because of the stupid pedals.
This isn’t a tirade against pedals, as it is about the self-imposed obstacles that prevent people from touring. In our journey, we’ve discovered how wonderful bicycle touring is and are constantly encouraging others to hit the road. It truly is a life-changing and life-affirming activity. If you don’t like clipless, don’t ride clipless. If you don’t like drop bars, ride with uprights. If your bike feels too low, raise the stem. It is ultimately your bike and your adventure, so you should pick a configuration that suits your riding style.
A few days ago, I met someone who recently did a bike tour on a carbon fiber bike with low spoke count wheels and a trailer. He was riding with a group of friends and they all had matching jerseys and were riding in a paceline down the coast. 1000 miles in 10 days. Yes, he was clipped in. I was about to tell him that he was doing it wrong, but I saw the big grin on his face and that familiar “far off” look people have when they are in their happy place and I simply smiled in agreement.