I'd like to introduce you all to my current instrument of torture. Don't worry. It's not going to be that sort of post. Here it is:
The bit I want you to concentrate upon is the tiny pedal-y thing with 'Shimano' written on it. It's what's known as a 'clipless' pedal. Which seems odd, as the basic idea is that you clip your feet into it, but I'm sure someone far more knowledgeable than me will be along to explain why in a distinctly adenoidal way.
When I got this bike a month ago, it came with the standard plastic flat pedals that we're all used to seeing. A pretty simple concept. You put your feet on them and push down one at a time until you can't. Repeat until you have reached your destination, then stop and have some cake.
But people told me that I needed to go clipless. Physically attaching my feet to the pedals would make things so much more effective. I could pull up with one foot while pushing down with the other. It would make me faster. Hills would flatten. Lengths would shorten. I would become a Cycling God.
First of all I needed to purchase a pair of cycling shoes. These are ridiculous items which fail on almost every level when it comes to assessing the usefulness of footwear. They even have holes pre-drilled in the soles. And they look very, very silly.
You're not meant to point this out, of course.
One of the things I've learned about cycling is that you have to make yourself look silly. But it's an unwritten rule that this shouldn't be brought to anyone's attention. All of a sudden, the scales would fall from everyone's eyes, the artifice would crumble and we'd all be looking at each other, saying: "What were we thinking? Wearing skin-tight manmade fibres, crouching over bikes that weigh the same as a crisp packet, our feet pushing down on tiny metal stumps with disco slippers."
But I digress. So, earlier this week I replaced my pedals and set out to test the whole concept. Beforehand, I sat on the bike, propped up against the open garden gate, and practiced the whole 'clipping-in and clipping-out' thing. Because it's quite handy to be able to put a foot to the floor when you've stopped. I don't know if you've noticed this, but bikes are inherently unstable. The last thing I'd want to do is fall over, isn't it?
I think you can see where this is going.
So I went out. I followed a 25-mile circuit I hadn't done for some time, since I'd been under my doctor's orders to not over-exert myself. It wasn't the length, more the elevation. This route included a road called Rising Lane, named in a completely non-ironic manner by someone several hundred years ago. I was keen to see how I got on.
And it was good, largely. The pedals made a difference. When I came to any junctions it was relatively easy to unclip my left foot and lean over that way. All was good.
I headed back home and was coming through the leafy suburbs of Solihull when I thought I'd pull off the road to stop and have a drink. I'm not one of those flash Harrys who can reach down for their bottle, drink and ride at the same time. Baby steps, and all that.
So I rode onto the pavement and slowed. I unclipped my right foot. I leant left. There was a brief period of time when quite a lot of things happened.
Gravity is a cruel mistress, isn't she? Mind you, paving slabs aren't much more benign.
So I now have a little less skin on my left knee and elbow. And what have we learnt, dear reader?
Cycling. It's a bloody silly pastime.
There is some method behind all of this. As well as being generally beneficial to my well-being (comedy elbow and knee scrage notwithstanding), I'm using my new-found liking for cycling for good. Next month I'm doing the British Heart Foundation's Heart of England Bike Ride with the mighty Team Lard and if you'd like to sponsor us, that'd be peachy.
The link is here. Ta everso.