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.
Matt Clarke December 9, 2011 at 12:03 pm
And Adventure Cycling will really tell you how to do it by telling you where to go so throw those maps in the trash.
Gourry December 19, 2011 at 3:57 am
Sometimes it’s goes really wrong. I got my first long trip on near new GT comfort bicycle, with camo pants and cotton T-shirt 🙂 Had to return halfway cause got very bad sunburns, and was dead beat (extiguished myself and bike almost lost ability to move – no front brake, and split rear axle), but it was fun. So some consideration is vital.
As for fancy parts – one girl from our club got 2006’s bike with heavily abused tourney transmission, and fine with it (beats me how she manages to make this thing shift and brake) – she can give handicap to many men 🙂
PS But clipless still very handy.
PPS If you interested in russian offroad bike touring way – feel free to ask 🙂
Roger Bolden May 11, 2012 at 10:31 pm
Great article. It’s the journey that matters, not the gear. I cycled around the world in 97-98. Sometimes I had ‘white-line fever’ caring more about getting to the destination as fast as I could and my gear reflected this; cut- down toothbrush, the lightest gear etc. Eventually most of my gear broke or went missing and ended up making do. This slowed me down and had a great time. Incidentally, I met a Swiss RTW cyclist who was spending 5 years on a bike. He also had clip less pedals but one of the cleats on his shoe broke in Laos and had to resort to wearing smart shoes instead.
Claus Lykke Jepsen June 5, 2012 at 8:19 am
I did Manila-Bangkok in 2011 in sandals, no under wears just shorts, because I did do not want to look like a neon biker. For me that was the right way because that way I felt it was easier to meet the locals.
Next winter I will finish my trip around the Chinese Sea going Bangkok-Hongkong.
Bloke on a folding bike June 14, 2012 at 2:46 pm
Hallelujah! I am so fed up of the pressure to conform to cycling norms. I love my folding bike, yes for its practicality, but also for its quirkiness. I love people being surprised by how fast it is on “those little wheels” and I’ve given up trying to find a pedal/clip/cleat combination which works on a folding pedal. Flat pedals and trainers all the way for me from now on and I’m much happier. Screw conventional wisdom! 🙂
Calvin Schaeffer June 23, 2012 at 5:56 am
Last week I cheerfully threw my toe-clips in the trash.
If you borrow a little bit from here and a little bit from there and are able to make up your own mind you will find your path.
Zorra on a bike June 28, 2012 at 8:27 am
“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.”
Love the article and comments. True about the pedals, worried so much about my clipless that I lost the excitement to get out and just ride and then I fell! Bought some platform pedals yesterday and a BIG weight is gone. More about the journey and less about the destination and being happy with your bike setup.
Kathy July 25, 2012 at 3:20 pm
I agree. After riding several international rides and seeing people from other countries have a whale of a time riding any old bike in any old clothes, I realized Americans are gear crazy and like to buy things. A road bike rider for years, I am now happily using flat pedals for my commute to work, city errands, and fun rides but I got all terrified about a 350 mile ride coming up so I was researching pedals and shoes. I didn’t want to go back to clipless pedals so you helped me decide to stay flat and stop agonizing about it! Thank you very very much.
Highwayman October 19, 2012 at 9:27 pm
Wow! That is the best of your blog entries I’ve read so far. And I feel so vindicated! You also gave me a good laugh –thank-you.
The problem for North America (or more specifically, Anglo-North America) is that, today, bicycling is regarded mostly as a sport rather than as transportation or travel. This is reflected in the majority of bike shops we have in our part of the world: they are geared toward the athletic.
Then there is the propensity to conform to the latest fad. Americans especially are notorious for that.
Still there is hope. As more of us tour, more people will look upon the mechanical steeds we ride as the custom jobs they should be for each of us riders. The understanding will grow that each of us has the right to customize our bicycle (or tricycle or any other cycle for that matter) according to our needs, peculiarities, and –dare I say it?– eccentricities.
Let each of us ride our own journey and allow ourselves to truly have our own bikes.
Again, truly the best post I’ve read! Thank-you!
Kevin from Trailsnet.com January 11, 2013 at 8:16 pm
Amen to that, Highwayman. It’s nice to hear from a fellow bike traveler. It’s not always about competition. Bikes are pretty darned great for recreation, transportation & touring, too!!
Kevin from Trailsnet.com January 11, 2013 at 8:14 pm
God I loved this post… right from the beginning. I tried clip/clipless pedals for a year just so I could say I gave it a shot. They didn’t work for me. I much prefer regular flat pedals or the old fashioned bear traps.
The other thing I apparently do wrong is forsake roads. I drive my car on the roads way too much. When I bike, I want to be safe and see different scenery. Give me a rail-trail, canal trail or river trail over a road any time. Now that’s my kind of biking. Beautiful, relaxing & safe trails are the way to go for this bike traveler.
dave February 2, 2013 at 2:31 pm
Good comments. I too love Rail Trails, Canal Trails and dedicated bike paths. I ride a recumbent and love my clip-less peddles but I can understand the convenience of not having them too. And sometimes I wish I could leave them at home. But I just can’t.
Eileen January 29, 2013 at 12:27 pm
Yea yea! Make your own rules! Just go!
Linny February 2, 2013 at 10:05 am
Yes…..there are alot of “Legends In Their Own Minds”..
out there. As has been said before….Go out there… however it works for U… and have a Great Time…..:)
alf February 2, 2013 at 10:08 am
If you are having fun, then by all means you are doing it right.
I am leaving Bulgaria next month with a regular backpack (thinking of getting a flatbed trailer), and a second hand mountain bike. I don’t care if it takes three months to reach UK at 20km a day. I plan to have a blast doing it wrong, and tweaking the bike, setup and gear as I go if something is not going well.
Ken Wallace February 2, 2013 at 10:57 am
Russ, you nailed it again. Be comfortable, ride within yourself, rest when you need to and have fun.
Lainer February 2, 2013 at 11:55 am
Guess I’m doing it wrong too. I have nice WellGo flat mountain bike pedals on my Road bike, a Kona Dew Drop. LOL!
Sharon McN February 2, 2013 at 12:58 pm
Great points. You tempt me to get the Trek 520 out of the garage and go bike camping, something I’ve never had the nerve to do. Of course, I’d wear my clippy shoes because that’s how I roll.
Loneviking February 2, 2013 at 1:42 pm
Hooray! There’s others doing it wrong! I wheel along on a 40 year old Schwinn Varsity with clip less pedals, saddlebags from an Army surplus store and enough add ons to make most bike mechanics laugh. I don’t wear Spandex, and I usually wear clogs. And yes, I’ve been told I’m doing it wrong!
John February 2, 2013 at 1:42 pm
Couldn’t agree more!
John Donahue February 2, 2013 at 2:14 pm
I fell and broke my hip 16 years ago, partly because I couldn’t get out of a clipless pedal.
I went back to an inexpensive cruiser style platform pedal for my touring, etc. and been Very happy.
I actually believe it has helped me improve my symmetry and muscle tone throughout the complete arc of repeated pedal strokes.
Clipless pedal benefit is one of the Great urban myths of bicycling.
arnel February 2, 2013 at 2:17 pm
It is not the bike and its components, for me, its the biker that counts the most. This ain,t Tour D France, its just plain touring. If your happy and comfortable with your set up. GO !
Doug February 2, 2013 at 2:36 pm
I used clips and straps for many years. It was always fine. Early last year, though, I decided to switch to clipless. I very much prefer it for all riding, including touring.
1. More comfortable
2. I wear out fewer shoes
3. More secure, especially in rain or on rough roads
4. Steep hills are a bit easier, though there’s no real difference in speed most of the time
5. Clipless shoe plus pedal is lighter overall
I find walking in MTB shoes is fine.
Each to his or her own, of course.
Thomas Arbs February 2, 2013 at 3:38 pm
Ten years ago on the East coast of Sweden we encountered a young couple who were going the same way, so we rode along for a day or two. They were touring. On Dutch bikes. Without gears. With a cotton tent and heavy army sleeping bags, sealed in dustbin liners and belted down on their racks. Without any consideration for their gear, they had simply picked what they had and started off. Their stuff was so heavy and unsuitable as if it were picked for parody. Well, they were in love, and happy, and boy did they have legs.
Ken February 2, 2013 at 5:14 pm
I know and old gent in his 80’s, in 1949 he and his friend set off on their Raleigh sit up & beg 3 speed tourers to camp in Scotland. They set off from Newcastle at the beginning of the school holidays and six weeks later had gotten as far a the Isle of Skye – from there they caught the train back so as to start teaching in the new term. They had wooden tent poles tied to the crossbar with string (as you did)everything in a large saddlebag and the tents on top. They stopped in farmers fields and bought bacon, eggs & milk fresh from the nearest farm every morning.
How I wish I could recreate that trip…. and all without clipless pedals, lycra or any of the modern “necessities”
Annie February 2, 2013 at 6:47 pm
More than years ago I biked down the West Coast from Portland to San Francisco. I’ll never the cowboy we met. He was riding from Montana to SoCal. He wore cowboy boots, jeans, and a cowboy hat. He had his blanket roll around the top tube of his bike. It taught me you can keep who you are and still get there.
Otis February 2, 2013 at 8:53 pm
I’m a “gear freak” myself, but this is a great article. Get out and do it.
Love my SPD pedals, but you’ll never see this body in full lycra.
paul February 3, 2013 at 2:08 am
Currently in Japan, riding a Bike Friday Pocket Llama (for the second time) I have MKS removable pedals with good old S/Steel MKS toe clips, two rear panniers, an Ortleib duffle strapped on the rack. Carry a laptop,iPad, camera and phone with all the requisite gear.Ride in a pair of Keen walking boots, wool socks, wool jumpers/jerseys,other assorted items of clothes to keep me warm and dry in a Japanese winter. I also have mudguards/fenders , a bell,lights and a leather saddle. Pretty much the same sort of gear I had when I was 10 or 11 and ventured out onto the roads for 1 or 2 day trips depending on Dad. All of this started around 1960-62 so I am buggered if I’ll change for someones else’s idea of cycling correctness. I still get a sore butt, push my bike when I feel like it and don’t mind having a hot coffee container instead of an extra electrolyte/stamina drink bottle. Oh ! I forgot the bar bag has a supply of nuts , dried fruit and fresh, and indulgence ,a Snickers bar or two. It’s day 20 and I have covered 615 klms through rain , snow and bloody head winds and enjoyed every bit of it at 62 years young.
Ken B May 26, 2013 at 4:51 am
Great story Russ and Lora thankz for sharing
Al Gritzmacher June 5, 2013 at 7:42 pm
The trick is, making the bike fit you. If you try to make you fit the bike, it will seem like a torture machine.
Ride what you have. If you sit at home because you don’t have the ideal equipment, then you’ll never go anywhere.
Max Schneider January 7, 2014 at 3:02 am
I think I’m doing it wrong too. Last month I finished a two month cycle trip from Germany to Istanbul (via Albania because neither I nor anyone I met had ever been there).
Flat pedals, internal hub, borrowed panniers, a 99 Euro tent, no detailed map (I did get maps on the way – love those Serbian tourist offices).
I did hardly any research before I left on a whim (I knew it was possible because otheres had done it before but no detailed route planning other than “I guess I will follow the Danube and see where it goes), no GPS (one of the first questions I was always asked was: Do you have a GPS? I always knew where I was, the main question was which road to take next…), no smartphone either.
Regular shorts/pants and no cycling shorts either, which is more comfortable for me than these cycling shorts.
Oh yeah, and I was going alone (remember, I left on a whim) which seemed to confuse everybody.
It was very exhausting but very great and next time I will only tweak a few details.
The good thing about cycling is that everybody can do it _their_ style and be happy with it.I think this applies to life as well…(which I must be doing wrong too because I have neither a car nor a TV…)
Helen April 20, 2014 at 6:57 am
OMGosh. Love this.
I’ve been fighting to get this super road bike and all its stuff the right way. I practiced all winter on trainer to be ready with those cleats pedals. 1st ride outside, 3 falls. knees scraped, chain teeth in back of legs – in 2 places, hurt shoulder, bruised palm, etc. To find out that my left clipping has an issue (we need to bring back that Keo Look) to the store to have it checked. Luckily I fell when stopped (could not clip properly the left foot, forgot about unclipping easily). Anyway, my body is hurt and sore, but my clothes and bike are fine. 🙂 except for my pink tape and right hand break handle scratched.
So for me, it will be back to flat pedals. I had no issues before, I’m not a fast rider, even if my bike is a “race-type” road bike. I don’t care. Safety and fun must come first. No matter what the “pros” tell me. I have enough of watching where I go, check anytype of obstacles (dogs, cars, bikepaths full of everything but bikes), without having to worry to unclip super fast in case of emergency too. I want to enjoy my ride. If not, I’ll go back to aerobics. haha Much safer.
Love love love this blog. Getting back to basic!
Bruce Day May 11, 2014 at 8:08 pm
Great article. My first tour was in 1993 on a Scwhinn Varsity, backpack, army canteen on my belt, platform pedals and no cycle specific clothes, and of course, no helmet. I had a ball. Still daydream about that first long solo tour.
I now ride a Trek 520 with spd’s on mountain bike shoes, mostly cycle specific clothes and a helmet. As each change was made I compared it to current equipment before changing forever. Last year an unexpected opportunity for a two day 150 mile ride on a borrowed bike had me back in a cotton tee, jeans, and Reeboks. The only thing I missed was my Brooks saddle but then changing saddles is always painful for a fat old guy.
Screw the experts. First rule of cycling. Any bike you’re riding is better than any bike you’re not. Same goes for the paraphernalia!
Jim Luther May 27, 2014 at 9:59 am
I began touring with my first real tour from Birmingham, AL to Missoula, MT in the early 90’s on a Raleigh Super Gran Prix and had the time of my life. No real equipment, buying clothes from Goodwill as the weather changed, and strapping a gallon bottle of water to the rear rack whenever I felt like it. Trip ended up about 6,000 miles (stopped by the NW Territories and Seattle along the way). On a long ride, I am convinced that weight becomes irrelevant. My solution to routing was to not use maps, just ask local people what I should see – sometimes I went hundreds of miles in the wrong direction.
I used flats then, but I now use pedals with flats on one side and clips on the other and tend to clip in while on open road or mountains, and flats when more stops are required.
Simple July 25, 2014 at 1:18 pm
I’m a 55-year-old guy who recently took up road biking again after a long absence. My lovely wife bought me a carbon road bike, which I like very much.
I do not wear Spandex. I do not use clipless pedals. I do not log the miles I’ve ridden or count revolutions per minute. I don’t have a mobile phone with a biking app.
My aim is to once again experience the pure and utter joy of riding a bike that I experienced when I was eight years old. And if I experience that joy for forty or fifty miles or more, so much the better.
Yeah, every once in awhile, some youngsters ride by in their Technicolor uniforms, stiff shoes and wrap-around shades. That’s okay. To each his own. I’m eight years old again, and I don’t really care what others think or do.
frank November 25, 2014 at 1:15 pm
makes a huge difference the type of platform pedals. The high end models, like the Shimano Saint PD-MX80, give excellent grip including in rain, at least with the screws fully extended. If those Shimano pedals are out of your price range, there are probably some cheaper knock-offs. Low-end platform pedals can truly be horrible, on the other hand, with the feet constantly sliding off in rain.
4 Reasons Why I Use Platform Pedals - Milestone Rides January 8, 2015 at 3:31 pm
[…] Russ & Laura of Path Less Pedaled, do not ride clipped in. We are platform jockeys. Based on a previous blog post (thanks to Amoxeh for pointing it out in the comments) Laura had convinced Russ to abandon clipped […]
Tracey February 19, 2015 at 2:09 am
I cycled a lot when I was younger, mainly on my dad’s old racing bike or my brother’s hand-me-downs. Obviously, due to the very nature of the bikes, I was never ‘doing it right’. Recently I’ve been itching to get back on a bike again so this weekend I bought a Brompton S3L to encourage me to get out and about in the city…and boy, am I loving it! Just the feel of being on a bike again, no matter how unfit and ungeared I am, is totally exhilarating!
P.S. That Schwinn Continental is a thing of beauty! It reminds me of my old racers. 😉
Soren April 10, 2015 at 3:58 am
I took my first bike tour last summer on my mountain bike. I headed north on the Pacific Coast Highway (steady 20 MPH headwinds), wore tennis shoes, no panniers just 2 budget water proof bags that i stuffed my clothes into, a journal, and a Wal-Mart tent that leaked.
I wouldn’t have changed anything about that trip. I remember every tourer that I made acquaintances with had a top of the line tent that could withstand a hurricane, Shimano cleats, a NASA station worth of gadgetry attached to their handlebars, espresso machines, and bikes that weighed less than a feather. I felt a little out of place to be honest. Its like that feeling you get when you’re at Guitar Center and the “pro” asks you what guitar you play and you say, “Oh its the guitar my Dad bought me for my 16th birthday, an Epiphone Les Paul,” and he chuckles to himself while you shrink into a ball.
Long story shirt it didn’t matter what kind of type writer Hemingway typed on, or what brand guitar John Lennon played, or the shoes Michael Jordan played in. It didn’t matter because they were going to what they loved regardless of the quality, clout, or science behind their “tools.” As Nietzsche said, “Science is wonderful at destroying metaphysical answers, but incapable of providing substitute ones.” Don’t get bogged down by the science behind equipment or gear, because at the end of the day its not the gear thats going to get you there, it’s you.
Bev February 6, 2016 at 12:06 am
Heading off to new Zealand next week on a folded bike, sandals, not a hint of Lyra and no return ticket – bliss.
Jory November 23, 2017 at 6:27 pm
This reminds me of a friend in his late 40’s want to ride the STP (Seattle To Portland), he only had a huffy. He did it anyway, and would laugh at all the young, high speed, guys on the bikes that cost more then my car as he passed them and said, “you just got passed by and old fat guy on a huffy.”
Stephen Jones September 8, 2018 at 12:48 am
Love this post! Whatever feels right is right for you! There is no ‘right’ way.
I love the ‘as graceful as an emu on skates.’. I know I’m an Aussie, but I’ve never heard of that one before!
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Great post. As one who forgoes the bike shoes & shorts, I concur with the sentiment. Two things to do “right” though: obey traffic laws and use lights at night!