Initiation: a Catalog of Firsts

Initiation: a Catalog of Firsts

My first flat tire came on my first ride on my first bike-shop-quality road bike. It was an initiation in the classic sense. I don’t believe that the universe sends messages, but if it did, that flat was exactly the sort of message a new rider deserves.

Pow! Thpthpthpthp.

If you want to be a cyclist, you’ll have to deal with these.

Of course, I got pushed in the proverbial deep end. A framing nail went in the tread, into the the tube, out the side and out the sidewall of the tire. I had to replace both the tube and the tire. Damn.

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My first bonk hit me on an airless stretch of road that ran between Memphis and the world’s largest inland naval base. The summer heat robbed the air of oxygen itself. It was after getting to the point of turnaround on that out-and-back that I realized something had gone wrong. I just had no idea what. I sucked my water bottle dry and fantasized about Mexican food.

Once I entered the city limit, I found a 7-Eleven and pulled in. I picked up some snack and the largest bottle they had of fruit punch Gatorade. I remember the Gatorade tasted soda sweet; that’s how dehydrated I was.

Not content find disaster by burning all my body’s glycogen, I’d gotten a flat while on the parkway and my rear tire was so badly cut it needed a boot. I called my father and asked him to pick me up. After waiting what probably wasn’t enough time for him to get where I was, but thinking he couldn’t find me, not to mention being concerned about a thunderstorm that had rolled in from the horizon, I got back on my bike, risking yet another flat with that exposed tube, and rode back to my dormitory.

My knees buckled in the shower.

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My first crash unfolded in the first race I ever entered. It was a criterium in a ritzy shopping center in an expensive suburb. I was racing my touring bike with cantilever brakes and triple crank, but with a nice set of sew-ups I’d built for Christmas, just a few months before. Having never glued on tubulars before, I failed to use enough glue. The course had two sections with lazy lefthand bends, and two left turns. We started just after turn two. I got through the first turn just fine, still accelerating to race speed. But I picked up a fair amount of speed on the downhill sweeper into turn two and leaned the bike over hard in the turn, feeling pride in my competence, feeling like a badass … and then feeling my hip surf along the asphalt. I managed to shred a pair of shorts as well as a pair of tights.

I didn’t put enough ice on my hip afterward and developed a bruise that encompassed the entirety of the back of my left leg, from the bottom of my glute all the way to my knee. My leg was a grotesque purple, not the sort of color you’d paint a car.

Months would pass before I’d be able to bring my left leg over the top of a pedal stroke.

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The first time I was dropped by a group I’d ducked a pull, knowing that I didn’t have the gas to follow the wheel in front of me. I pulled to the left, instead of the right, swinging into the wind and hoping the rider in front of me would slot into my position.

A voice behind me barked, “Take your pull!”

It had the effect of an electric cattle prod. I veered back to the right, closed the gap and rolled into the hill. The rise was neither long nor steep, but it was a rise and my tank was empty well past the point of the idiot light. Somehow, I managed to follow the wheel to the front and when he pulled off, I gave a year of my life to dig deep enough to maintain speed so that he began to drop back. I waited until I was certain that I wouldn’t take out his front wheel before pulling off. The torture I experienced until the rider following me gave me shelter made me wonder how I’d get through the entire ride. Before I reached the back, lactic acid surged through my legs, my arms, down my back and even in my ears. I pulled left, out of the paceline and stopped pedaling before reaching the top of the hill.

In that moment, I realized, I had no idea what cycling was.

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8 comments

  1. Steve

    Great firsts Patrick!

    The first time I tried toe clips (yes actual toe clips) I rode into the two square on a busy Saturday afternoon. I had to stop at a crosswalk to let some people cross and as I came to a standstill I realized…yep, I was still clipped in. I crashed to my left and fell directly on the four inch concreted curb that circled the square. Not only did it really hurt, but the curb had just been painted DOT emergency Yellow thirty minutes before. As I struggled to get up, some people snickered, others tried to help me stand and EVERYONE… stared at my black cycling shorts now criss-crossed with bright emergency yellow paint.

    1. Chuck

      My brother and sister-in-law used to live in a house in Boyes Hot Springs right on Route 12 that had a short but steep driveway up to the garage/front door. My toe clip mishap was coming back from a ride and being in too big a gear going up the driveway. I had not quite reached the top and came to a standstill. And, of course, only then remembered that I hadn’t loosened the toe clip strap. No fresh paint was involved, but it was one of those moments where you discover how incredibly hard it is to reach the pedals to loosen the strap when you’re on the ground and “pinned” by your bike.

      There’s also that first time riding clipless and coming to a dead stop before you clip out.

  2. TomInAlbany

    The first time I wore cycling shorts, I felt a little… um… exposed. I remember hustling into and out of the apartment trying to get on my bike as quickly as possible. They WERE much more comfortable than regular shorts (with a 2″ inseam back in the ’80s). When I added jersey, all secrets fell away. I’ve never been so uncomfortable in my own skin plus so little else.

  3. imakecircles

    My very first ride on a bike was so thrilling, I was finally veritably gliding over the asphalt of my parking lot. Oh shit, I don’t know how to turn or brake! Crash!!

    Time to get back on.

  4. Neil Winkelmann

    First ride on the first bike I ever had. 10th birthday. Crashed on the first corner and knocked out my front teeth. Spent my birthday party at the dentist.

  5. SH

    That’s funny. I used to work in Millington and know that area well. My first bonk came on a February day when I rode a tailwind all the way out to Moscow from Bartlett, then had to fight the headwind all the way back. A mile from home I passed by a Backyard Burger, with that smell coming out the smokestack, and nearly passed out.

  6. Steve Courtright

    The first time I rode my bike to work on the weekend, I wore my bike shorts, as all serious cyclists do, and didn’t bother to bring a change of clothes because: weekend. A female colleague (with no boundaries) took one look when I was walking to my office and said, referring to my choice of clothes, “You know, I can see what religion you are.”

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