4 Seconds

It's about at this angle when you realize there ain't nothing you can do.

It sounds something like this: “Wha?!? Oh @#$% *ooomph* Ugh… that hurt.”

Sound kinda familiar? No? Well, if you’re new to shoes with clips, it will. I’ve done this 5 or 6 times by now. Here’s the setup:

1) Select a place to stop. Try to aim for:

  • A nice, crowded intersection
  • The front of your riding group
  • Slanted/angled/cracked ground (but level ground will do, if you can’t be bothered)
  • All of the above

2) Slow down to about 1-2mph, with your favored foot safely unclipped, ready to step down.

3) Now here’s the key: Lean toward the clipped in foot by 0.0005°.

Voila. You’re now perfectly setup to execute one of the most embarrassing cycling maneuvers. No, not tearing your shorts while stepping over your top tube. No, not standing up to charge a hill and letting a big one rip. This is even better.

That’s right, it’s falling over while standing still.

The best part of this maneuver is that once it’s setup, the timing takes care of itself. It all happens in about 4 seconds.

1-2 seconds: the shock phase. In that first second or two, you’ve executed this move, and you start thinking “No prob, I’ve got this, I’ll just lean the other way. Wait, that’s not working, I’ll um… uh oh…” The ground starts getting closer, and a feeling like impending doom takes over.

3 seconds: this is the “shock and awe @#$%” phase. You’re fully committed to the most ungraceful fall you can manage, and the shock of this tiny, feather-weight vehicle managing to wrestle you to the ground has stopped all useful brain functions. Except for one: the knowledge that you’re about to hit the ground. Hard.

4 seconds: you’ve now hit the ground successfully, looking nothing more like a fish hitting the deck. Your foot that refused to unclip has – through some dark art – unclipped of it’s own volition, further mocking you.

Drivers and pedestrians upon seeing this really want to laugh, but are usually genuinely concerned you might be hurt. Because hey, if someone falls off a bike, it probably hurt. So they have these odd, co-mingled expressions. Other cyclists I’ve seen around this conflagration – of which there are probably 2-5 but there looks to be 300 from your lowly vantage point – usually have one of three expressions:

  1. What happened? I hope he’s okay.
  2. Um, why’d that guy just fall over? I’m not with that guy, people. I just stopped to wait for the light.
  3. Sorry man, I’ve been there.

Sadly, I’ve done this enough times I can use the word “usually”. And it hurts! Not just the mental “Wow, did I just do that in public?” kinda hurt, but I’ve banged up knees, elbows, shoulders, shins and hips pretty badly just from falling over.

And what can you tell your fellow riders or your friends? Were you in a very tight, face-paced peloton, fighting for ultimate supremacy in a knock-down, drag-out criterium? Were you flying down a vast mountain side, doing 45 mph while slow cars pulled off the road for you? Was a dog the size of a clydesdale trying to maul you and you bravely fought it off with nothing by a stale clif bar and a half-empty water bottle?

No. You were just stopping. And fell over.

Do I have any advice for my fellow rookies of the road? Nope. I mean, obviously not. If I’ve done this 5 or 6 times, I haven’t really learned much, have I? Thing is, you might do everything right. Unclip early, prepare to stop, watch for things that might mess up your line of travel, and more. But it won’t help. Maybe it’s a fate thing, or a way of paying your cycling dues. Maybe it’s a way to mentally toughen us up for when we have a truly vicious crash with that wall that decides to jump right out at us for no reason.

Whatever it is, there’s only two sure-fire ways I know of to avoid the dreaded 4-second Fall of Shame: either don’t ride at all, or never stop pedaling.