Clip stacks, fuel fails and other cycling setbacks

If cycling is one of your favourite forms of recreation, I won't need to tell you of the myriad joys it can bring into your life.

The upside of this enjoyment is that when things go wrong it's hopefully easier to laugh it off.

Of course, bad interactions with other vehicles are the source of greatest concern for a road rider – and I've written plenty on that before.

But here are a half-dozen other situations I've experienced and observed – from the inconvenient to the unnerving, and often subsequently amusing – that might resonate with you.

1. Clip stacks

It's a rite of passage for many a cyclist transitioning to so-called "clipless" pedals (where, in fact, your shoes clip in).

As you roll to a stop, an awkward moment of trying to remove a foot, followed by a low-speed, sidelong tumble that is hopefully mostly harmless. Preferably with a bus stop full of spectators.

A trap for novices, but you can never get too complacent (and let's not forget the heart-stopping almost-stack).

I'd avoided a tumble for years until coming unstuck on a recent cycle tour of New Zealand. My excuse? Dirt in my cleats made them unexpectedly harder to unlock. Fortunately, the only observers were livestock.

2. Lights out

Ever forgotten to sort out your lights the night before an early morning start? Or discovered that they have been flickering away to nothingness on your bike or in your bag at work all day, and are now useless for the commute home?


In some cases, this can be remedied by a fresh set of batteries, rechargeable or otherwise – but in an increasingly USB-powered world, for many lights the only remedy is time.

Which can also be spent contemplating another way to get home, and how you're never going to make this mistake again.

3. Sun shapes

UV protection is crucial in our sunburnt country, but it'd be a rare cyclist who hasn't occasionally been caught out.

And cycling apparel can create extra challenges, especially if you have tan lines. If your knicks or sleeves come up short, you risk an angry red line between the margins – not to mention random stripes when arm warmers and sleeves don't quite join up, and gloves that create patterns on the backs of the hands or give you pale paws.

But perhaps the most notorious is the dreaded helmet tan risk faced by our balder brethren, where sunlight shines through the ventilation and leaves a bonce that looks like it's been strip-grilled.

4. Roadside remedies

The dreaded mechanical. Why is it that things so often go wrong when you're furthest from assistance?

Sometimes you can limp home – like the time when I broke a cable and had to make it back on one big gear, dreading every incline. Or the ride when I had more punctures than means to fix them, and had to beg a spare tube from a passerby (since paid forward, with interest).

But I've also wrecked rims and snapped chains, when the best way home was to throw out a thumb or phone a friend. There's a whole book that explains how roads weren't built for cars, but the infernal combustion engine sure comes in handy at such times.

5. Animal encounters

Being out on a bike means the paths of other creatures will sometimes intersect with yours. The most famed in Australia are the feathered swoopers - especially magpies, which will do anything from buzz you to taste your blood.

More dangerous are the creatures that get in your way. So far, I've successfully dodged wallabies, stampeding goannas and a few snakes, but I know of people who haven't been so lucky and have the scars to show. 

I've also been chased by dogs a few times in rural settings, and here's my top tip: never sing or chat loudly when passing a farm – it can invite canine company. 

6. Fuel crises

One thing that fascinated me during the recent (and tragically cancelled) Indian Pacific Wheel Race – the challenge faced by those unsupported riders to keep themselves fed and watered.

Never mind crossing the Nullarbor, I've managed a few dizzying hunger flats within a few kilometres of the finish of a morning ride, often due to the theory that there's no point in eating some tedious snack bar now when real food is just up the road.

As for fluids – ever found yourself limping along with barely a swig sloshing around in your bottles, desperately hoping for an available tap somewhere up ahead? Ever contemplated the contents of some roadside rivulet? If so, you're my kind of rider.

What are your most irritating cycling inconveniences? Let us know in the comments section. 

Fairfax journalist Michael O'Reilly has written the On Your Bike blog since 2011.

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