It takes some practice, and you'll never get it right the first time.
But no one does; you just don't know it until afterwards. Which saves you some embarrassment...but not while you're doing it, of course. And while it can become like second nature after you've done it a couple of times [or as close to second nature as you're going to get given the fact that you really shouldn't be engaging in such activity on a daily basis], it's still confusing and a little complicated at first. It's like you don't know what you're doing with your hands or your mouth and everything's kind of messy but you still want it to be good because everyone's been talking about it. And since no one's there to really tell you what to do [at least in my case], you're half wondering like is this okay? Am I allowed to be doing this? What is this stuff all over my face?
That was me and my first burrito. And minus the mouth/face part [okay there was some panting involved], that was me and my first real ride on a geared bike.
With midget legs, I secretly despised friends who would go on vacation and come back with stories of rides on borrowed bikes, concluding with statements like, "man, it's nice to have friends in different cities." I would go home to look at my bicycles and the reflection of my legs in the mirror, standing on tip toes and imagining being able to ride something standard like a 50cm frame. Then I would force myself to imagine what landing on a top tube would feel like to erase the envious feelings. Goddamn tall[er] people.
But sometimes luck can throw me a bone, and this time it came in the form of a friend who will gladly ride slow and happens to own an extra geared bike with relaxed geometry that's just a touch too small for him. I jokingly swung a leg over it once and found that I wasn't simultaneously sitting on the top tube and standing on my tip toes. At that point a plan was established to which no amount of "I don't want to experience the buttery deliciousness of Campy Record until I can start dreaming about affording it because that's like looking for a husband when all you really want is Brad Pitt" could derail. I was stuck. With gears.
So last Friday found me on a Cyfac, chasing a De Rosa from the Lower East Side to New Jersey. Clipped in and lycra-ed out, I mostly had no idea what I was doing and kept glancing between my legs while trying to avoid hitting pedestrians, cabs, and other obstacles. Stopping wasn't as much of an issue as I had feared [no top tube + body part collisions], but too used to a heavy steel 'cross frame, I kept pulling up the front wheel when pushing off. The whole thing was light, and loose, and wobbly; the figure skater to my track bike speed skater. It could do multiple things like climb hills and go 24 mph without killing my knees. I was completely weirded out.
To be honest, it was slightly frustrating in how foreign it felt. It's like getting on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland and being like whatever that was so tame, let's get on Splash Mountain, only to end the ride gripping the safety bar and trying not to shit yourself. Okay, it wasn't that bad, but you get the point.
Retreating to the familiar, I ended up keeping it in one gear for most of the ride. But like eating a burrito with a knife and fork, I understand that it doesn't prepare you for the real experience of shifting gears. Only practice can do that. So despite the discomfort and potential for embarrassment, I'm going to dig in and hope for the best.
Hey, it worked for the burritos...