Sunday, January 29, 2012

Paying it forward

A cluster of cyclists by the side of the road. The road is West Old La Honda, possibly the most drop-dead gorgeous cycling road in the universe.

You always look closely and slow down in these cases. Either it's an accident and someone needs help or it's a mechanical issue and someone needs help. Or it's a mechanical issue and it's in the process of being fixed. No matter which scenario it turns out to be, the best course is to slow down. One, you avoid running into them and becoming an accident that needs to be fixed. Two, you enable communication in case help is needed. Cycling etiquette requires a quick check-in.

It's a group of young racer guys, probably late 20's. 5 of them. One holding a wheel and looking unhappily toward me. He says "um, do you have a patch?" I don't, but I do have a spare tube. He's had 4 flats today and asks if they can buy it from me. I say the tube is not helping me anyway because I happen to have forgotten my pump! No pump, and now no tube. If I have a flat on this ride, one tire iron will be the sum total of my tools to resolve it.

4 flats in one day means your tires are worn out, or your rim strips are worn out and are biting holes in the tubes. Bike tubes are expensive so they're probably already in the hole and don't want to hear this from me. Multiple flats turns what starts out as a beautiful ride with friends into an exercise in frustration. I'm resisting the urge to consult. So far so good.

Younger riders often have just one or two sets of cycling clothing, helmet & shoes, a fast bike, and that's it. A little disposable income is needed to replenish the supplies for fixing flats and other mechanicals. My rule is if the rider is under 30, the spare tube is free.

Of course cycling buddies can have whatever for free. There's a tacit agreement that we'll bail each other out.

I hand over the tube. The guy is relieved. Replacing a tube is a lot easier than patching. One of his friends wishes me a good ride. With an ironic laugh I say "I hope so!" and continue on.

If you want the truth, it's hard to give up my only tube. I'm riding alone, with a lot of miles left in the day. If I had a flat, I could always replace the tube and bum a pump off a passing rider. Both a tube and a pump would be a bit much to ask for. I'd probably get a raised eyebrow for being completely unprepared.

As a sport, cycling stresses self-reliance. You can get out there in a remote area and not be able to continue. It's expected that you prepare for what might reasonably happen (no one is prepared for 4 flats - most riders can deal with 2). But cyclists are also a human community, and to address our shared vulnerability there is a social code. Never pass someone in need without offering to help. Take payment only if you need the money.

It's an ecosystem. Good things will come back.

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