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Cyclists helping cyclists

Last night was not my night.

I hadn't been out on a weekly group ride in several weeks so it felt kind of strange anyway. About 5 miles in, I realized that the cleats on my bike shoes had started to come loose so I rode to the halfway/turnaround point--another 5 miles--with a wobble on my left pedal. That was bad enough. I didn't have my full multi-tool of wrenches in the saddle bag so I had to borrow someone else's. After screwing all three screws in, I was good to go.

About 15 miles in, however, was when I got a flat. My second ever. My first on the new bike. And my first time trying to change one on the side of the road and not in the safety and comfort of my basement or a bike shop. We were riding in a strange "connector" between 2 towns that is essentially an industrial park with train tracks, lots of debris, lots of truck traffic...there's your first clue. We were nearly back to a nicer road when I heard the heart-sinking rush of air that can only mean one thing.

There were probably 5-6 of us at that point because we'd broken apart into smaller groups as riders rode extra routes or turned back to beat the darkness. We called "flat" up the line but only one of pack turned around to ask if I needed help.

His name turned out to be Eric (and, again, thank you Eric!) and he's not even really a club member. He just is a guy who likes to ride with us every once in awhile. Eric asked if I had everything, which I did. I told him to just keep going and that I'd be fine...which I was. It was my front tire that had blown, which is much easier than having to deal with the chain and cassette on the back. So even if I wasn't in the mood, I was confident I would be able to handle it. Worst case, I had my cell phone and could have called home--the kids were in bed, but it was far enough that I couldn't walk.

Eric had my wheel off the front fork before I could even protest. He said there was one year he had bad tires so he got lots of practice and was pretty good at changing tires. My new tires/tubes turned out to be a lot tighter than he was used to and took some muscle, tire irons, and work to get back on the rims. He used his hand pump, too, which let me save my cartridge. I appreciated that. Everything really. It took him 10 minutes where I'm guessing it would have taken me 20-30 minutes as I would have been more cautious and careful and methodical.

When he offered to stay he noted that I needed to help him now because he didn't know the way back home. There was something poetic in that, actually. Something poetic in the whole thing. A stranger stopping to help when he didn't even know if I'd know the way either. For all he knew, we could have both been lost at nearly sunset.

Even more than his kindness, I was struck by his pleasant attitude about the whole process. It didn't ruin his ride. He was positive and upbeat and we chatted. He had a smile on his face and it certainly helped not ruin my ride...though I was not having fun anymore, I decided to try. It was a metaphor for all of life, really. You have to like the good parts more than you dislike the bad parts.

In the end, it was a tiny slash about the thickness of a graham cracker that caused all the chaos. I can easily patch the tube. Or a new tube costs what? A couple bucks. It's a part of cycling. You have to view it as such. Which brings me to the mandatory speech about "please, if you're going to ride a bike make sure you have a spare and know how to change a flat because it WILL happen to you at some point." Riding home on an only partially-inflated tire wasn't nearly as fun as coming home at full speed feeling refreshed and happy. I'll admit I was a bit bummed the ride had gone so badly.

It also was a learning experience though. A chance to make a new friend. A chance to reflect on altruism. Eric didn't have to stop, but he did. And my night was better for it. It also made me want to stop for someone else sometime in the future--pass it on.