It’s happened more than a few times in my cycling around the lanes and trails, everyone I know has experienced it and I suspect you have too - coming across a rider by the side of the road troubled with a puncture and no spare tube or even a pump.
Of course I stop and ask if they’re okay and when they reply in the negative that’s when the angel and the devil appear on each of my shoulders, well, not angel and devil but cyclist and, um, let’s say teacher.
The kindly cyclist inside offers up the spare tube it has in their back pocket, checks the tyre for sharps, helps put the tube in, pumps it up and sends the other rider happily on their way. Good deed done. Warm and fuzzy feelings. It’s what every cyclist would do to help out another cyclist, we’re all in this together, we need to look after each other don’t we? But that little voice on my other shoulder won’t stop grumbling.
There is no real reason why I should help someone stood in the grass verge in funny clothes next to a broken bike just because we share the same mode of transport. There is an abstract notion that we are a vast community on two wheels, we’re encouraged to wave at each other and given short shrift if we don’t acknowledge it back. This vast peloton of supposed like-minded folks all out on bicycles enjoying themselves is all meant to be one happy family even when they don’t know each other. But I’ve met “fellow” cyclists I don’t like, at all, and I’m sure you know “cyclists” you’d rather not. Just because you ride a bike it doesn’t mean we’re friends. It’s an odd contradiction that there is this well-meaning belief in some sort of vast vague cycling tribe, and yet when someone using another form of transport complains that us cyclists are all the bloody same we’re quick and keen enough to proclaim our fierce individuality. Are we a friendly amalgam or are we a swarm of independent beings? An odd one that, but I digress.
Overruling all of this though is basic human decency, and a large amount of empathy towards a stricken cyclist, any ride it could be us stranded by the side of the road with a mechanical and we’d appreciate a passing rider to at least stop and ask if we need assistance, so we do the same. Karma or something.
If it’s a major issue then I’d do my best to fix or bodge it out (I carry a multi-tool, tyre levers, proper spoke key, spare chain links, a bit of gear cable, some gaffer tape, a tyre boot or two, because, you know…) but if it’s as simple as a flat tyre that’s when the inner monologue starts chuntering in my ear. How can someone go out on a bike ride without a spare tube and a pump? A puncture is the most frequent cycling break-down, it requires the most basic of bike related skills to fix (certain tyre and rim combinations aside), it’s the first thing you learn what to do, and taking equipment to deal with it should be second nature, a given, compulsory even. It is rudimentary essential stuff.
Expecting that you’re not going to puncture, hoping that someone’s going to pass by in your moment of distress to help you or knowing you can phone home for a lift are all ignorant selfish wishful entitled assumptions. That internal voice of mine is ever noisily grumbling that rather than being nice and helping out this particular spares-free cyclist needs to be taught an important lesson. The one that they need to be prepared. They’re not going to learn anything if someone holds their hand every time something goes wrong on a ride. Bit of tough love. What an old-fashioned father I’d make. Nothing allows the mind to casually ponder on the ease and practically of carrying an inner tube and pump like a 15 mile walk home. That’s a long way in carbon soles and road cleats.
I’ve not gone on my ride to be your domestique. If I lend you my inner-tube you might be polite and take my address and post me a new one, but in the few times this incident has occurred this has never happened, and so on a purely mundane wearisome level I’m down one inner-tube and £5. Karma can be costly. And if I get a puncture later on during my own ride then I could be a little stuffed. Luckily I always take two tubes, and patches. They’re not necessarily there for you to use though.
If you’re stood in the gutter looking at your bike then of course I’m going to stop and ask if you’re okay and help if I can. But if you’ve only got a puncture and can’t sort it out yourself then I may just have to ride on. You’ll thank me later.
Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.