Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cyclists helping cyclists...

I met a kid on his way to school. It was about 10.30 (the community school starts late), and I was just passing him on Magdalen bridge. As I was on the pavement (US) and he was on the pavement (UK), i expected to pass without incident. However just as I came level, he tipped over suddenly and fell off. Not into my path, but I had to check he was ok.

So I pull over, ask him if he's hurt and what happened. He'd caught his trouser-leg in the rear wheel, then tried to brake and stop to free himself. His front brake hadn't worked, and he'd gone down sideways. I offer to take a look - he was only about eleven, in need of help - and he was so surprised! Even more so when i pulled my (very basic) toolkit out and fixed the problem.

The problem - just a worn-down brake pad. It had finally torn open, and wouldn't work at all. The quick fix was to swap it for one of the intact rear ones. The rear brake on most bikes (including my own) is so stiff it's not worth having; my fix should keep him relatively safe until he gets home.

And it made me think, about why he was so surprised at the help. Seems a stupid question at first; in any city, we expect passers-by to pay us as little attention as we pay them. Even when we're in need of help, we expect to have to ask for it, and often a few times before we find someone who will.

Except for when cycling. Because how can you ask people, when they're passing you at 10-12mph or more? When what you need is so specific - a cyclist with tools, and time to share them - that you can hardly hope to find one at random? So the arrangement is, you don't have to.

I learned this when I stopped on the Oxford ring-road cycle path over a year ago, to check a strange noise from the bike. I can't remember what it was, but i know i was looking the bike over. I had tools, but hadn't taken them out as i'd not yet found the issue. A cyclist with no luggage passed by without stopping, just looking to see i wasn't injured. The next one had panniers - and they stopped! He offered help, and his toolkit. I explained i was fine, had everything i needed, and had just found the (non-)problem. And I was as surprised as the kid i helped today.

Since that day it's happened again - the first cyclist with tools to pass me, stops. And now i do it, too. Usually nothing comes of these exchanges, but sometimes people help other people. And that can only be a good thing.

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