Thursday, September 06, 2007

For the love of the ride

A few years ago, I was doing my usual Saturday morning ride with my friends as I prepared for the Ironman. It was a hot summer day, and we had set out to do about 80 miles. We had barely ridden about 10-15 miles when I got a double flat. Now, I am no stranger to the occasional flat tire, but that was the first time I had ever gotten a double flat. And not only was it a double flat, but a piece of glass had made a nice little slice in my back tire. I like to think that I go riding prepared... I usually carry an extra tube or 2, some CO2 for air, patch kit and other necessary items, but I don't ever carry an extra tire. Luckily, I was with friends who were more experienced and resourceful than I was. We used a Gu packet inside my tire to protect the tube. I could have ridden back home, but I decided that that Gu packet could hold out for the next 70 miles. It did. In the 4 years since then, I have only gotten a few flat tires and certainly nothing as catastrophic as a double flat... until Saturday.

Cameron and I had met up with our friends Brittany and Martin to ride over the GW Bridge and into New Jersey. The first half of the trip went well despite the incessant head wind, but I was looking forward to the return trip and having that wind at my back. I was pedaling along feeling quite good when Cameron passed me to take a turn at pulling (blocking the wind so I could draft). A few minutes later, he quickly swerved to avoid a rough patch of road, but I didn't have time to avoid it so I hit it straight on. Immediately, my front tire went flat and I had to stop to avoid riding on my rim. I was annoyed, but it wasn't the end of the world, so we proceeded to repair my flat tire. As I was doing so, I noticed how terrible my tires were. I have been procrastinating changing them for the past 6 months out of laziness and because I like them, but that was now proving to be a very costly mistake. With the front tire fixed, I was about to hop on and continue on my way when I discovered that my back tire was also flat. No good. I already used the one tube I had brought with me, so it looked like one of the tubes was going to need a patch job. Just as we were about to do that, Martin noticed that there was a nice little whole in the tire I just fixed, so the tube was poking out. That would not do. I was in a bit of a predicament.

I had one good tube, which was in my front tire; 2 tubes with holes in them and 2 tires with many cracks and holes. What to do? I was about 12 miles from home and no where near a subway. Luckily, 2 cyclists who were riding by asked if we needed any help. This is a customary practice among most cyclists. They were 2 older gentleman probably in their late 50s who had probably been riding for 30 years. They were not the crazy arrogant speedsters that fly by shouting at you to get out of the way. One of them was an unassuming pro with a long grey beard and tire changing skills. The other had a bit of a gut, a sense of humor and a hand pump. Together we were the makings of bike mechanics 101. He gave us tips as he patched my tire and tubes, and Martin just soaked it all in as he is somewhat new to the sport. When all was said and done, I hardly thought "thanks" was appropriate since they had managed to provide me a way home and basically saved the day. I wished I could have done something more, but in the sport of cycling... this is what it is all about - helping each other out on the road. They went their way and we went ours. This was a common occurrence on the roads in Florida. It's what I learned when I started riding, but I have since discovered that this demonstration of kindness is not necessarily universal in the cycling world although it should be.

I was extra cautious on the way home because I had nothing left to fix any popped tires. I also said a few prayers that I would make it unscathed. Luckily, my prayers were answered, and I changed my tires as soon as I got home. I have been thinking a lot about cycling and cyclists lately. Perhaps it is because I am around them so frequently since I ride in the park on a regular basis. I consider myself a cyclist and a runner, and they are 2 very different groups of athletes. There are some cyclists who think Central Park was created for their purposes and that the road that goes around the inside is like their personal time trial track. They speed along at ludicrous speeds sometimes in packs yelling at everyone to get out of their way. Sometimes, they ride without helmets swerving in and out of other cyclists, runners and roller bladers, which is a testament to their naivete and stupidity. If they were truly good cyclists who were aware of the park, they wouldn't dream of pedaling an inch in the park without a helmet. There are also others who think runners should not be on the inside of the road but the sidewalk even when the cyclists have the whole road to themselves, so they constantly yell at the runners. I find their manners rude and unbecoming. These are not the cyclists like the ones I know who have stopped to help a fellow athlete on the road.

I still like to believe that there are cyclists out there who are on the road because they love the sport, not because they need to get an ego boost or fulfill some training quota. I hope that I can always be one of the cyclists on the road who just love the sport and should I ever come across another unfortunate soul who procrastinated changing her tires, I hope I will be as kind and forthcoming with my own skills and knowledge as the the gentlemen were on Saturday. That's the true spirit of cycling.

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