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On Biking: The Good Samaritan code of the road

Posted by Emily Files  September 18, 2012 01:49 PM

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It was a beautiful Friday afternoon, sunny and warm. A perfect day for an after-work bike ride. My wife agreed to meet me near the Science Museum. Our plan was simple: pedal to the waterfront, grab a bench, and watch the ships come in and the planes take off.

A few blocks from our meet-up spot, my bike began to wobble from side to side. I looked down and noticed that most of the air had escaped from my rear tire.

I had sprung a slow leak, not to be confused with a catastrophic explosion, the kind that announces itself with a loud BANG. My leak had come on so gradually that I could almost convince myself that it wasn’t a leak, that it was either an optical illusion or the bicycle elves playing tricks with my head.

I’ve had enough flats to know that this was not a trick, elf-generated or otherwise. I also knew that if I could pump up my tire, I’d be able to limp home. The problem was that I’d forgotten my pump. I know, I know: bicycle pumps are like credit cards, don’t leave home without them. And yes: normally I carry a pump. Really, I do. Just not this time, but only because my pump was in my local bike shop, strapped to the frame of my other bike.

Fortunately, I was able to flag down a cyclist who had remembered his pump. He was happy to help (cyclists are like this: the code of the road is to always offer assistance).

Unfortunately, his pump did not fit onto the valve of my tire. We tried pushing, pulling, and twisting, but we couldn’t get it to seat. If anything, we probably made things worse.

Once my wife arrived, I explained what had happened. We decided to pedal to a nearby bike shop. By standing up, so as not to put any extra pressure on my rear tire, and by dodging potholes and curbs, I arrived with my pride and my wheel mostly intact.

Once at the bike shop I received the red-carpet treatment. Even though I was not a regular, and even though all I wanted was to use their floor pump (I figured my leak was slow enough that I could replace my inner tube later), they were helpful and kind and wished me good luck.

Their wish came true, or maybe the bicycle elves decided to cut me some slack. Either way, I made it home without further incident, save for an hour spent beneath an awning near the Ritz while I waited for a thunderstorm to roll past.

A few days later, my co-worker Joe was not riding home. Not because he didn’t want to, but because the bicycle elves had decided to go after him. Only now, those elves weren’t fooling around. Joe did not have a slow leak. He had a catastrophic explosion, a full-blown flat. The kind of disaster that can only be repaired by replacing the inner tube.

Fortunately, Joe had an inner tube. He even had a pump (I did, too). But what Joe didn’t have was a set of tire irons, the levers used to remove a tire from the wheel.

That’s when I got the chance to be a Good Samaritan. I pulled out my bright pink tire iron and offered to help. Joe was glad for the assistance, and even let me take the lead.

This was why, a little after 5pm on a Monday evening, I found myself changing Joe’s tire in the hallway outside of our offices. But first I rolled my finger along the inside of his tire to see if I could find the cause of his flat.

By now, a small crowd had gathered around. My boss suggested that I consider opening up a repair stand outside of our building; that way, I could make a little pocket money to support my bicycle habit. Josh asked if he could write down what I was doing for future reference, while Rose just smiled, especially when I held up the cause of his flat: an inch long wire that had pierced his tire.

I didn’t help because I like getting grease under my fingernails, and I didn’t help because Joe’s a good guy (though he is). I had helped for the simple reason that it was the right thing to do. If you subscribe to the code of the road, you know that we’re all in this together: cyclists, pedestrians, motorists, too.

Best of all, fixing Joe’s tire gave me a chance to show those bicycle elves that they’re not in charge.

Jonathan Simmons is a psychologist and an avid cyclist. His book, “Here For the Ride” will be published later this year.

Looking for things to do this weekend? Check out the pros as they zip around Government Center on Saturday afternoon for the Bank Mayor’s Cup. And for the rest of us, there’s Hub on Wheels, a ride through Boston’s neighborhoods. Riding on Storrow Drive without any cars is worth the price of admission.

On September 29th, MassBike will be co-sponsoring its 10th annual historic bicycle tour of the Middlesex Canal (the Big Dig of its day). The ride starts in front of the Sullivan Square MBTA station, and makes a stop in North Billerica (where you can catch the 3:07 train to Boston) and continues on to Lowell (just in time for the 5:00pm train back to town).

That same weekend is the Bike4Life Boston, a ride on September 30th that honors the memory life of Bob Zeeb, an avid Newton cyclist who died as the result of a bicycle accident due to a missing electrical utility vault access plate.

Like to really plan ahead? Then pencil in Friday, October 12th, for the Boston Bike Film Festival at the Regent Theatre in Arlington Center.

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