Closeup of two tire levers and a much-patched inner tube

Etiquette for stranded cyclists

Published 2014-03-17
This is one of my favorite blog posts

Scenario: a bike is broken down. Probably a flat tire. Bike and cyclist are on the roadside and might need a little help. You either own this bike and are sitting forlornly beside it, or you are riding at a rapid clip past.

What to do?

How to ask for help

  • Move your bike off the road but to a place visible to oncoming traffic. Particularly other cyclists.

  • Turn your bike upside down, so it’s resting on its saddle and handlebars. (Don’t forget to remove your headlight and cyclometer from your handlebars first so they don’t get scratched.) This is the Universal Signal for “my bike is broken down and I need help.”

  • Consider what you most need to complete your repair, and try to phrase that need in a single word. Examples: “pump,” “tire,” “spoke wrench,” “brake cable.”

  • Look imploringly into the eyes of every passing cyclist. Maybe make a little wave. Be ready with the word you just thought of above.

How to offer help

  • When you see a cyclists transmitting the Universal Signal (above), slow down but do not stop.

  • Shout this magical phrase: “Do you need anything?” This phrase is magic because it saves everyone a bunch of face. The stranded cyclist of course totally knows how to change a flat tire, s/he just forgot the pump at home today!

  • If the cyclist says anything other than “all good thanks,” slow to a stop and press a little. Hopefully they’ve considered their one-word reply above and you can assess if you can, in fact, help them.

  • If you CAN help: do so. Make idle chitchat about the weather, where you’re riding, who you might know in common. Don’t draw attention to the fact that you are a Big Damn Hero. That would be gauche.

  • if you CAN’T help: Stop anyway. Offer to ride to a nearby shop to procure more sophisticated aid. Offer to make a phone call. Offer bus fare. We are all in this together.