The clacking sound of stone on metal was unmistakable.
I grabbed my brakes and turned to see if the guy needed help as he continued slamming the grapefruit-size rock on the top of his old quill stem. He was a working guy—battered old department-store mountain bike, jeans, ball cap and a too-warm jacket that had seemed like a good idea hours nine or 10 hours earlier in the morning chill. He had the look of a guy just trying the whole riding-to-work thing. And now his stem was working loose from his old threaded headset during the afternoon commute.
“Need a tool?” I asked as I rolled up.
“Nah, I think this’ll work,” he said. “I’m only a couple miles from home.”
“I’ve got a hex wrench that’ll fix that.”
“Oh, ya do?” he said. “That’d be awesome!”
With so many new bike commuters on the trails this summer, there are a lot of people out there relying on luck. Many of them carry no tools, no spare tube, no pump. One minor breakdown and they’re either walking home, or calling for a ride.
The bike preacher in me wants to climb on a pulpit and give them all a sermon about self-reliance on the trail. I’m thrilled whenever I look up the trail at “rush hour” and see a few riders with daypacks or rack trunks, but it pains me to see someone pushing a bike with a flat tire because they didn’t bother to carry supplies—or learn to use them.
When I started mountain biking 20 years ago, I made a point of knowing trail repairs. Spending a few dollars on tools and reading a couple of good articles on how to keep my bike rolling gave me the mechanical confidence to enjoy riding not only to work, but into mountains and deserts.
It’s a good feeling to stand at a trail junction in the middle of nowhere and make a decision based only on the map and your food supply. That’s no time to suffer doubts because you don’t know how to amputate a derailleur, splice a broken chain, boot a torn sidewall or fix a simple flat.
The same thing applies in town. Riding to work becomes more fun when you don’t need to worry about a 5-mile commute turning into 2-mile ride followed by a 3-mile walk.
If you’ve been riding awhile, offer to show a newbie how to change a flat and repair a chain. Give them advice on buying a spare tube, tire levers, an air pump and multi-tool for tightening loose bolts.
With gas prices so high, this summer is the best recruiting opportunity we’ve ever seen. It’s time to expand the cult.
Let’s get ’em to drink the Kool-Aid.