A few weeks ago, I experienced my very first incident of dropping a chain. Of all the times this could happen, it happened during a paceline ride: We were transitioning from a downhill to an abrupt uphill and I rapidly switched to the small chainring. It's funny how we don't immediately recognise things that we haven't experienced before, and it took me a moment to understand what was happening. I sensed that pedaling suddenly became way too easy and that I was losing speed rapidly... but what could be the matter? It wasn't until somebody yelled "chain off!" that I looked down - and oh my God, my chain was off! It was surreal, like one of those dreams where someone says "But why are you wearing a duck costume?" and that's when you realise that, indeed, you are wearing a duck costume. First comes the wave of shock, then realisation that this must be a dream. Except this time I was awake - and aware that three other girls were pedaling behind me, so that a sudden stop on my part would likely cause a crash.
Everything happened quickly. I managed to make a "pulling over" gesture, then steered the chainless bike onto the grass and dismounted, averting disaster. But the rest was pathetic. Though I knew how to get the chain back on, my hands were not cooperating. Soon I was covered in grease and bleeding from somehow having cut myself on the chainring, but the chain would not stay on. "Need help?" said a voice next to me. I became aware that one woman stayed behind with me and was now observing my ineptitude. Still in a state of shock and now also red with embarrassment, I could not even answer coherently, and could only mutter "it won't stay on... why won't it stay on?.." Next thing I knew, she calmly took the bike from me, put the chain back on the ring, and turned the pedals until the chain was back on. I felt like an idiot as I thanked her profusely - but she expressed not an ounce of annoyance. "Don't worry about it. I froze the first time it happened too." I don't know whether this was true, or whether she was just being self-deprecating to make me feel better, but it did make me feel better.
Fast forward to my ride this morning. I stopped to drink some water and saw a woman walking her bike toward me from the side of the road. "Excuse me, could I use your phone?" I gave her my phone and asked what happened. She replied, with some embarrassment, that her chain came off and she wasn't able to get it back on. She wanted to call her boyfriend for a ride. "I know how to do it, but it's just not working." I looked at her chain and decided to give it a try. This time I wasn't nervous or under pressure to fix my bike as soon as possible. I said "May I?" and - miracle of miracles - got the chain back on. She rode the bike down the path and back, confirmed that it was working, and no longer wanted to call her boyfriend. She was just as flustered about not having been able to do it herself as I had been two weeks earlier. So I said the same thing the woman in the paceline had said to me: "Don't worry about it. I froze the first time it happened too." It was true!
When mechanical problems happen, I think it's natural to freeze. We may know how to fix things in theory, but when it's actually happening to us for the first time, it's a different story. It's nice to be helped without being judged as inept. I appreciated that help when I got it, and will reciprocate in the same manner when I can.