Friday, December 4, 2015

Plan B for Bicycles

Some time ago I met a woman who cycles for leisure daily, but drives a similar distance to work. I asked her why not ride her bike to the office? "Oh, I'd love to!" she said. "But I can't do my own repairs you see. If I break down, I'll never get to work on time!"

It's a concern I've heard before many times. And it is one that, on the face of it, sounds so reasonable as to almost be self-evident. But beneath the veneer of logic it is actually a non-issue. And here is why.

Consider for a moment, whether commuting by car, train or bus ensures that you will arrive to work on time. Far from it. In fact, "my car broke down" is probably the most frequent explanation for being late or missing a day of work altogether. And everyone accepts it as par for the course.

So first of all, don't start off with the assumption that you must never, ever be late for work because of your bicycle - or else you should not cycle at all. Instead accept that, just as with any other mode of transport, it is reasonable to expect that once in a while you will be late because of your bike. And that's okay!

Consider also, whether being able to do your own repairs really makes a difference in a break-down on the way to work situation. Even if you could do your own repairs and carried all the necessary tools with you at all times, would you really want to fix your bike at the side of the road, in your work attire, your hands smelling of grease for the rest of the day? Unless you are in a line of work where this would not affect your professional self-presentation, the answer is probably "no."

Moreover, even if you were the most proficient, speediest, tidiest bicycle mechanic in the world with the most complete tool kit imaginable, something could still go wrong with your bike that even you would not be able to fix on the go.

So instead of worrying about lateness and your DIY skills, a more constructive approach for bicycle commuting might be to come up with a Plan B in the event of a break-down. This plan, while different for everyone, should consist of roughly three parts:

1. what to do with your broken-down bicycle,
2. how to continue to work without the bicycle, and
3. how to retrieve and repair your bicycle afterward

So, for instance, if you live in a city, you could
1. roll your bicycle to the nearest bike shop, where it will undergo repairs while you are at work
2. take the subway to the office
3. pick up your repaired bike on the way home

Alternatively, in the suburbs you might
1. lock up your bike to the nearest pole/ bike rack
2. take a taxi to work
3. ask a friend with a car to help you transport the bicycle home (or to a bike shop) after

Of course, if you live in a remote or rural area, as I do, it helps to be extra prepared and armed with information in advance. For example: Memorise the public transport routes and schedules in your area. Familiarise yourself with the taxi/ private car hire situation. And know which friends or family members nearby might be available at various times of day to ask for a rescue ride into work.

It is perhaps not surprising that those who commute by bike might experience a disproportionate degree of paranoia about their means of transport jeopardising a timely arrival at work. It probably comes from having to justify the choice to cycle to so many friends, neighbours and colleagues who consider it ridiculous, inefficient or "impossible," that we don't want anything to happen that might prove them right.

Nevertheless, it is unfair to hold cycling to stricter standards in this respect than any other means of transport. Yes, your bicycle could break on your way to work, letting you down and making you late. But if you allow for this in advance and have a Plan B in place, then dealing with this scenario is no more difficult than dealing with a break-down of a car. And if you consider the difference in repair costs, a break-down on your bicycle seems downright welcome in comparison!

Do you have a Plan B for your bicycle commute? Feel free to share!

80 comments:

  1. Your second-to-last paragraph definitely rings true as to a fear of "getting to work on time".
    When I was able to commute via bike, I found that occasional preventative maintenance (done at leisure, cold drink in hand) was far preferable to road-side repairs. A little cleaning, oiling, and a new chain and cables every so often wipes out the biggest part of anything that could be show-stopping on a commute. Flats... well they are their own demon, but if you buy good tires and/or become really proficient in swapping them out, this is a fairly minor thing to worry about.

    And, yes, I'd much rather have to buy a new inner tube or brake pads for my bikes than, well, just about anything for my vehicles.


    Wolf.

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  2. I have a Bike Friday. If I have a problem I don't want to fix in the moment, I fold the bike and call Uber or a taxi. A good riding folding bike is perfect for city commuting. Folders are accepted on all forms of public transportation in addition to easily going in a car trunk. My BF rides so wonderfully it is now my only bike; if I don't look down, I feel like I am riding a well proportioned full sized bike.

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    1. Yes, I agree. I have 10 vintage bicycles and one Brompton. If I were forced to keep only one bicycle it would be the Brompton. That bike is way too practical and useful.

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    2. Same re my vintage bikes vs Brompton. It's not my "favourite" bike. But it's the indispensable one.

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  3. This means I must be chancing it every day. I don't carry tools to fix a flat tire roadside and I don't have any public transport on my way to work. I'm doomed.

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  4. In London it is de rigueur to use public transport delays as an excuse for lateness (even when not true...like being hungover, or stopping off for a chat about another job...)

    So when people get to the office they proclaim "bloody District line" (insert relevant transport option as appropriate...) and hope for a response of "Yeah, terrible..." rather than "It was OK when I got it..."

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  5. Good points, but additionally most people (given minimal instruction) are perfectly capable of fixing most anything that might go wrong with a bike, with a few rudimentary tools and a bike that is properly prepared for commuting, they should have little to no day to day issues outside of flat tires; maybe no lights? On the other hand the large percentage of people would not have the skill or tools to work on a car if it broke down!
    To me the biggest issues that you have commuting Vs. leisure riding are: First, have an appropriate bike set up and secondly, Traffic, along with the fact that when you commute your route is set. You have to go from point A to point B and there is not always a good way to do that! When riding for leisure you can choose to avoid traffic and/or ride in less congested, scenic area's.
    I find that commuting and/or riding as an actual form of transportation is highly stressful at first in addition to being intimidating. It takes a definitive commitment or unavoidable circumstance to get people riding for transportation.

    Also, Commuting takes time, you have to leave early, plan for weather, Traffic, Darkness, etc. and generally a persons schedule just does not permit it. I ride to work when I can, but it's 13 to 14 miles and takes an hour or more; problem is I frequently have to drop my kids to school which is on the way and I can't drop them early enough to allow me to still get to work on time and I could not get home quick enough in the evening to get them to their activities!

    When riding for pleasure, there IS less to worry about!
    -masmojo

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    1. I actually know a guy who can work on his car, but not his bicycle. Just saying!

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    2. I know a man who is building his own aeroplane but wont work on his bike

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    3. I know a guy that works at NASA but can't tie his shoes.

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  6. I agree with everything you say! I have a 22 mile commute. I do about 18 by car to a village where I can park up, and then do the other 5.5 or 6 by the bike (I have a Brompton). I'm always more worried about the car letting me down as, if the Brommie let me down I'd not have to wait long for a bus to take me on to work. Sometimes I have my full sized Pashley carried on a rack on the back of the car. If that broke down I'd probably knock on someone's door (there are farms in the area) and ask if I could leave it in their yard and collect it later, and catch the bus. I do suffer a bit from the need to prove that my bicycle is proper transport to my co-workers, so that bit above rang true! In 20 years of commuting a round trip of 10 - 12 miles by bike, I'm glad to report that I have only been let down by the bike once. Yes, once. Puncture. I've used puncture resistant tyres since then and touch wood ...

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  7. I think the very best tires you can afford are key. I use Schwalbe Marathon Supremes and basically never have flats -- until the tires start wearing out, after months. The times I've used other tires, even with flat protection, I get about one flat a month.
    I'd also recommend a kind of tough skin when it comes to things going wrong. You can get by with one brake, for example, if it comes to that, and shifting problems can be worked around. You don't have to fix everything right away if something goes wrong on your commute.

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    1. Out of curiosity, how long (milage wise) does it take for your SMSs to start wearing out?

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    2. Wow, okay. I guess this means I should not be surprised when my normally puncture resistant tyres "suddenly" become flat-prone after more than twice that distance in service!

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    3. I last replaced a 42mm SMS on my commuter after 14K miles; currently one SMS still has adequate tread remaining with 10K miles.

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  8. In my 20+ years of bike commuting, I only had a problem once riding TO work, and went to the emergency room. Riding home, maybe a couple of flats and a broken chainring. That's it. Honestly, it wasn't something I worried about. I did carry the necessary bits for fixing flats and a multitool, but as above, only used them a few times in all.

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  9. When you're in the Boston area, "The MBTA broke down" is the most frequent explanation for being late to work.

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    1. I still get flashes of PTSD when I as much as see a T station sign!

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  10. You nailed it when you pointed out the unfair standard for cycling, which is already perceived by many as an affectation rather than a legitimate choice for commuting to work.

    Never mind that a bicycle is far more reliable than public transit in almost every American city. It's embarrassing how much faster a bicycle is than the Green Line in Boston, and it's more reliable than every other Boston line.

    My plan B is to walk to work, but I have a relatively short 2.5 mile commute.

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  11. I bike to work, most days. I've had a flat tire once on the way back in 7 years. I think the secret here is just having a decent bike - other than a flat tire, things that can go wrong and stop you are vanishingly rare if you have a decent set of wheels and keep your machine in reasonable repair.

    In my experience, may commutes don't have material flexibility. Does anyone have a 30 min buffer that calling and getting a cab would take in most places? If one does, that is a lot of time spent to be rarely used.

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  12. "If only Bicycle Repairman was here..." ;)
    It's also handy to address the issue before it even happens. One need to ask themself a question: "What can break down in my bicycle and why?" The most common answer will be getting a flat on glass lying on the road etc.; check your pressure regularly (too low and the risk of puncture rises).There's a wide variety of puncture-proof tyres for that (I use Schwalbe Marathon Plus which failed me once, and I've been riding for 5.5 years). Other problems like chain/gearing/brakes/cables breaking down, wheels going out of true after hitting a curb etc. can be avoided by noticing the warning signs in time and servicing the bike ASAP.
    Oh, and it helps to know whether you are allowed to get on public transit with your bike where you live - just in case. I don't remember when I last had to take a tram, let alone bus. In my case it's once or twice a year, but YMMV.

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  13. Just learn how to fix the common things. Really, that comes down to flats.

    Frankly, in 40+ years of riding, I have only ever had minor things break that didn't keep me from continuing, other than flats. And as far as I am concerned, if you can't change a flat you shouldn't be riding a bike.

    And they make these things called rubber gloves, both in disposable and reusable varieties, which are cheap and can easily be stuffed into your tool bag.

    Sorry, but bicycling does require a little more attention to certain things than riding the bus or driving a car: situational awareness is one, a modest degree of preventive maintenance is another, and a minimal amount of skill at flat repair is another.

    When I used to do a lot of out of town travel to cycling events in an old car, my bike was my plan B in case the car broke down. I knew I would always be within riding distance of assistance, even if I did have to hunker down and ride on the shoulder of the interstate for a few miles.

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  14. Plan B for me is the same whether I am in a car or on my bike: lock it up and call a friend. No one has ever suggested there was something irresponsible about that plan with respect to the car. I don't see why it should be different or the bike.

    I do carry tools for making quick repairs depending on which bike I am on, though I never thought of doing such a thing in the car. If I am on my road bike, I can pretty easily fix a flat or make simple adjustments and be on my way. If I am on the Dutch-style bike, it's more like being in a car. I can't even change a flat on the rear wheel on the road side!

    One thing I do recommend if you want to be able to make quick repairs roadside: carry a pair of latex gloves. It's nice to arrive at work without grease under your finger nails.

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    1. My problem is not so much fingernails, as clothes. Whenever I work on my bike, I manage to smear myself with "bike juices" no matter how careful I am being, and look with envy on those who do not!

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  15. Oh Constance! You've just evoked a favourite memory of me-and-Lady-Huck! I was working at the New Forest Cottage Hospital and had an early shift: I was riding Lady Huck through a few inches of snow on back roads and hit something very hard indeed in the slush: sheared a rim! I was terrified of losing my temp-casual-contract so shouldered all of the heft of Lady Huck and jogged into work. Bloodied shoulder from the constant pounding and onto bike B for a week while a new rim was laced in. Plan B: RUN.

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  16. My Plan B in Boston....call AAA. I have done it and they really do come and pick up both rider and bike. Life saving!

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    1. Now THAT is good to know! Every year I dither and fret about whether I want to pay another year's worth of membership to AAA in case my 10 year old car breaks down; but if it covers me on a bike ... then it's worth the dollars or lbs or rupiahs or what have you.

      Aside: regarding cycling commute breakdowns: in 10+ years of commuting 15-16 miles 1 way across town, I think a flat or a breakdown delayed my arrival no more than 5 or 6 times, and that probably because I started too late to begin with. Odd, the only real delay that I remember was on a fixed gear -- the simplest and therefore most reliable of bicycles -- when my massive torque on a cheap, stamped cog on a cheap, French hub -- I was jumping a red light -- took the threads off the hub and left me freewheeling in the middle of the intersection.

      Another: regarding flats: I ride in the American southwest, in Albuquerque, NM, and the evil goathead thorn is endemic. I got very good at fixing flats (I used to buy Remas in multiple boxes of 100), but modern sealants, notably Orange Seal, are so good that 2 fl oz added to your tube (if your tires are not tubeless) have just about removed thorn flats, at least, from the commuting equation -- and IME, thorn flats make up 99 out of 100 flats. I now ride Compass Elk Pass tires -- 559 X 29 (labeled 32), and ***175 grams each!!!*** -- along our acequia roads, where goatheads cover the ground, and I use 360 gram -- actual on a mail scale -- 700C X 50 Furious Freds, paper thin, tubeless in the same environment. I highly recommend Orange Seal or Stan's in your road bike tubes or your mountain bike tubeless tires.

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    2. I use Orange Seal in Sew-up Grifo's on one of my bikes and have yet to have a flat even doing dumb stuff like riding in the ditch and at night(we never used to ride sew-ups after dark if we could help it because we feared riding over the stuff we swerved around in the daylight). Unlike Stan's sealant, Orange Seal doesn't dry up in the valve stem and plug it or stick the tube to itself if you don't ride for a while and the tire leaks down and sits down on itself(which you would think impossible with a tube full of sealant but I can prove otherwise). Of course in my experience tubulars don't flat as often as clinchers but maybe that's because on cheap clinchers I REALLY ride like a fool.

      Spindizzy

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    3. I would love to use the "tubulars don't flat as often as clinchers" excuse to switch to tubulars on, like, all of my bicycles. But my limited experience with the former contradicts it most annoyingly!

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  17. Let's first talk cars... In the old days, getting a flat tyre on your car was a routine matter. Today it just does not happen. Relatively new cars (especially British) used to break down with regularity, then along came the Japanese car makers and lifted the game. To compete, cars have to be reliable.

    What does this have to do with bikes?

    A high-quality, relatively new bike with durable tyres and puncture resistant tubes is the same as a Japanese car... they just work. If avoiding breakdowns is absolutely essential, trade the bike in every two years. It's a lot cheaper than a car.

    What breaks on bikes? There is not a lot to them. The frames are exceptionally durable. A good steel-frame bike does not need shock absorbers. The gears, especially internal hub gears with hub brakes work for decades. If you want redundancy on brakes, add a rear caliper brake to the hub brake. If you go with a hub generator that runs the front and rear LED lights whenever the bike is moving - day or night, that will be reliable for years.

    My old bikes tend to let me down from time to time. My recently bought German and Danish ones do not.

    Methinks the lady is overly cautious.

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    1. Things that have broken on my bikes, going to/from work: cranks have come loose. Rear axles have snapped. Chains have broken. Shift cables have broken. Brake cables have broken. Hub generator wires have come loose from their connectors. Freewheels have seized up.

      Of course, as you say, all my bikes are built up by an amateur on frames at least 30 years old. New bikes probably are more reliable, but then it's hard to afford a whole basement full of them...

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  18. Plan B? Shank's Mare...my commute is less than 5 miles most days.

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    1. Would you roll your bike to work, or leave it locked up and return to it? I think the longest I've walked my bike is 2 miles, and it was pretty annoying.

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  19. Plan B: use cell phone to call for help.

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  20. I feel just the opposite about transportation at this point.
    I don't trust cars or traffic, I don't trust public transit, but I do trust my bike and my feet to get me where I need to go.
    If I was driving and the car broke down, I would be much less likely to be able to fix it than if I had a mechanical on a bike. And, you can't just lock the car to the nearest convenient object and come back later.

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    1. In all seriousness, the reason I started cycling when I lived in Boston was that driving was nearly impossible due to traffic and the T was so unreliable, that walking was really my only other viable alternative if I wanted to assure prompt arrival... even to a destination 5 miles away!

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    2. Me too! My arrival at work in Back Bay was much more dependable and steady then it was when I relied on the Green Line trains going inbound. Because of the bike my transportation excuses for being late all but dried up.

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  21. The distance between home & work is the most important factor in this respect. The longer the distance, then the more things that can go wrong & unplanned obstacles become more likely.
    My PlanB is to leave my apt for my little 3 mi commute with enough time to make a total breakdown of the bike (i.e. unrideable) = a long walk to work in which I arrive a little late but its not a catastrophe. If the fates are against me (late start + breakdown) that means a cell phone call is in order. But in over 10+ years of daily bike commuting of various distances, I can think of only once when I had to leave the bike locked up while I went to work.

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  22. My commute is a 100 mile round trip Monday-Friday, with my home being center point between both jobs. I get the same response from coworkers who drive in voicing concern. Here's what I carry in my camper longflap.... Tools, tube, folding tire, pump, socks, shirt, jacket, shorts, sleeping pad, rain fly, rope, u lock that clears 4" pole, leather gloves, a spoon, a dog bowl (it useful, trust me), and two zip lock bags. In worst case scenario going to work, I lock the bike and take a hike. I have a no worry attitude. You aren't going to die if you don't arrive on time or at all. Worst case when leaving work, I just camp. Now I've had instance, where I've left the disabled bike locked and hiked to grab another. One time, I was in front of a house and walked up to ask them if I could leave it attached to their gate. The owner insisted on giving me a ride to work. I refused, and then was offered to pick a bike from the garage. I did. They retrieved and delivered my broken bike 7 miles from their home.

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    1. You Sir, are a Viking!

      If it didn't have the ring of truth I might suspect some exaggeration, but, I believe.

      Carry on...

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  23. When I started out as a full time bike commuter my wife stayed at home with the kids and could come in the car and bail me out, though I learned it was more efficient if I learned to make simple repairs on the fly. Within a couple of years she went back to work and my full time on call SAG option went away and I was fully self-sufficient during the school year. Though by then I was used to doing most repairs myself and had built time into my commute to allow for at least fixing a flat.

    I also had a coworker that lived near me who I got rides with, but only a couple of times when I didn't feel well enough to ride and once for a week when I had crashed on railroad tracks and tore my AC ligament.

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  24. The most common roadside problem is a puncture. When you've got plenty of time and the weather is ok, it's a relatively simple repair. But at this time of the year, I always carry one of those air cylinders that also propel a slimy goo into the tube to seal the puncture once the thorn/glass or whatever has been located and removed. Buy the lady one for Christmas maybe?

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  25. The whole 'I can't do repairs' thing you keep hearing just sounds like an excuse from someone who simply prefers to drive to work rather than bike. I can't recall meeting anyone who wanted to use their bike but let that sort of concern deter them. I do, however, hear concerns of dealing with weather, of having to carry a change of clothes, safety issues associated with the route, etc, etc, but never 'what if I'm late because I break down?'

    When talking with neighbors who briefly tried commuting by bike and then went back to autos they were most likely to mention all the errands, meetings, or other commitments during a day which made bike riding impractical. That's their nice way of saying 'I like my car more for work days and bikes for fair weather leisure pleasure.'

    Agreeing with other posters here that bikes are actually quite reliable but do require a degree of commitment (which is a non issue for me since I no longer have a car).

    As for the need for back-up plans….Well we need those for everything, right?

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    1. Generally I agree that people who make excuses for why they drive, simply prefer to drive. However, I do think that novice cyclists/ would-be bicycle commuters in areas where utility cycling is not the norm are persistently fed the idea - both by activist groups and by well meaning "experienced cyclists" - that they "must" be able to do their own repairs, to the point of being shamed or ridiculed if they can't (or simply don't want to). This certainly does not help matters.

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    2. Hmm….Perhaps that's your experience and, yes, shaming someone for not doing their own repairs does not help matters. Shaming one for anything is counterproductive. My experience over the years has been the opposite. Novice or newbie riders simply have decided to park the car and move towards bikes as their main option, male and female riders alike. What usually happens next is there's a need for some repair or maintenance and they don't let that deter them from continuing to cycle. They've found enough benefits that they often want to expand on their knowledge and experiences by learning some basics. I've hand many ask to borrow tools or books or keep them company while they attempt to take apart their bikes and put them back together just to gain some ownership. It's thrilling to witness. One housemate got so into it that she started to repair all her friends bikes, too.

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  26. 11 minutes late, staff difficulties at Hampton Wick
    22 minutes late, escaped puma Chessington North
    22 minutes late, fed up by train delays, came by bike, slow puncture at Peckham

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  27. If major parts of the machine which may go wrong and are not usually "roadside" fixable are kept maintained and problems dealt with immediately (odd noises, grinding-the usual), then pretty much everything else can be dealt with, using a basic tool kit and consumables like tube patches.

    I have been in the fortunate position of having more than one cycle available, and inevitably each needs slightly different tools. I therefore have a routine of toolkits suitable for each, and also some extras for longer distance travel.

    I haven't commuted by cycle to a "suited and booted" job since the early 80's, and in those days the biggest problems were clothing for both travel and work, safe cycle storage and washing/changing facilities. I'll confess that after changing jobs to one a bit further away, it became impossible to turn up lathered in sweat and then meet clients. Nowadays I've been working in a job at sea, where oilskins are the usual rig, and fish smells cover everything up.

    I don't recall ever being late through a cycle breakdown, but I can recall plenty of late shows through broken-down buses, unreliable cars, tube trains and the rest.

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  28. It's amazing how much easier it is to use one's bike for reliable transportation today than it was in the late 70's when I started. So many more bikes to choose from, much better tires and braking systems, technical clothing for riding is easier to find, cell phones and GPS, Uber, light systems, and on and on. Breaking down on the road during average commutes is rare to extremely rare. Flats are the biggest occurrence and if one does not know how to or care to change out tubes, or pump up a tire with enough air to get a little further, it's best to carry some good walking shoes in one's bag. ;) That said, I've never had to walk more than a mile or so before some good citizen came to my aid (I don't have a cell phone)….So I'd tell your friend that being late for work b/c of breakdowns is the tiniest of concerns, but biking to work isn't for everyone, either.

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  29. One of the reasons I took up cycling in the first place (6 years ago) was being sick and tired of arriving to work late to delayed or cancelled trains. I have never ever been late to work due to anything to do with cycling being my chosen means of transport. I do use Schwalbe Marathon Pluses on my two commuter bikes. I've only had one puncture with those and it was on a leisure ride on a weekend, on a road famous for metal debris -- which I would never use as part of a commuting route.

    Being in a rural location, if I did have a problem where carrying on by bike was not possible, Plan B has to be a taxi. There is no direct bus route and the two buses I would need to try and co-ordinate catching run to very infrequent timetables, so that's just not even an option.

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  30. I've always been suspicious, when you craft a post, how much is fact and how much is fiction. What has been manipulated to fit some narrative? How did you respond to this person's answer to your question? What did you offer and what has been your experience? Thanks.

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    1. Unless a post is blatantly a joke, the anecdotes are factually based. The only real "manipulation" is that I omit/obscure (in ways that don't affect anything pertinent) personal details for reasons of privacy. Also, obviously any dialogue is paraphrasing from memory rather than verbatim.

      In this case in particular, the conversation was much longer than the snippet extracted and most of it not about bicycles. But in response to the woman's explanation of why she doesn't cycle commute, I basically expressed the ideas which I later transformed into this post. She agreed, but in an "Oh I know, I know! But still..." sort of way that made it obvious she remained unconvinced. Then we went back to non-bikey topics.

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  31. When I used to commute to work by bike (about fifteen years running; no wI work from home), I always left fifteen minutes early. Fifteen minutes is about how long it takes to fix a flat tire once you know how. During that time, commuting in Los Angeles, I used my fifteen minutes twice (once in the rain). Not a big deal. I always carry a patch kit, a spare tube, rudimentary tools, and one of those pumps that folds out into a miniature floor pump. Also, hand wipes. Of course I use sturdy tires, which helps, but still, something will happen eventually. Realizing that it will happen only rarely, and that a cell phone will get you out of most situations that a flat-fixing kit won't, seems to me the key to a happy commute.

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  32. I used to drive old junky sports cars and jacked-up muscle cars, and in the worst of them I sometimes would carry a bicycle as back-up.

    It got so bad with my old BMW 2002tii that I kept a BMX bike in where the back seat used to be. One morning on my way to the Chrysler Dealership where I was working in the parts dept., the mechanical fuel injection on the Beemer(aka "The Teutonic Plague") went max rich again, smoke poured out the back till the plugs fouled closed and I coasted onto the side of the street and got out the unbreakable trusty old Mongoose. About a 1/4 mile later the steerer tube broke halfway between the top and bottom headset races right where the bottom of the stem was creating a stess riser(it had been feeling a bit funny but I never suspected THAT) leaving me with a bike in 3 big pieces, all still connected by the brake cables, which I carried the remaining 1/2 mile, one piece over my shoulder and another in each hand. My boss laughed and said "That's what you get for riding a bike when you have a perfectly good piece of crap car". I still run into that guy once every 4 or 5 years and he always reminds me about it. I never told him I actually started out in the car that morning.

    Spindizzy

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  33. I'm just wondering out loud here... I wonder if the repair thing is kind of an excuse... For some folks riding your bike on weekends as sport is a cool, acceptable, go-for-it activity but riding your bike to work during the week is an odd, less socially normal, sort of marginal choice. It can have an air that one might, if one were a bit insecure, make on feel conspicuous, or a little weird. Some people fear sticking out from the norm. There might also be a bit of vanity about not wanting to show up slightly disheveled or in odd clothes...

    Personally, I embrace all that stuff. I'm disheveled, my eyes are red and teary when I get there and I'm showing up in a bright yellow jacket with a funky mirror afixed to my glasses. I don't care... I know I'm having WAY more fun "driving" to work on two wheels.

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  34. One additional benefit of being a cyclist-- whether recreational or transportation or fitness or whatever-- is that you can sometimes give others along your route the opportunity to show you kindness. As an avid motorcyclist and bicyclist, I've found that nearly all my lemons turn into lemonade if I simply stand beside the road with a thumb out and give motorists a chance to pay it forward. In fact, I nearly caused an accident one day standing next to the highway with one hand thumb-ing and a motorcycle helmet in the other. A young lady hemmed in by other cars at a stoplight nailed the throttle and swerved across two lanes of traffic just for the chance to show a little kindness and decency to a fellow traveler in need.

    On a somewhat related note, two of my OTHER favorite bicycle bloggers (of a lesser subspecies, lacking wool or red hair) spend nearly two-thirds of every year traveling through off-the-radar locales in eastern Europe and the Middle East. And despite their tender years, Nick and Lael (gypsybytrade.wordpress.com) share a finely tuned sense of what a great kindness it is on their part to graciously accept the kindness/hospitality of others.

    Relating back to the topic of bicycle commuting and possible mechanical difficulties, just don't forget that a lot of those poor souls whizzing past in the SUVs would like nothing better than a slight break in their routine and maybe a nice story to tell around the dinner table about an interesting person they met on the way to work. It's been a couple years now since I met Nick and Lael at the end of one adventure and gave them a long ride to the start of their next trip. And I am 100% certain that they did a much greater kindness to me, in allowing me to offer assistance and hospitality, than I did to them.

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  35. Keeping to topic (just) .. When I worked in Australia as a LBS / race team mechanic I had a bicycle come into the workshop that belonged to a city commuter. He didn't own a car and used this machine for everything. It remains the most worn out bike that I have seen to date. In short, it was a $500 'shopping' bike, and he bought it new, from us approximately 4 years before. I spoke to him at length about it's history - he bought it, rode it, we first serviced it, then he rode it into the ground, it was never washed or serviced and he said he hadn't spent a penny on it. The bottom bracket was the reason he had returned .. it had collapsed with bearing failure some weeks earlier and he had continued to ride until it would not propel him further. The tyres were down to the canvas and the running gear was completely shot. It was filthy and totally exhausted. It was irreparable due to the BB shell being ovalized and ground away. He told me that he had never broken down or been late whilst riding it. I still don't know what to think about all of this ! He had 4 years free transport for an initial outlay of $500 ..hmm. We supplied him with a replacement at below cost to us.

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  36. If something does go wrong on your commute, just ask yourself, "What would Dervla Murphy do?"

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    1. Alas, home-cobbled Afghan buses run so infrequently in Ulster!

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  37. The bicycle is a rather reliable beast. In 35 years of bicycle commuting, it's only punctures that have held been an issue and these are reasonably rare and easy to repair. I had a major frame failure on a 50 plus year old Healing once when the seat tube parted company with the bottom bracket. I was able to get home but at reduced speed. The Healing was then stripped of anything useful and frame scrapped. Of the two times I had major bicycle failure (both due to crashes), plan B was phone a friend.

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    1. Funny how many people I know for whom frame failure - and always at the bottom bracket, it seems - has been a commute/ride stopper. Then again, my circle is rather biased toward older machines!

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  38. Timely considering this post: This morning I tried to cycle 7 miles into town in extremely gusty conditions which were so bad I was literally knocked over (fell onto my shoulder). At this point I was still close to home, so I opted to cycle back then walk to the bus stop and take the bus... only (wait for it...) the bus never arrived!

    Now, both of those occurrences (the wind being so bad as to make me crash, and the bus not coming) are highly unusual. But we've been having freak weather lately and it's been wreaking all sorts of havoc, so everyone understands. Long story short: Missed my appointment; working from home now and trying to have a sense of humour about a half-wasted day. This sort of thing happens once in a blue moon, so no big deal. And more proof that stuff can happen, where knowing how to work on your bike or not is irrelevant.

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    1. It's always been clear that the subtext here was, at some point, being ridiculed for not being able to or care to do one's own repairs on the road or elsewhere. Clearly, lateness to appointments, whether one drives or bikes, is rarely do to breakdowns. It's always frustrating. Trust you and your bike are okay.

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    2. Did you crash due to loss of control over steering or did the wind Actually blow you over? Seems that you are fine but sounds awful regardless!

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    3. Wind blew me over! First time that has ever happened, so I still can't quite believe it. It felt very much the way people describe going down on ice: one moment I was upright, the next I was lying on the ground; still in the saddle and gripping the handlebars! Very luckily I fell at low speed onto a grassy bank. Both bike & me and completely fine, other than feeling silly.

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  39. Another thing to consider in your example above is that the person in question may not have a suitable commuting bike!?
    I know that any bike could be used for commuting, but I am doubtful that you would ride your Seven to work! And even if you could/would it's doubtful you would do it regularly. So, that means another bike and the anxiousness/ decisions about what to get and "do I really want another bike in the House?"
    I was reminded of that this morning while sitting @ a stop light watching a guy on an old racing bike that he had pressed into commuting service. He was wearing a backpack and was navigating the crossing of a busy intersection whilst also trying not to be run over! The backpack listing from side to side, the steering wobbly at low speed as he tried to get going from a stand still. My thinking was vacillating between "good on ya for riding your bike" & "man that poor bastard needs a better bike for commuting in town"
    My first commuting bike, (Which I hated at the time) was a ladies Royce Union 3speed. 34 years later I can see how it was actually the almost perfect choice, because although it really did not do any one thing particularly well, it was competent enough at everything that I could ride it comfortably and efficiently enough that the question of it being reliable transportation was never an issue. After several months I got another bike, which although I liked it better was probably a less competent choice, but it marked my commitment to the idea and principal that a bike was going to be my mode of transportation for the foreseeable future.
    So, I guess in a nutshell; maybe your friend pictures herself on her normal leisure bike (racing?) & leisure bike clothes, etc. it's quite possible that she has not reconciled the vision she has in her head with what would actually transpire if she were to ride to work. I find that many recreational cyclists (OR NON-CYCLIST) don't really understand transporational cycling and it's impossible to explain to someone how or why it's different, the only way to understand it is to do it and do it for a more than a day. Maybe after a week or so they might start to understand.
    -masmojo

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    1. Not the case here, I'm afraid. The bicycle is a modern all purpose hybrid sort of thing with fenders and even a rear rack.

      My Significant Other assures me he does not need a non-road bike. Yet funny enough every time we go somewhere non-roadie together, he borrows one of my bikes rather than ride his supposedly all-arounder roadbike. The step-throughs seem to particularly attract him! I think Rivendell had the right idea when they made a "man mixte" - i.e. their ordinary mixte, but in black and marketed to men. Obviously, what everyone really wants is a step-through!

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    2. My Clementine is spoiling me for step-throughs very thoroughly! - masmojo

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  40. Usually from Mid-November to the End of March in Minnesota it's just trecherous to ride, but so far this year there's only been two rough mornings for road conditions, and week of some really cold mornings. In the summer I usually see about 20 people a day on my 5 mile ride to work and about 100 on the way home. But last week there were two days where I only saw five commuters all day. When late fall and winter arrive, most everyone hibernates. So, I believe that most commuters are fare weather fans, and not riding has very little to do with the bike. And lastly, when riding in really cold weather it's easy to over dress, and become rather sweaty, which is probably another reason they avoid riding.

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  41. I like the composition of this photo. It captures a lush rural landscape without being too "stone-cottagey." Is that a giant fuel tank, or perhaps some kind of farm implement, tucked into that brick structure? And wouldn't you know it: Just the other day, after suffering my first double flat in 40 years of cycling (road debris), I had just one spare tube and no tire irons in my seat bag. Arrgh! Fortunately, I had my cell phone, and a friend who lives close by gave me a lift home.

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    1. I think it's a very large oil tank. There are farm buildings just to the right out of the frame, so it could be storing oil for the whole property.

      In a sense, this scene is actually very "un-Irish," as red brick is not a material traditionally used for building here; it is unusual to see structures like this in the countryside except in pockets with heavy English influence from the Plantation period.

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    2. Fascinating! That would have never occurred to me about the brick but it makes sense.

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  42. Her logic doesn't make sense unless she's a master mechanic with a trunk full of parts to fix any repair she might encounter on the road. I find making a roadside repair on my bike much easier, and usually less greasy then any roadside repair I've ever done on a car.

    For better or worse, my commute is about a mile. I ride my bike 99% of the time. When I break down, I walk the rest of the way.

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  43. If we are talking UK, Plan B should be to learn some maintenance skills - free workshops are available almost everywhere.

    Plan B' could be to spend £20 pa on a breakdown recovery service.

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  44. What the heck; I'm a professional bike mechanic and a beginning framebuilder who would have to call AAA if I'm driving the family car and the least little thing were to go wrong with it--I can't even change oil! We all have our areas of skill.........................

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  45. My commute is 7.5 miles. Plan B would be to walk the bike, catch the bus if I'm near the bus line or lock and walk. Fortunately after 11 years of year round, everyday commuting I've never been late due to a bike failure. Or for that matter, I've never been late due to a breakdown since I started bike commuting in 1992. I do have the skills to fix a flat in 10-15 minutes. But haven't had to do that on the road since I switched to all Schwalbes around 2006.

    The thing that irks me is co-workers that call in because their car won't start. And then they miss the whole day. Since I don't own a car I can never call in with car trouble. And I certainly can't call in with "bike" trouble and take a day off. Primarily because every knows I know how to use the bus or call a co-worker for a ride. Car trouble is a valid reason for not making it to work. I also remember one time a co-worker discovered they had a tire go flat in the company parking lot. That employee and two other employees were permitted to go out and fix the flat on "company time". I can't see me and two other employees being permitted to take time during the work day to fix a flat tire on my bicycle.

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  46. Far less to go wrong with a bike than a car

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  47. Most city/suburban busses in the US have bike racks. My plan B is to walk my bike to the nearest bus stop and continue on to work. In the rare case of a "break down" I resign myself to being late and look at the journey as an adventure. It's only happened two times in the last eight years of daily commuting.

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