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!