Like it or not, riding bicycles is a selfish pursuit. Really, all that time you spend training isn’t helping anyone but you. Even those of us who are saving the world by commuting everywhere on a bike still burn through petroleum-based tires and lubricants, ride on frame materials requiring huge energy expenditures to produce, and are dependent on gasoline-powered transportation to get the goodies into our hands and onto our bikes. That’s not to say we shouldn’t all be riding bikes instead of driving cars as much as possible—we should—it’s just to make a point. Still, in spite of all the time we spend on a bike directing pleasure toward ourselves, it’s not uncommon for our behelmeted comrades to lend a helping hand when needed, even if that energy could be spent chasing a fake podium spot in an imaginary contest of egos. Here are five examples of how you can help make our little world a better place.
Taking extra pulls—One of the most valuable commodities in cycling is energy. If you can produce more of it than anyone else, you will win the race. If you aren’t racing, you’ll be able to complete a longer ride in the same amount of time, or, finish earlier and start reloading your muscles with liquid carbohydrates of one form or another. Thus, spending more than your fair share at the front of the line is one of the greatest displays of benevolence a cyclist can bestow. Pulling home a friend who has bonked, or blocking the wind for a partner who wouldn’t be able to keep up on a side-by-side excursion will earn you karma points redeemable in the form of effortless climbs and searing canyon descents, so stock up when you can.
Waiting—Along with energy, time is the most important element in a cyclist’s world. The success of riding before work, at lunch, or of a leave-work-early-for-a-quick-loop ride all depend on the efficiency of the riders involved. Stopping is unacceptable, and even slowing down for too long can be cause for failure. Arriving home to a family already seated around the dinner table or getting to work to find your co-workers pouring their second cup of java is not the way to put future rides on the schedule.
The costs of waiting for slower riders are both tangible—late for work—and spiritual—fewer miles and broken flow. Because of this, waiting, whether at a trailhead, junction or at the top of a climb, is not to be expected unless agreed upon beforehand, and appreciation must always be shown for this selfless act. A heartfelt “thanks for waiting” along with a cold apres-ride beverage is sufficient.
Like burning your matches for the enjoyment of your riding companions, time spent waiting for other riders carries a karmic reward in the cosmic revelation of faster lines and fewer flats when you rip through them.
Sharing food and water—In the Survival of the Fittest conditions of a group ride, which are so often competitions without a prize, every resource is coveted, including fuel sources and temperature regulation fluid. Gels and bars are costly items, and are allotted according to precise pre-ride caloric consumption estimates, so there is usually not an excess of carbs packed in anyone’s pockets for a ride. Water is heavy, so carrying too much is a burden, while running out might ruin the ride and, possibly, the rest of the day as well.
Given these precepts, when someone notices your empty water bottle halfway through the ride, or sees that you are painfully struggling up climbs that usually fall away beneath you, the assumed course of action for them to take would be to turn up the power and drop you off like last week’s laundry. After all, that’s one less challenger to the City Limit Sprint Championship Title. In a kinder environment, a gel is usually passed your way; an offer to pour some water into your bottle is made, and while these gestures may seem casual to the bearers of such gifts rich with assets, be assured that they are not.
While repayment is probably not necessary, proper tribute is. Recognize the sacrifice being made—your colleagues are sacrificing their own opportunity for glory to make sure you make it home safely. If you happen to be in the position to save someone’s ride and do, the cycling gods will most likely repay you with 50% off expired nutrition product sales at your local bike shop.
Providing Free Labor—While this may loosely be defined as commensalism, it is still a sacrifice of time by the laborer that could be used riding their bike instead of working on yours. If you have a friend who doesn’t mind providing free tune-ups, do the right thing and make it a symbiotic relationship by bringing several cold beverages of the laborer’s choice. If you own the tools and bike stand, a substantial libational reward for your knowledge and expertise awaits you if you have chosen your friends wisely.
One example in this category of pure parasitism is on-ride repair, including tuning derailleurs, replacing tubes, and repairing broken chains. If you are on the receiving end of such munificence, repayment must be made. Replace any items that came from the master’s personal cache, along with a burrito and a beverage, plus dessert.
Sharing Trails and Routes—It could be considered the duty of more experienced cyclists to provide knowledge of where to ride. After all, roads, unlike waves to surfers, are not a limited resource. If you ride the 227 out to Lopez Lake at the same time I do it won’t mean less pavement for me. And, after all, a glance at Google Maps will reveal all the roads in your riding area anyway.
Sharing the location of mountain bike trails, on the other hand, can be a bit more nuanced. Trails might be heavily used and their locations traded freely among the populace, or be ridden by a select few who keep their whereabouts a closely guarded secret. Usually secret trails are either built on private property, have purpose built jumps and/or wood features, or are just well-cared for, braking bump-free, bermed slices of fun. Perhaps they are all of the above. Usually the secret leaks out, and once the self-aggrandizing Stravanauts figure out where these gems are hidden, the berms get destroyed, corners are cut, and what was once packed dirt turns to powder. Like surf spots, once a trail is overrun by outsiders, the little slice of Eden turns into Gomorra.
If you have been invited to ride one of these trails by its keepers, respect the gift you have been given. Do not reveal it’s location to others, and do not ever bring anyone else to ride there. Whenever you meet up with your benefactors, you owe them a gratis selection from their list of favorite beverages. If you are lucky enough to be one of the gatekeepers, you should probably just keep your mouth shut—those berms will never be the same.
Bonus Acts of Kindness
Sharing CO2 Cartridges—Those things are expensive, and should be treated as a soldier’s personal first aid kit; always use your buddies on them, so yours will be ready when someone needs to use it on you.
Giving Random Cyclists a Wave or a Nod—Help foster a sense of belonging and camaraderie. After all, everyone could do better with a bit more friendliness in our diet.
Pointing Out Obstacles—You have to do this. In fact, we have even made an instructional video about proper hand signals. Even though it’s compulsory on group rides, it is still performed solely for the benefit of your fellow cyclists, and thus makes the list.
Selling Your Old Parts to Friends for Cheap—Industry and shop folks, this especially pertains to you. Spread the love and give your buddy a deal on the nine-speed derailleur you have sitting in your toolbox. Actually, just give it to them. Bicycle karma will see to it that you are compensated.