The Low-Skill Backup Plan

When I started my experiment in car-free living back in 2004, I was living the orbit of a big city — Washington DC. So it I was already in the habit of using a taxi from time to time.

But the option of taking a taxi rarely is in the mental toolkit of many people who live in smaller cities, or suburbs. For a newcomer to bike commuting, one source of anxiety is the prospect of being inadequate for a roadside repair — you know, with a real toolkit (or a multi-tool, as the case may be).

Lezyne Rap 20 Large Tool
Before you try bike commuting, you must learn the name and purpose of each... Where did everybody go?

Back in DC, I couldn’t always count the ability to step to the curb and waive down a taxi within 30 seconds, so I had the numbers of my favorite taxi service already saved in my cell phone’s address book. I even had the cell phone number of my favorite driver. (Peter Asanga, a Cameroonian with a willing ear for my boring Peace Corps stories.)

Taxi Numbers in Cell PhoneWhen I moved to The Sticks (Flagstaff, Arizona) I eventually tried all of the local taxi services on the occasions when I couldn’t (or preferred not to) use a bike.

I stored them in my phone beginning with the word “Taxi” followed by the company name. (That way they are all grouped together alphabetically.)

One time when we had about eight people who needed to be shuttled to an event, and we only had a Toyota Corolla to carry them, I called a taxi. Easy. The numbers were already at hand — literally. When we arrived, we got some raised eyebrows. Wow! A taxi!

And I was thinking, It’s a taxi, not a freakin’ limo, you gol-dang hick.

(Speaking of taxis and Cameroon, eight people in a Corolla is nothing. That’s just the back seat.)

Even I forget about it sometimes. Occasionally I encounter a logistical conundrum, where I can almost hear my wife thinking, This is why we need a second car.

And I’ll be panicking, Think, Ted, THINK! If you don’t come up with something brilliant quickly, she’ll say it out loud! I know! TAXI!

I’ve flipped through many a book on biking, and many of them have a “Basic Mechanical Skills” section, which usually recommends that a new cyclist learn about pumping up the tires, fixing a flat, lubing a chain, etc.

I say screw that for now. Maybe forever. That’s why you have bike shops and/or friends with bike repair skills.

Something like 25 percent of Americans don’t know how to change a spare tire on a car. (I’m guessing that’s a low-ball estimate based on a poll which included people who are too ashamed to answer honestly on an anonymous survey that they don’t know how to change a spare). And of the 75 percent who supposedly can change a spare tire, a good chunk of them probably would only do it as a last resort. Some automakers don’t even include a spare tire anymore on some models. What does that tell you?

If mechanical cluelessness is not a barrier to driving a car, why should it be a barrier to riding a bike?

I do have the rudimentary skills and supplies for roadside repairs, and that gives me some peace of mind. But on a typical day, if I had to leave home without either my cell phone or my well-stocked saddlebag, I’d probably leave the saddlebag behind.

So if you are hesitant to try bike commuting because you don’t think you have the mechanical skills: hesitate no more. Have a someone competent check out your bike. If they try to teach you about maintenance, plug your ears, close your eyes and say Commute by Bike says that can wait!

Don’t forget your phone.

This phone thing was originally mentioned in “The Slackers Guide to Bike Commuting” — possibly my favorite of all the Commuting 101 posts.

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