The Need For Roadside Assistance for Cyclists
A recent email I received from the Brown University cycling listserv got me thinking about the need for roadside assistance for cyclists. Last week, two riders on the cycling team were out for a training ride in 30 degree weather when, five miles from home, one of them snapped a chain. They called several people that live in the area, but couldn't find anyone that could come and pick them up, so the other rider had to sprint home, get his car, and rush back to the stranded rider--who was left waiting for half an hour in the cold.
We recently covered a new roadside assistance program for cyclists based in Australia, but the fact of the matter is that there is nothing akin to a AAA for the two-wheeled, human-powered crowd, and there probably won't be anytime soon. Yet ensuring that should a rider get lost, stranded or injured there will be someone to provide assistance would undoubtedly inspire more people to get on their bikes. This is especially true in winter, when even experienced riders worry about going too far from home, lest they find themselves with a mechanical problem in sub-zero temperatures. So what's one to do? Well, I propose creating an informal, local network of cycling enthusiasts. Here's how it would work.
Create a Local Network
First of all, cycling communities tend to be closely knit, but also balkanized: there's the commuter crowd, the racer crowd, the messenger crowd, and they often don't mix. Creating local networks of cyclists must first and foremost include all cyclists, as well as those interested in the sport but who have yet to delve into it.
With that in mind, the idea is rather simple: using email (especially cycling list serves), flyers at your local bike shop, and social networking sites, start to organize people around the common idea of creating a network of people interested in cycling. From there, begin collecting phone numbers and addresses of people that would be willing to help out a stranded rider, and then post that list in a place that can only be seen by members of the group (a Google Group would be ideal for something like this). Ideally, you would also make a Google Map showing where each participant lives, so that riders with a smartphone could quickly and easily identify the person who lives closest to where she happens to be at the time of a mechanical problem.
Leverage the Power of that Network
Let all members know that if they ever need roadside assistance, they should program those numbers into their phone. But don't stop there. Set up a bike buddy program, where experienced cyclists agree to ride with newbies to help them get more comfortable on the road, and perhaps even to show them good, safe routes to get to work. Organize bike-swaps and training sessions; discuss legislative issues related to cycling and contact your local representatives. In short, take advantage of the fact that cyclists are a passionate crowd that come from all walks of life--I ride with PhD students, CPAs, doctors, carpenters--and tap into the social capital therein.
In the end, not only will you have made cycling a little safer and more convenient in your city or town, but you will also have strengthened a community and established a network that can be tapped into at any time.
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