When I rode over the ridge of the ramp from the street level of Lee Highway up onto the sidewalk-level W&OD trail heading west, I knew it was a serious bump. You have to cross that intersection at a decent speed, and they didn’t finish off the cement joint between street and trail quite smoothly enough. But I’ve been over it hundreds of times. This time, though, there was a good sound “thump.” And sure enough, a few yards down the trail I heard the unmistakable sound of tire rubber rolling along the asphalt without its nicely inflated cushioning balloon of inner tube behind it. I had scheduled the installation of the new rear tire for today, but the old Bontrager Race Lite fell one day short. It wasn’t stiff enough to absorb the impact, and the tube, inflated to 120 psi, had flatted from excessive compression.
Just about three and a half miles from home, and totally out of luck. I’d removed the little saddlebag when I washed my bike last week, and had forgotten to replace it. So even if the tiny carbon hand pump in my Camelbak worked well enough, I had no spare tube or tire levers with me. I was doomed to walk my bike those miles home, since Jane was at a book group meeting.
I’d gone a mile or perhaps a bit more when a guy stopped to ask if I needed help. I said no thanks, I was almost home. But he insisted. He was riding a red Cannondale tri-bike, with handlebars that curved around to form a loop for the time-trial like position. His back wheel had black wind disks mounted. He was a smallish guy, with good upper body build, strong but skinny legs, and no hips at all. He was maybe 30, with bad teeth when he smiled. He looked hispanic, and as it turned out, spoke little English. He was sweating; he was serious.
But he stopped, and attacked my flat rear tire with the passion of a Tour de France mechanic during the race. Using two tire jacks, he had one side of the Race Lite off the rim in no time. He then ruthlessly stripped the flat tube out, inspected the tire, and laid the wheel assembly on the ground. Taking a spare tube out of his saddlebag, he quickly inserted the valve stem in the wheel, screwed on the nut, and inserted the uninflated tube under the tire and around the perimeter of the rim. He then pushed the tire back inside the rim, using nothing but his bare hands. He was strong, steady, and skilled in all these movements. Then he pulled a solid, small hand pump out of the front of his jersey (was he carrying it under the top section of his bib shorts?) and got the pressure up to a pretty hard level quite quickly. He had the wheel back on the bike, and the cogs back on the chain, in no time. He seemed to have done this many times before.
A quick word, a smile, a handshake and he was on his way. I wished him well on his ride today, and all success in his next triathlon. Buoyed and relieved by this great help, I stopped off at home, washed my hands, pumped the pressure back to 120 psi, and took off for Herndon, my intended destination where we were baby-sitting that evening. All in all, I got in a ride of 31.5 miles, plus a couple of miles walking.
Thanks to the good Samaritan, an elite cyclist who was not too busy or too focused on his own conditioning ride to help a modest rider like me. The gratitude I felt warmed me for the rest of the trip.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.