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A moral dilemma arises on a 5bbc ride in Brooklyn

Allan Friedman | Published on 7/3/2014

Got your attention? 

Well, it’s really not that big a deal when all is said and done.

But I have to say, not only has being part of the leadership training in 5BBC helped me grow my cycling knowledge and abilities in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways, but riding in the Day-rides of the club over the past years has been fun, confidence-inspiring (I ride around NYC carefully and confidently because of the experience I have gained riding without pressure in this club over the last few years - by contrast to many people I meet socially who tell me they would be too afraid to venture out in city streets), and sometimes - thought provoking and intellectually stimulating as well.

Case in point, a situation that happened on a ride recently in Brooklyn that I would like to share with you here (protecting all parties other than myself via anonymity). Not that anyone needs protection, as nothing too serious happened.

We are all adults riding on these rides and are expected to follow the rules of the road and work out any issues that arise amongst ourselves. No one did anything terribly wrong and quite a few people did things that were quite right. For me, it was a great opportunity to learn about leadership not only as a group leader, but as a rider (“tripper” is what we are called in leadership training) and a witness to a situation that came up.

I was talking to someone I recently met in a different social setting and when I discovered they were into country cycling - I had encouraged them to come on their first ride with the 5BBC. They brought their Cannondale 6 high end road bike and were enjoying the ride (they had to be back in Jersey by 2, so were planning to leave early). At a stopping point where we were taking a bit longer because of a medical situation that had come up, and was being very well managed by the leaders on the ride, I was talking to this person when all of a sudden, someone passed with their bike at 90 degrees to ours and we heard a “pop” and “hiss” sound and our new tripper’s tire was instantly flattened.

As luck would have it, there was a bike shop next block over and not only was the tube flat, but the tire itself had been damaged. While I did not see what happened exactly, my peripheral vision had a strong sense that the cyclist who walked their bike at 90 degrees clipped the tire and caused the flat. There is really no other logical explanation and the first-time tripper felt their bike get pushed into them. Their bike was a gift from a very generous person, not one they could normally afford, same deal with the unexpected tire replacement cost - something similar to the one on the back but not identical - the whole transaction set them back $70.

The good news is that they chalked it up to the cost of riding in the big city (or anywhere for that matter, this could have happened) - and the person involved, once it was pointed out to them what had happened - made a contribution. But this did not happen without intervention by others - the new person was not shy, but did not want to make a fuss. The person who caused it, seemed oblivious to what had happened. I can tell you that not long later in that same stop, someone walked by and grazed my shin with the pedal on their bike - they did not notice that they had hit me and did not apologize… clearly, these things happen all the time – so no big deal.

However, what is our responsibility? As leaders or as riders/trippers?

Well, the reality is, and I am so glad for the wisdom of our leaders in the club, several of whom I had the opportunity to discuss this with since it happened. Bottom line, the volunteer leaders that make up this organization are responsible to lead us safely on fun rides. If things come up between riders, it is the responsibility of the adults involved to work them out with each other. The role of leaders is to lead rides, not become judge and jury on disputes that may arise (and luckily, I have rarely seen any that don’t resolve themselves fairly quickly). 

The main lesson that I learned from this - is what are our responsibility as trippers? We gain the advantage (paid members or those riding for free) of the good will of these volunteer leaders and our peers riding with us. I will borrow from the New York City campaign “if you see something, say something”. As a witness to what happened - I was uniquely in a position to do something to make our first-time-rider feel a bit better about their financial loss and the overall hassle of having to deal with what was clearly an accident. I also was able to inform the person who caused it, to make them aware and let them do what was right. Had I not intervened, that opportunity would have been missed. I am not sharing this to pat myself on the back - because frankly, you will all think I am a nosey-body (which I am anyway, so you may as well know now J). But I guess it is more a question of doing unto others as I’d have them do unto me. In the same situation, I would appreciate someone who saw something stepping in to help make the outcome better for those involved - and not impacting the ride - but rather helping it continue expeditiously. The person who caused this inadvertently made a point of calling the affected party and apologizing directly - more than was expected and a very nice gesture!

Oh, another lesson is: if you are at a stop and your chain is in the lower ring and your pedal is towards the back of the bike, your cassette becomes a very sharp weapon that can damage someone’s shin (mine was hit by a pedal so it was fine) or their tire - pretty severely. Be careful!

Happy Riding everyone! And Happy 4th!

Thanks to all those who heard me out on this and gave me useful feedback.