“Do you have everything you need? Are you OK?” Calgary’s positive cycling culture

I cycle commute to work as often as I can, and it’s an experience I really enjoy. There is great value for me in starting the day with physical activity and waking up my mind and body. I live in the NW quadrant of the city and work in the SW so the commute works out to about 25km each way, or about an hour of riding time, less if the wind is at my back.

Two years ago I upgraded from my mountain bike to a sleek and speedy road bike which decreased my time significantly (~20% I’d estimate) and made the ride more enjoyable. The only downside that I have found with riding road bikes is the sturdiness of skinny tires. I seem to get a ton of flat tires. In the 20 rides I’ve done this year I’ve had three flat tires - I don’t know how many flat tires is “normal” for a road bike commuter, but it probably isn’t 3 flats in 20 rides. In all fairness, the flat tires might come from my own lack of prowess at changing a bike tire as 2/3 flats this year were pinch flats.

This morning’s flat tire was was simply poor riding on my part. I was day dreaming about something or other and not watching the road for debris. I was zipping along southbound on Home Road heading towards the Bow River when I felt a jolt through the handlebars and heard an unnerving bang. In my day dreaming I hit a rock square-on the front tire and after a moment of wobbling I regained my balance and kept riding. However, only a minute or  two later I felt the characteristic sloppy feeling of a flattening tire and had to pull over right where Home Road joins the river pathway.

As you can guess I’m pretty good now at changing tires on the go (excepting the pinching part…) and I was taking the front tire off when the first cyclist rode past me. He called out “hey, do you have everything you need? Are you ok?” I called back a quick “yes” and he was on way again riding in to work. My flat happened right near a popular bike-and-ride parking lot and there was a steady stream of of riders passing me. Many of them slowed down and shouted out a variation of the first guy’s offer of help or gear, and I am always impressed by the helpfulness and generosity of Calgarians.

This aspect of helping one another out, of offering up something from own kit for a complete stranger, is something that I really appreciate in Calgary’s cycling culture. It is nice to know that cyclists are all looking out for one another and that there is a support network of strangers with kind hearts willing to help out.

This morning I was fortunately able to say “no thank you” to all of the offers of assistance, but in the past I have not been so lucky. Twice, in fact, I’ve accepted the offer and each time another cyclist has offered their help or gear. Just two weeks ago in fact I had flat #2  while I was on my way to work and had to ask for help. I was just south of downtown in Stanley Park and had realized that, in fact, I did not have a spare tube with me that morning. My options were slim and all resulted in my being late for work: hike the remaining 5 km to work, try and catch a C-Train (even though bikes aren’t allowed on during the rush), or patch my blown tube. I’d already turned down a few offers since I thought I had everything I needed and wasn’t really expecting to get more in a low-traffic area like that. I was looking forlornly at my patch kit, I have a bad record with field patching, and was thinking that a 5 km walk wouldn’t be so bad when I heard a voice call out

“Hey, do you have everything you need”? Are you ok?” I paused, admitted to myself that I did not have everything I needed, and said

“Do you have a spare tube? I forgot mine this morning”

To her credit she did have a spare and gave it to me with a smile. I thanked her profusely and she was on her way while I finished up my repair.

The reason that giving up your spare tube is a big deal is not the $3 cost for the tube, it’s that you’re giving away your insurance policy. If she had a flat on the way home she’d be in a bad way because she chose to help out a stranger, and yet many cyclists in Calgary willingly offer up their insurance policies to strangers. The other time I had to accept help I remember telling the guy that I’d find him the next day and get him his tube back, but he just laughed and said “don’t worry about it, just pass it on to someone else”.

Today, I have 4 3  spare tubes in my kit and would happily give one to another cyclist in need. It can be intimidating for many new cycle commuters to think of being out there “on their own”, especially if they aren’t familiar with repairs or changing tubes. If that is you then I’d urge you to consider the positive, helpful, and kind attitude of all of the other cyclists out there and know that you’re certainly not out there alone. If you’re one of the people that asks others if they need help, then thank you for creating a positive cycling culture in Calgary (and for lending me tubes when I blow through the other 3 in my kit!)



  1. Alan Schietzsch
    August 14, 2014

    What a wonderful and inspiring story – thank you!

    Yes. it’s very unusual to have that many flats even on a ‘skinny’ tire bike. Because they were pinch flats, it sounds as if the pressure is low…typical road tires are between 85 ~120 psi, in proportion to how big the rider. Usually ~10 psi more in the rear than front tire, as the rear wheel carries more of the bike’s weight.

    Maybe it’s pure freak chance, these things happen, but if they do it’s awesome that we all have each other’s back!

  2. jonneufeld
    August 14, 2014

    Thanks Alan. I’ve started checking my tire pressure each morning and hopefully that’ll help. It also makes sense to spend 2min checking tires rather than 10min to change a flat.

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