Trouble can strike at any minute on a long bike ride, and your contingency plan ought to involve more than just keeping a dollar handy to fix a flat (though you should probably teach yourself how to do that anyway).
Luckily for you, a handful of companies are bringing roadside-assistance services to road cyclists. After all, it's just as annoying to break down far from home on a bike as it is in a car.
Several regional AAA clubs have announced plans to outfit trucks with bike racks—just in time for Bike to Work Day on Friday. Members who find themselves with a bum bike can catch a ride back to civilization and get their bikes repaired.
This is a good idea with some obvious limitations. The trucks can’t access bike paths, so if your derailleur suddenly snaps off, you’ll have to make your way to the nearest real road for AAA help. Plus, options for roadside-assistance services are still slim and dependent on where you live—only six states have AAA clubs that offer bike services. Each club member receives two free calls per year, which some dedicated riders might complain isn’t enough.
But we’re happy to see more organizations looking out for cyclists in distress. Better World Club, another auto club that aims to support sustainable transportation, has offered bicycle roadside assistance since 2012. It's a fairly new offering in the U.S., but a potentially crucial tool for bike safety. "When we talk to cyclists about why they don't ride more often, being stranded is right up there in the key reasons," says Kate Powlison, marketing manager at People for Bikes.
Flaws and all, this month alone we've seen three AAA clubs in six states jump on the bike-assistance bandwagon. Maybe one day you won't have to worry about getting stranded with an unexpected mechanical ever again. Just remember: this isn’t an excuse to leave your flat kit and multitool at home.
For now, here's a breakdown of available services.
Cost: Free, but you'll need an AAA membership, which starts at $15 a year.
What You Get: Call the number on your AAA card and a service vehicle will meet you on any "normally travelled road." If the truck driver can't repair your bike, they'll take you to a repair shop or home for free. You do have to stay within a limited radius, which varies by state but is usually around 10 miles. After that, you’ll have to shell out for the extra distance.
Fine Print: Not all AAA clubs offer this. So far, the list of covered states includes Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington. You also have to have broken down in the state your AAA club covers. And you're only allowed two free pickups a year.
Better World Club
Cost: $39.95 a year, or an extra $17 if you want to add it to an auto membership.
What You Get: Transportation for you and your bike for up to 30 miles for free. If you ask, the service provider who comes for you can bring a spare tire or other basic tools, and you can get reimbursed up to $50 if you have to call a service to unlock your bike. Better World Club services are available everywhere and you don't need to deal with regional clubs.
Fine Print: You only get two free service calls a year.
Cost: The annual premium starts at $100.
What You Get: Velosurance is a full bike-insurance company, so your plan comes with more than just roadside assistance. For example, coverage plans will reimburse you if your bike is broken or stolen.
Fine Print: Not available in Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, or Wyoming.