Recently I got my just deserts (and I'm not talking about ice cream). I've been thinking about the innumerable times I've passed a downed cyclist and yelled "Are you OK?", passing with enough velocity so that I could probably not hear the response or at best a faint Doppler effect "Noooooo". You have to realize that when someone asks "Are you all right," the correct answer is "Yes". It doesn't matter that your chain just broke in half and snaked itself into all the interstices of your rear spokes and freewheel, rendering your bike as useful for forward motion as a pet rock. We really don't want to hear all that whining and snivelling, just buck up and take it like a person. We also don't want the guilt trip "Yes, don't worry about me I'll be all right" response. Because it doesn't matter what you say, no one will actually stop unless you're lying unconscious in the middle of the road in a pool of blood (and even then there's a 50-50 chance the next rider will just yell "road kill up" and swerve to avoid you). "Are you OK?" is what we in the literary biz refer to as a rhetorical question.
Well, today for the first time in ages, I flatted on a CRW ride (yes, "flat" is a verb). To their credit, I did actually hear some discussion in the group I was with as to whether they should stop. Of course the answer is no -- especially when there was no blood or obvious dismemberment involved. That's life in the fast lane. I admit, I would have (and have) done the same. You've got to cut your losses somewhere. Actually, there's usually a quick calculation involved as to whether the time spent waiting for the hapless victim will exceed the time lost by less horsepower in the paceline. Usually, this is a no brainer -- leave him for dead. There are exceptions -- it's probably worth it to wait for a particularly strong rider to pick up a water bottle. Calls of nature are more problematical. Flats are never worth it, unless you're riding with Miguel Indurain. So off they went into the sunset, and I set out to fix my flat.
Since turnabout's fair play, I fully well expected a barrage of insincere "Are you OK's" from the thundering hoards. What really surprised me is that no one even asked. Passed by scores of people I had previously considered my friends, who never said boo. Could have been my previous articles extolling my flat fixing proficiency, not to mention my adeptness at riding on the rim.
I'd estimate that 95% of the riders you see by the side of the road do not need help or want help. Some get downright annoyed with the "Are you OK?" greeting. They think "What do you take me for -- a mechanically challenged dweeb that can't figure out which end of the frame pump to use?" Personally, the main reason you usually see me by the side of the road has more to do with bladder failure than mechanical failure. In general, if you see a male rider separated from his bike, back turned and gazing off at infinity, it is probably more advisable NOT to ask if he's OK.
Still, occasionally, you find yourself in a genuine dilemma. If you really want help, you should fix your flat in the middle of the road with such obvious ineptitude that even the most fixated hammerhead will take pity on you. One trick that always works is to try inflating your tire with your mouth, like an air mattress. Another is to hold out your patch kit at arms length, like Yorick's skull, stare at it fixedly and scratch your head. Help will arrive swiftly.