By Leo Hickman
If the RAC or the AA offered a 'breakdown' service, would you sign up? What sort of policy details would you find attractive?
Every cyclist can probably recall a time when they've "caught a flat", or slipped a chain on the way to work or an important meeting. Not all of us carry puncture repair kits at all times, or have the know-how or time to repair a bike on the spot and continue with our journey as if nothing's happened. I suspect that many of us would like to have the reassurance that a bike mechanic, or lift to our destination, is only a phonecall away. If motorists can travel safe in the knowledge they are covered by roadside assistance, then why can't cyclists?
Earlier this month, the American Automobile Association – better known as the AAA – started to offer roadside assistance to cyclists in Oregon and parts of Idaho. "We're the first AAA chapter in the country to try this," said Marie Dodds, spokeswoman for the AAA of Oregon and Idaho. "It only makes sense, since bicycling is such a popular transportation option in this part of the country."
A survey of AAA members last year found that 37% of its members in Oregon and Idaho said they would like bicycles added to their cover. All of the AAA's Plus, Plus RV and Premier members now receive the cover at no extra expense.
"In some ways, we are literally inventing the wheel, so we don't know what the demand will be like," said Dodds. "We may just get overwhelmed."
At present, the cover doesn't include an on-the-spot repair of the bike, just a lift to anywhere within a 25-mile radius of the breakdown. "There are a million sizes of tires and tubes," explained Dodds. "Our people are not prepared to repair bikes."
Still, it's a start and this innovative move has been welcomed by biking bloggers in the US. However, it has left one AAA competitor fuming. Better World Club says that it has been offering nationwide breakdown cover to cyclists since 2003.
"Gee, I'm used to saying that Better World Club offers the nation's only bicycle roadside assistance," said Better World Club's president Mitch Rofsky. "Since this service is only being offered in Oregon and southern Idaho, I guess I'll have to change that to 'Better World Club offers the nation's only nationwide bicycle roadside assistance'. We look forward to AAA copying our mass transit discount as that would run counter to its decades long hostility to mass transit."
Rofsky does make a valid point: should cyclists really welcome such a hand of friendship from long-time members of the motoring lobby? After all, the AAA and their ilk have been campaigning for years to reduce fuel taxation and increase road-building. Of course, the roadside assistance for cyclists is only being offered to car-owning AAA members, but that shouldn't negate how useful such cover could be.
"We're watching developments [in the US] with interest, but have no plans yet," said an RAC spokesperson.
It was a similar message from the AA: "We constantly look to improve and develop the services we offer members, but we have no plans at present to offer roadside assistance to cyclists."
Dan Robinson, head of Green Flag, said: "We have no plans at the moment to follow in the footsteps of recovery clubs in America. However, we pride ourselves on our innovation. If there was an appetite for bike recovery amongst our customers, we could include it in our personal cover product option."
A Green Flag spokesperson did add, though, that the company would "be interested to hear if Guardian readers wanted this service and if you get any feedback we would love to know".
I see that as a challenge, fellow cyclists. If you would be interested in being covered by a policy offering roadside assistance then please do express your opinions below. What sort of price and policy details would you find attractive? Better World Club's "Bicycle Only" membership, for example, costs $39.95 (£24) a year ($17 for each household's additional cyclist) and for this premium you are allowed two service calls and up to 30 miles of "coverage" a year. It also throws in a free enrolment to the League of American Bicyclists which normally costs $30 a year.
Is this the kind of package you would sign up to? Or is this something, say, a coalition of local bike shops could offer cyclists instead?
Check out other bright ideas on bicycling in the Worldchanging archive:
This piece originally appeared in The Guardian.
Photo credit: Flickr/John Spooner, Creative Commons License.