Several years ago, I crashed while riding out in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, I got away with only a few scrapes on my knee and elbow. Unfortunately, I went down on the drive side and snapped my rear derailleur off, rendering my bike useless. I couldn’t even coast on it because my derailleur was hanging off my bike by the chain and I didn’t have a chain breaker. I was 30 miles from my house with no cellphone reception.
Thus began a very long walk. I was hoping if I went far enough, I’d get a signal and call my wife for rescue. It wasn’t necessary though because, after a mile or so, a kind stranger drove by in a Subaru Outback (are Subaru drivers the nicest people?) and picked me up. She took me all the way back to my house, even though it was far out of her way.
I got lucky. But my experience is far from unusual. Getting stranded is something that will probably happen to every cyclist at least once in their life. Every situation is different, but there are a few tips that might help if you find yourself in a stuck with your bike, miles from home.
The most common reason for getting stranded somewhere is a mechanical. My broken derailleur is a pretty extreme example. More often, it’s something like a flat tire. That’s why it’s always important to carry an emergency flat kit with spare inner tubes or tire plugs (if you’re tubeless) and a multitool.
If you’re really venturing far from civilization, then it’s worthwhile to be a bit more prepared by bringing extra spares and more tools. If I had a tool with a chain breaker or quick link pliers and a spare quick link for my chain, I likely could have MacGyvered a temporary solution by converting my bike to a singlespeed.
Ultimately, mechanical skills and knowledge can only get you so far. If you're injured, that's even worse. Stranding comes for us all eventually.
What Are Your Options When Stranded?
These are the two main ways riders extricate themselves after getting stranded: Calling for rescue and hitchhiking. If those don't work, then you're likely walking.
My spouse is usually my go-to rescuer. But if she’s unavailable, I also have a cadre of riding friends who I can call. I keep this sort of thing to riding friends because they tend to “get it,” and if they ever need the same help, I don’t hesitate to jump in the car to go fetch them too.
Photo: AAA Western and Central New York
But what if everyone’s unavailable, or you don’t have a spouse or riding friends to rely on? AAA is another option. If you’re a member, AAA provides a bicycle service that will pick you and your bike up and return you to a “point of safety” within the limits of your coverage. Limits are based on your membership level:
- Basic: Get roadside transports within a 7-mile radius of the bicycle breakdown.
- Plus: Get roadside transports within a 100-mile radius of the bicycle breakdown.
- Premier: Get one transport, up to a 200-mile radius of the bicycle breakdown; remaining transports are 100 miles.
I'm a member, but haven’t actually had to use it yet. It’s comforting to know it’s there in my back pocket if I ever need it. Know that technically, bonking doesn’t count, and AA won’t pick you up just because you can’t finish your ride (though surely, you could cause a mechanical too — you didn’t hear this from me). It's also less useful for mountain bikers as AAA can only help you if you’re accessible by road.
Now what if you don’t have cell service? Well, this is where hitchhiking has saved my butt countless times. Every time I’ve been stranded, a car has eventually stopped for me. Interestingly, every time it’s been a fellow cyclist. I live in an area that is very cycling-friendly, so your mileage may vary (see Eugene’s story below).
I always keep some spare cash in my flat kit, which is useful for paying kind strangers (though they often turn me down). When I’m out driving and I see a cyclist in need, I always stop and offer anything I can. I hope every cyclist does the same.
If hitchhiking isn’t an option, then you might need to be prepared for a long walk. Every situation is different, but here are a few potentially helpful things to keep in mind:
- Walking long distances in clipless road shoes SUCKS. If you have to do a multi-mile hike in road shoes, a trick I learned from one of my elders is to remove the insoles and stuff them into your socks to create makeshift shoes. It destroys your socks, and likely your insoles too, but it’s better than ruining expensive shoes and causing yourself pain. (Or, pack some Sock Shoes in your flat kit.)
- Many riding apps like Strava allow you to share a GPS beacon with contacts. I share my beacon with my wife whenever I go out on long rides and anytime I’m mountain biking alone so she’s aware if something goes wrong.
- If you're going really far from civilization, consider adding a satellite communication tool like a Garmin inReach to your kit.
- Many newer smartphones and smartwatches have an Emergency SOS that lets you text emergency services via satellite when you don’t have cell service or Wi-Fi. Know how it works. If you're injured or in danger, it can save you.
Everyone Gets Stranded At Least Once
Ride enough miles, and eventually, you’re going to get stranded. Check out some of the stories of getting stranded (or almost stranded) from some of TPC’s most avid riders. If you have a story of your own or some other good tips, tell me about it in the comments!
Broken Pedal in the Backcountry - Steve Gardner, Warehouse Manager
A friend broke a pedal spindle during an 80-mile, 2-day backcountry MTB overnighter. Fortunately, another member of our party had a Garmin inReach that they used to send a GPS text message for help to their partner at home. We were in a remote area and it wasn't clear if their partner had received the message or understood what was needed. But we had no choice but to try to make it to the meetup location at the end of a rough 4x4 road.
The friend with the broken pedal managed to kick-push their way forward another 7 rough miles, with one foot balancing on the crank arm. On the uphills, he ran and pushed his bike to keep up with the group.
Thankfully the request for help was received and after some uncertain waiting, the partner arrived with an entire replacement bike from the garage. "We only needed the pedals!" we laughed. The swap was made and we were able to carry on with the adventure, though our friend would later suffer an epic bonk as a result of all the running.
This instance was a good reminder that ALL bike parts receive wear & tear, and a thorough inspection is called for prior to heading out on any big adventure. Still, risks can persist. All of us on the trip gained an appreciation for the power of cutting-edge GPS and communication technology, as well as the simple age-old rule of having a friend or loved one informed about the plan.
Getting Screwed - Craig Wu, Receiving & Catalog Supervisor
I was on a Supertraining group ride (a local group ride) that climbed into the mountains. Just as we began the long descent, I heard a loud clicking coming from the back of my bike. I tried to ignore it but within seconds I realized I had to stop and lose the group. Turns out I had run over a large construction screw with my rear tire that went all the way through my rear tire from the top of the tread and out the sidewall right near the bead.
This was a brand new Continental GP 5000 S TR 28 tubeless tire on an Enve 4.5 wheel with Silca Ultimate sealant. I had a spare Tubolito tube, a single 20g CO2, and a Dynaplug Racer with a small and big plug. I decided to plug the top hole in the tire with the small plug (the big plug was too big for either of the holes), air up with my CO2, and hope the Silca Ultimate took care of the sidewall puncture. Amazingly it held and I was back on my way.
By this time I was completely alone since I was at the back of the group when I flatted and no one knew. I had no idea how long of a descent I had in front of me but I knew it was significant. I was able to get up to a decent speed, but within 5 minutes my rear tire was again almost flat. I pulled off the road and thought I would have to call an Uber or worse, my wife, but as luck would have it, I had no signal at all.
I thought about trying to hitchhike but there was really no place for a car to safely pull over in that section of the canyon. No phone signal, no more CO2, and no more riders coming down either. So I had no choice but to descend the final 12+ miles on a completely flat rear tubeless tire (ENVE replaced it under warranty). Amazingly, the tire stayed on the rim for the rest of the descent.
As I got close to Lyons my friend texted me the Supertraining support stop location in Lyons. I was able to call him and surprisingly they were all still at the stop so he was able to tell the Subaru support car to wait for me. I was able to throw my bike in the support vehicle and get a ride back to the start in Boulder. In retrospect, I should have plugged the sidewall puncture near the bead and let the sealant plug the tread, but at the time the tread puncture seemed so much bigger. Lesson learned.
Trail Angel with a Truck - Ellie Horn, Marketing Manager
My partner and I were riding the GDMBR, biking from Hartsel to Salida. It is a pretty remote section and we went the entire day without seeing a single person. We had been plowing through our water and had severely misjudged how much we'd need in the blistering sun. Before the climb into Salida, we ran out of water and our GPS was malfunctioning.
At a fork in the road, we took a turn hoping that it was the right move but began to question everything (the route, our bike setups, if we could complete the rest of the tour, etc). I started hoping that a trail angel with a truck would find us and we could hitchhike to town. We struggled to continue forward and I heard a little voice in my head telling me maybe I had overestimated my ability to do this whole trip. I continued to wish for a trail angel and we stopped for a bit to regroup and try to eat something to bring morale up. I finally confessed my hope to my partner when lo and behold, the greatest trail angel arrived.
Enter, Alen. Not only did Alen stop in his pickup truck to ask how we were, but he was scouting the route himself to ride later. I flat-out said, "You need to take us to town." He had the perfect setup in his truck to accommodate our two bikes and not only gave us all the water he had on him but dropped us off at our campsite outside of town. We talked the whole ride and came to realize he was the best stranger we could've had the chance of meeting. A cyclist himself, we chatted the whole way, stopped for views at the vista, and grabbed dinner and beers with him in town after we had showered.
Alen later followed us on Strava and cheered us on for the rest of our trip. Though this was self-inflicted stranded-ness, it showed me that good strangers and good people are everywhere; you just have to be in the "wrong" place at the right time.
A Classic Fall, A Novel Solution - Angus Bohanon, Social Media Specialist
I was on the Peak to Peak Highway and stopped to eat on the side of the road, but I made the classic mistake of not unclipping in time and fell over, still clipped in, onto the shoulder.
Somehow, in doing so, I bent the plates on one of the links of the chain. I didn't have a chain breaker on me (first mistake). When I tried to pedal, the chain would jump off the front chainring due to the bent link. There also wasn't any cell service up there so I couldn't call for a pickup.
I maneuvered the chain into a higher gear so I could pedal half a revolution at a time and then backpedal, keeping the bent plate between the chainring and cassette so it never had to do a full rotation. That got me to a point where I could coast 15 miles down without pedaling and get a signal to call my wife for a pickup.
Maybe South Carolinians Don’t Like Hitchhikers? - Eugene O'Neill, Paid Search Manager
I was riding on a sandy trail when my derailleur got jacked up and snapped. I pushed the bike out of the sand until I got to a road but I didn't have any cell phone reception. I tried hitchhiking while walking toward home. Unfortunately, no one picked me up. Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, it may have been because they were all in their Sunday best for church, and I was walking around looking like a crazy person. Eventually got cell phone service and was able to call for assistance. Hitchhiking doesn't always work!