The first bike shop job I ever had was at a place called Rob N Charlie’s in Santa Fe, New Mexico. One of my wrenching mentors there gave me good advice when I began working on an expensive bike for the first time: “Consider the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.”
That advice stuck with me as a general life model. It’s how I try to approach both bikes and relationships, trailside flora and fauna and the people taking my cash at the grocery store. But once you get past a certain point, once you become a skilled enough bike mechanic, say, to know how to not contaminate brakes or crush a piece of carbon by overtightening something, then what? First, do no harm, but then what?
I’m thinking about this as I reflect on this absurd weekend, which I spent with our publisher, Maurice Tierney in Philadelphia at the Philly Bike Expo (PBE), 300 miles from Pittsburgh, where our community was being overrun with tragedy. In Philadelphia, we had conversations with people of many backgrounds who were all excited about bicycles, happy to support independent publishing, interested in American-made products and the international community, crafting bikes and bags in shared workspaces to help people get and stay mobile, get and stay adventurous, get and stay together. I bumped into one of the organizers of my Vermont WTF Bikexplorers trip while waiting in line for coffee and we talked about her recent bike tour in Greece and how the bicycle has been instrumental in various revolutions throughout history.
Meanwhile, I received texts from friends back in Pittsburgh filling me in on the terror happening in the neighborhood where I used to work as a shop wrench, at the synagogue where friends worship, around the corner from where friends’ children go to school, near the bar I just discovered has karaoke. The neighborhood that cradles the best mountain bike trails in the region. A customer from my old bike shop was on his way to worship when the shots were fired and he kept others from entering the building, knowing people he loved were inside. People we share trails with and clang cans with afterward go there every Saturday for Sabbat or celebrate special occasions there.
I feel remiss to talk about all the wonderful, awesome products I saw at this year’s Philly Bike Expo, and the inspiring interactions I had there, without first acknowledging Dirt Rag’s hometown and it’s current trauma. I am caught in a thought loop: First, do no harm; and then what? Dirt Rag grieves for our Pittsburgh community. By now, everyone knows the famous saying, directed at preschoolers, by Pittsburgh hero Fred Rogers— “Look for the helpers.” At this moment, the people looking for the helpers are those immediately affected by this attack, and those of us with a platform are some of those helpers.
I sincerely believe that bicycles, while not without their material flaws, are a binding agent for humanity. It is my favorite invention and has elevated communities around the world in helping their ability to access food and water, economic stability and spiritual freedom. How do we rectify the optimism and levity of the PBE with the travesty that happened just 4.5 hours away? I want to be a bicycle, a helper mobilizing for positive change.
If you think that white supremacy won’t come for you, or that it isn’t a threat, I point you in the direction of my hometown. If your brain is understandably crunching this terror into statistics and news stories, I urge you to remember the humans affected, the brothers, the husband and wife, the parents and friends of your fellow bike riders. If your distance allows you the ability to debate free speech or gun control, I ask you to see how history has patterns that are able to be repeated, that those philosophical debates have been used against us as communities.
We need to hold each other together and celebrate both what we have in common and where we culturally diverge. Do not take these horrific, heartbreaking actions of hatred for granted.
First, do no harm. Then, be a helper. The manner in which I can most immediately try to help is by using this platform to ask each of you to continue to recognize and honor the humanity of those around you. How can you help?
This feels overwhelming because it is. A society worth living in is a big responsibility, something we must continually work towards and fight for. In these challenging times, I feel the doors of civility bursting open, and we stand as guardians against those who may wish harm on our neighbors. I’ll tell you all about the PBE tomorrow, all the bags, bottom brackets, and bikes. In the meantime, I ask again: how can you help?