The Obvious



The first time I represented Great Britain in track cycling almost ended up in tears before I’d even reached the start line. It was 1999 and I was selected to ride the European Under 23 Championships in Milan, Italy.

We went straight to the track from the airport the day before the race, to unpack our bikes and get a ride on the track to loosen up after the journey. I pulled my bike out from the bike bag to find the front forks had been bent out of shape; presumably dropped, bashed or squashed somewhere in the luggage system. (Note: The forks are front part of the frame that holds the front wheel, and with which you steer the bike). The wheel wouldn’t fit, the bike was broken.

I was the smallest member of the team so couldn’t borrow a bike small enough to race on, and it started the next day, meaning there was no time to have a replacement frame sent to Italy. I thought they’d never select me to ride again – my racing career was over.

“Why didn’t you put spacers in your forks?” I was asked. Spacers are wooden or plastic blocks that fix the forks in place and prevent them getting squashed and bent like mine were. “Everyone knows you put spacers in the forks when you travel!”

Well I didn’t. Most of the team were seasoned pro’s but this was my first time on an aircraft with a bike in a bag. What they thought was common knowledge and obvious was something I’d never heard of or considered.

Sandy, the GB team mechanic, saw what had happened and assured me they could fix the problem. They had a special tool to straighten forks but needed to go to the team hotel to get it. He suggested I wait in the stands while they fetched it. True to his word, about 30 minutes later my bike was straight, wheels in and ready to roll. Off I rode. So relieved.

I was recalling this story a few years later and mid way through I stopped in my tracks… It occurred to me that in all the years since that day I had never come across 'the tool that can be used to straighten bike forks'.

I contacted Sandy. “Hey. That tool you used… it doesn’t exist does it?” "No," he replied, “but we couldn’t let you see what we had to do to your bike to get it back in shape, or you’d never have got on it again!”

This situation could have been avoided had someone taken the time to explain the obvious to me, to tell me the stuff that “everyone knows”. A familiar example - every single time you fly, you get to experience the safety demonstration. Even if all the passengers have heard it many times before, they still do it, just in case there is a first time flier on board.

A friend of mine hilariously shared a story about what happened when no-one explained to her the “obvious” consequences of what happens after a barium enema! (It’s a far better story than my cycling one, but perhaps best shared only after a couple of glasses of wine!)

What in your service would you and your team consider to be the obvious - the stuff you assume your customers and your employees already know? Pay attention to any time you hear someone say “that’s obvious!” What would happen if someone didn’t already know it?