Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Flatting Out: An Early Morning Ride

I realize that I haven't written much about my own riding this year. In part, this is because my rides have felt very uneventful. Primarily, I have ridden this year for transportation purposes and although I have moments when I think I should write about some sort of happening from these outings, that thought usually leaves quicker than it came. When that happens, I take that as meaning that there was nothing truly to say about the ride.

As summer is now about half way complete (well, almost), I have started to feel guilty for not riding more athletically or sport-wise over these warmer months. I've had my reasons, and for the most part, I think they are justifiable, but I still miss being out for a lengthier stretch and/or just seeing how hard I can push myself. It amuses me that I seem to fall one way or another though for entire seasons at a time and can't seem to find that space during which I can both ride for sport and ride for transportation. One side always seems to lose.
But, because I've wanted to get out and ride while sweating (Though I suppose I sweat even riding for transportation these days as it's been quite warm), I decided to try to push myself to get up a little earlier than usual and go ride before the day gets going. With so many things to get done in a day, time just slips away before I have the opportunity to get out, but I had decided that if I made a purposeful attempt to go early, perhaps I would actually get out and ride.

This plan seemed to be working quite well for a few days. It was nice to be out before the sweltering heat began and although I struggled to get things together as I was heading out the door, I was able to get this plan into motion. While I don't care for others telling me that I'm not a morning person, I have to admit it really is true. Even though I can get up, I just don't function well for a couple of hours into the day and everything just seems to go wrong when I force myself to be productive early.

A few days into this new experiment, I was heading out when I said to Sam, "You know, I need to get an extra tube to carry. I haven't had a flat in at least two years, but somehow not having a tube with me makes me nervous. I have a patch kit and a pump... and a CO2 cartridge, but sometimes it's just good to have that extra tube, you know?"

Sam, the make-it-happen fellow that he is, walked to one of the storage bins in the garage and pulled out a tube. "This one should work," he said. "I think you bought this and never used it."

"Hmm. Well, thanks!" I said. "Guess I don't need to buy one... Though, I've probably now jinxed myself by even talking about flats."

We both laughed a bit and I joked that I would call if I needed him. Sam was preparing to head off to work though, and I knew I wouldn't be gone for much more than an hour, so I started off on my planned route feeling pretty good.

A few miles down the road, I started to think that my front tire felt a bit spongy. I looked down and everything looked fine, so I kept going and figured it was my imagination after the conversation just a few minutes ago. You really are crazy, I told myself. You've psyched yourself out so bad that now you think you're going to get a flat.

I biked on, but continued to have that sensation that something wasn't quite right up at the front of the bike. I made a couple of turns and ended up on a local highway that leads up to the mountains. I wasn't sure if I was feeling brave enough to climb this particular morning, but I wanted to at least reach the base and then make a decision.

A few miles down the highway, I was pretty convinced something was definitely wrong with the tire. I pulled over to a spot where I'd have some room and sure enough, the tire was going flat. It was a very slow leak as I'd been able to travel as far as I had without much of an issue, but I had a decision to make. Should I keep going and hope that the leak was slow enough that I could complete my ride, or should I turn around and head home so that I wouldn't have to deal with the flat on the side of the road?

The problem in my mind was keeping myself from freaking out about the nearly flat tire. Although I have changed tubes and patched them several times, it has never been when I was alone on the side of the road when it was out of necessity. Somehow, I've always managed to either have a slow enough leak that I was able to get home without dealing with it, or Sam has been with me and either done or assisted with the change for me. It's nothing short of amazing that I've gone so many years and never had to deal with this on my own, I am aware, but somehow in this moment I had a feeling I wasn't getting home without a fix and I definitely would have trouble if I continued on.

So, in a split second I made the decision to turn around and head home. I could feel panic setting in so as I turned, I thought it might be best to put a bit more air in the tire with my hand pump. As I started to pump in air, nothing was happening at first and then, all of a sudden, the tire went completely flat.

Alright, I said to myself, it's time to deal with this. I pulled out the patch kit at first and then thought better of it. I knew I could patch the tube later at home with ease, so I would just use the new tube and then use the currently flat tube as a spare after it was repaired.

Flipping the bike over, I used the tire lever to take one side of the tire off to remove the tube when I found myself scratching my head, trying to figure out how to get the tube out from behind the fork. As I said, I don't function well in early morning hours, so it took me a second to realize that I hadn't removed the wheel from the bike.

Duh, I muttered under my breath, and then followed up with the thought that it really had been a long time since I'd had to deal with changing a flat. I was also riding a bike with fenders, so that took an extra step and a moment for my brain to catch up and to realize that I'd need to remove one side of those as well.

At this point, I looked ridiculous, I have no doubt, and I felt like a complete idiot on the side of the road. I had small bits from the fender attachment in between my lips to keep from losing them, and I was turning back and forth, as I (for the most part) silently tried to coach myself through something that I fully know is not that difficult to do and that I can and have done in the past. I still didn't have the wheel removed, but I wanted to test out the pump as it hadn't put any air in when I'd tried to just pump up the tire without removing the tube.

After attempting to use the pump and realizing it still wasn't putting any air into the tube and therefore wouldn't put any air in the new tube either, I reached my breaking point. My morning fog-brain was not wearing off and I was ready to have a cry on the side of the road. I got out my phone and called Sam.

"Hey," I said as casually as I could when he picked up. "I think I really did jinx myself this morning. Can you come and get me?"

"Where are you?" he asked.

I provided approximate coordinates to which he responded that it would take him a bit, but he would get there as quickly as he could. With that, we hung up and I felt like such a helpless fool standing with various tools in each hand, watching cars and other bicycles whizzing by.

As I stood there, relieved that Sam was on his way, the panicked feeling dissipated. If I was going to be here for awhile anyway, I might as well attempt to finish changing the flat, I figured.

Since I hadn't actually removed the wheel yet, I started to pull that out and then realized I needed to release the brakes. After completely removing everything that was necessary, I got out the new tube and started to put it around the rim of the wheel and then remembered it would need a small amount of air to keep from getting a pinch flat, so I figured I'd try my hand at the pump again to see if I could get it to work. I had the CO2 cartridge and inflator with me, but I've honestly never used it and was a little terrified something might explode or I'd end up hurting myself (Sam would later laugh at me about this and then tell me that we were going to have a training session so that I wouldn't be afraid to use this tool in the future).

The pump wasn't putting out much air, but it was providing a little bit every several pumps, so I kept pumping until there was a small amount of air in the tube. Then, I began putting the tire back around the rim, making sure not to get the tube stuck in between.

Before I knew it, everything was put back together and the tire even had a bit of air in it. I had actually done it. For the first time on my own without the help of anyone (or at least the watchful eye of someone), I fixed a flat!

Believe me, I know it's ridiculous. As someone who has changed flats in the past, this shouldn't have felt like such an enormous accomplishment, but it really did. I realized that all I needed was to calm myself down and know that I have the ability to do the task --and then, not to sound to much like a Nike ad, just do it.

As I stood there beaming with pride, I pulled out my phone again. I saw a text from Sam that he'd sent about 10 minutes prior stating that he was on the edge of town and he'd get to me as quickly as he could. I didn't have the heart to have his trip be for nothing and since he was almost to me anyway, I responded that I was able to get a little air in my tire and that I was going to be riding east and I'd meet up with him.

I rode the highway back in the direction indicated thinking that it was kind of sad that at least a dozen cyclists had passed me and not one of them had offered to help as I'd stood on the side of the road, but on the other hand, I was grateful for the opportunity to prove to myself that I could in fact change a flat without the assistance of another person.

The tire was holding up okay, but it was severely lacking in air so I was taking it slow and wondering why I hadn't run into Sam yet. I was heading up a slight incline when a car pulled over in front of me... Sam to the rescue!

As he got out of the car he was shaking his head and smiling. "I've been back and forth twice trying to find you," he stated. "I should know better with you."

He was referring to a past incident during which we'd been riding together and I'd been so upset and convinced that I couldn't go on that he went home to get the car to rescue me. I had ended up riding home on my own though, despite the fact that I believed I didn't have it in me.

"How did you get all the way over here?" he asked. "I thought you couldn't get any air out of the pump."

I smiled, "Well, I was able to get enough that I figured I'd try riding a bit."

On the way home, we chatted about what had happened and as I exited the vehicle and we removed the bike from the car I said, "You know, if this ever happens again in the future... if I call you in a panic and tell you I need to be picked up, just talk me through it. I know you're perfectly willing to come and get me, but I feel bad that I made you turn around from work to come all this way to get me when I ended up fixing the flat. I know I didn't have a ton of air in the tire, but I can do it and I would've made it home okay. I think I just needed to be reassured that I have the ability to do it on my own."

As much as I could have lived without this situation, I am grateful for the opportunity to prove to myself that I am capable of dealing with minor issues that come up when riding. After years of riding, I still seem to have a deep fear that I am not self-reliant. While I know I am perfectly able, sometimes I need to know-know - as in, out of necessity - that I am capable, and this moment helped me better understand that often I just need to not panic and the rest will fall into place.

Have you had any moments of panic when dealing with a break down on your bicycle and then pulled it together? Have you had fixes that just couldn't be repaired while on the side of the road? How did you deal with your bicycle break-down?


  1. How very disappointing that nobody stopped to offer help. Aside from rudeness, I just assume that people don't help because they can't change a tube, or fix anything themselves.

    I always carry tools, patches, pump, and spare tubes, and know how to use everything. My "plan b" if I can't handle my problem road-side is to walk it. Anything worse than that has historically gotten me a ride in the back of an ambulance, so... free ride!


    1. I was a bit surprised that no one offered to help too. Perhaps because I looked occupied, everyone thought I had matters under control? I always ask (unless I've just heard someone else ask and the person has declined), but maybe as you stated, they don't want to offer and then not be able to help? I also thought perhaps it was the time of day and if people were riding before work they may have been on tight schedules to get into and about their day.

      If I had been within a reasonable walking distance, I would've hoofed it, but it was one of those that would've had me walking half of the day to get home. I definitely feel more prepared now though, so I think good came out of it. My problem has often been not lack of know-how to use the tools, but having bolts too tight to get them removed. :)

      Do I dare ask about your ride(s) in an ambulance? I've been fortunate to avoid that means of travel thus far, and I certainly don't wish it on anyone.

    2. My last ride in an ambulance was after a driver decided that their phone was more important than my life. Fast ride, abrupt stop, short flight, second abrupt stop. Bike suffered from a permanently taco'ed wheel and bent fork/frame. It was not so good for me, either.

      Haha, I was just trying to make a joke that "walking it" wasn't the worst way to deal with a road-side issue.


    3. Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to believe their phone is more important while driving than anything else. I'm sorry you had to have a first-hand experience with one of these individuals, but I am glad you survived.

      I appreciate your thought. I don't think walking is a horrible option at all... I just always seem to end up at one of the farthest points when disaster (okay, this wasn't exactly disaster for this round) strikes. :)

  2. Good post - a few comments:

    First of all, it is easy for any of us to forget all the steps to patching a tube or fixing a flat, so remember to tell yourself everyone can forget and have to rewind back a step or two to take care of this or that. I've changed a hundred flats and still sometimes forget the silliest things.

    Secondly, a safety message. I think the most dangerous thing to do is to continue riding on a flat tire. Especially a flat front tire. I've had two front tire blowouts over the years that threw me over the handlebars. It doesn't always happen, but a front tire with a flat tube can roll over on the rim and lock up the front wheel - then you going flying. So do anything but keep riding on a flat. Besides a minor scraped knuckle or pinched finger, you can't get hurt too bad changing the tire or fixing the tube.

    I have my wife help me changing tubes and tires at home and she practices the steps. She could change it if she had to, but I would always want to change it for her. Call me a chauvinist, but I've just plain done it more times, and some times it can take a lot of hand strength to get the tires off. I'm a big guy and I still have to work pretty hard at it. Also, it can be a lot easier with someone to help. A "third" hand to hold a tire lever can make a big difference.

    We encountered a woman with a flat on the road a couple weeks ago and she was happy a man walking by offered to help. Of course, I'm sure she could have done it - but like he told her, he'd done it a lot and could get her going again pretty fast. She was relieved to get the help. So don't let pride get in the way.

    Regarding tires. I've found the kevlar beaded tires are easier to change than the less expensive steel wire bead tires. So I pay the premium for less frustration.

    Another trick a bike shop owner taught me is to step on the inside of a new tire and pull up on the inside of the tire at the top (with all of your might) to stretch that tire a little before installing. Rotate the tire a little and step on it and pull up again. After going round the whole tire, you will get a millimeter or two of stretch into the tire bead and that will help a lot getting it on without damaging the tube - which is always the challenge.

    1. I have found that variances in tires can definitely make a difference in whether I am able to mount/remove the tire on the side of the road or not. The tougher tires I use that are nearly impenetrable, I have almost zero chance of removing. Fortunately, it hasn't been an issue as they've only received flats when they are getting too old (so as long as I replace them before that point, I've been okay, thus far anyway - knock on wood). The softer tires on my bikes I have an easier time removing for a tube change. We have both in this household also noticed a difference between wheelsets. It's interesting that some of them have been easier than others.

      Your bike shop owner's tip is an interesting one as well... thanks for offering it here to others.

      I don't think I would balk at someone offering to change a punctured tube. Certainly, there are individuals who can and do have the ability to change a flat much faster than me. I think I was just thankful to have had the opportunity without the help because it was reassuring to know that even if it's been awhile, I can figure it out and get it done. :)

    2. I'll add that should anyone desire to master tube repair and tire changes, just practice at home - with no stress of passing traffic or jeering motorists. You can put your bike on a work stand or lean it up securely and find a stool to sit on instead of sitting on the ground - while you figure things out

      Change the front and the back, as the challenges vary. Derailleur geared bikes vs. internal gear hubs; rim brakes vs. disk brakes vs. roller brakes; quick release skewers vs. through bolts all have their quirks - but you can learn the details of your bike.

      By doing this, you will find out what tools you want to have with you, and you will discover the little problems - like pinching a new replacement tube agains the rim under the bead and finding another flat occurred. (Always good to have patches with you!)

      Anyone can figure it out with practice and then you can be the one to offer assistance to some poor soul along the road.

  3. Whenever I see someone on the side of the road/trail with what appears to be mechanical issues, I always ask if they're OK, or if they need everything. Doesn't matter if they're male of female, I always ask. A few weeks ago I came across three riders struggling to fix a broken chain and I ended up giving them an impromptu lesson in how to properly use a chain tool (rule #1: never drive the pin completely out).

    1. Agreed. I just think it's polite to ask. I may not have the tools that can help, but it costs nothing for me to ask. One time I passed a woman walking her bike and asked if she needed anything. She'd broken her derailleur, so, unfortunately, that wasn't something I was capable of helping her with, but I did offer to let her use my phone (she declined, as she had help on the way). I just think it never hurts to ask, even if the person is annoyed because others have asked. I'd rather be the 10th person to ask, than for the individual to not have any assistance if they need it.

      Ah, broken chains. I have stories of my own in that regard, but when we do the wrong thing, sometimes it's a good lesson for knowing what not to do the next time. :)

  4. I'm glad you were able to get it semi-fixed yourself. I find it really liberating to know that I can confidently change a flat* on my own, even though I very rarely need to do so. I don't even bother carrying CO2. My mini-pump works just fine and even has a pressure gauge on it.

    *On the Bianchi, I should say. The Dutch bike with the IGH, drum brakes, and chain case is a different matter entirely. The flat tire strategy on that bike is simple: lock up the bike, call a friend, get on the bus.

    1. Normally, my little pump is sufficient as well. However, it was just not cooperating on this day. I am not entirely sure what's happened to it, but it looks like I'm on a hunt for something new soon.

      I agree with your strategy for heavier, internally geared bikes. Some bikes it's just simpler and easier to hitch a ride in whatever form it comes. I have a bike that there's no way I'd get the tire off on the side of the road. In those rare instances where something goes awry, I find it much simpler to figure out an alternative means of getting to my destination (or home again, as the case may be).


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