Just last week I was telling someone about my first experience with a flat out on a long ride. Back in July I was trying to fit in a 2 hour ride before work and about 5 miles ’till home I hit a bump and the front tire immediately lost all air. So what did I do? Call my husband, of course! I needed to make it in to work on time, and to be completely honest I didn’t even own a spare kit let alone have it with me. And low and behold, she loves the same method. The conversation then moved to my long-term plan moving forward; now that I’ll be spending so many more hours on the bike what will I do if I get another flat? Well, clearly that could never happen again, but if it did I’d call my husband, again, of course! I should have knocked on wood.
I got my second flat tire on Saturday on my 68 miler. And no sooner did I decide my husband might come rescue me than he was busy landscaping without his cell. Major bummer, but also major opportunity. As I sat there on the side of the road deciding what to do a number of cyclists slowed down to offer help. What a friendly, considerate and caring community of athletes! I turned them down and decided to force myself to face this one. If I got really stumped I’d take the next party up on their offer.
Faced with this bump in the road (Ha! Get it?) I sucked it up and tried to remember how change the tube myself. Though I have never completed any bike maintenance other than, A. Making by bike pretty (AKA wiping mud), and B. Taking the front wheel on and off, I sat in on an REI class where tire-changing was described and thought I might remember enough to get me by. Luckily the flat was on the front tire, the one I know how to remove, and I successfully removed the wheel, pried one side of the tire off, and pulled out the hole-filled tube.
Replacing the tube was easy, and then I had to pause. How to I get the tire back on? I got it in the rim nearly all the way around but I didn’t want to stretch the tire too much or put too much pressure on the rim to pop it back in. Silly, since that rim bears my body + bike weight barreling down a hill but that’s no matter. It took me a while to to figure it out but once I got the last stretch moving I knew I’d be alright on that front. Next challenge: inflation.
I have Co2 cartridges and a pretty little SRAM inflator, but did I know how to use them? No. Luckily I had three Co2’s so I planned to try two myself, and if I failed on both accounts I’d save the third for a more knowledgeable soul who might be willing to offer assistance. Cartridge 1: Blew it. The pressure of the Co2 freaked me out so much I jumped and lost the connection with the tire needle. Cartridge 2: This was my “last” chance. I practiced trying to align the needle with the inflator and though it wouldn’t fit tight I held it steady as I tightened the Co2 and BAM! My tire was nearly instantly OVER-inflated. Wondering what I’d do next I put pressure on the needle and a bit of air was released. No, I didn’t know this was how the needle worked beforehand. Yes, I’m a total amateur. But it worked, so I kept at it until the pressure felt similar to that of the rear wheel.
Very proud of my Macgyver-like moves I looked around to see if anyone had been spying on my amateur hour, packed up my dead tube and Co2’s, and put the wheel back on the bike. I brushed the dead grass from my bike shorts and then rode home happily ever after (minus a pedestrian that walked straight into my moving bike, but that’s another story). After a big detour earlier in the ride, which entailed extra miles all uphill, this tire snafu initially felt like it could be the end of the world. But as it turns out it wasn’t, and in reality it was a good thing that I was forced to face the reality of a flat early in my training efforts, in a safe environment, in good weather, in a familiar neighborhood, on a training ride and not in a race. I felt encouraged to try as opposed to DNF and in a race I can’t say I’m certain that I would have shared that same attitude.
I now plan to add bike maintenance knowledge to my list of cycling goals, which currently includes getting faster and learning proper nutrition and hydration techniques. I think I’ll probably always be an athlete that prefers to get my bike professionally tuned as opposed to spending my own Sunday afternoon on it, but I really should be more capable for my own sake. Anyone out there want to teach me the basics?